Australia’s icebreaker arrives in Hobart after final Antarctic voyage

Farewell Orange Roughy

Video transcript


Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty has been working on the Aurora Australis for more than 20 years

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “It has been my second home for the last 20 years and, yeah, for most of the crew have been here for a long time as well. I think six or seven years is probably the shortest amount of time anyone’s spent here. Yeah, it’s — yeah, we're very fond of the old girl, yeah.”

Australia’s icebreaker was launched in Newcastle in 1989

Its first winter voyage was to Heard Island in 1990

The last Antarctic huskies came home on board in 1992

For three decades, the Aurora has made over 150 voyages, carrying more than 14,000 expeditioners

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “When we get to the fast ice, that requires ramming the ship into it most of the time. So we have to use full power, push the ship six, seven or sometimes eight knots into that ice and push through it as far as we can get. Usually the ship will come to a stop and then we'll have to back up and do it all over again, and we'll do that perhaps hundreds of times.”

But it hasn’t always been plain sailing

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “The old girl has sustained a bit of damage over the years from various events and, as one of the chief mates once said, it is a contact sport, icebreaking, so you do have to expect a few bruises every now and again, and the Aurora’s had her fair share of those.”

The ship recovered from engine room fires in the 90s, and running aground at Mawson station in 2016

It was central to many rescues of other ships

And it remained the lifeline for our Antarctic stations

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “When people at home ask me, “What do you do for work?” I say, “Oh, I work at sea,” and then there’s usually this progression because that sparks their interest. “What sort of work do you do at sea?” and eventually I say, “Well, I work on the Aurora Australis.” I give up and say, “Yeah, I work -.” “Oh, tell us more about that.” And so, yeah, I don’t usually tell them I work at sea unless I've got a half an hour to spare.”

The Aurora Australis has enabled an extraordinary array of polar science

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “Sometimes you're seeing things that haven’t been observed ever before. Sometimes it’s just numbers on a page that you might get from, say, a CTD sample when we're doing oceanography work, or sometimes it might be some strange creature that comes up from a deep sea trawl. Yeah. Sometimes it’s ice conditions that we've never experienced before. So when I say marine science voyages, it covers everything from oceanography, marine biology, sea ice science, glaciology and sometimes atmospheric sciences as well, and we've had many voyages where all of those disciplines are placed together on the ship and it’s — yes, it’s an all-singing, all-dancing science fest.”

The Aurora’s career with the Australian Antarctic Program may be over, but the wonder of going south will live on

Ship’s Master Gerry O’Doherty: “Every voyage, there’s always new expeditioners. There’s always people that have never travelled with us before and we get to experience their wonder at seeing an iceberg and their excitement. You know, the thing’s four miles away, it’s a spec on the horizon and they're jumping up and down, and to relive that helps you relive your own first experience and it reminds you of how special it is, just in case you might have forgotten.”

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Aerial view of the Aurora Australis icebreaker
Aerial view of the Aurora Australis (Photo: Doug Thost)
The Aurora Australis icebreaker alongside the Totten GlacierAurora Australis icebreaker moored in Horseshoe Harbour, Mawson stationAurora Australis icebreaker in rough seasAurora Australis icebreaker and an Adélie penguinMaster of RV Aurora AustralisAurora Australis icebreaker moored in Horseshoe Harbour, Mawson stationAerial view of the Aurora Australis icebreaker in pack ice

Australia’s icebreaker RSV Aurora Australis has arrived into its homeport of Hobart for the final time with the Australian Antarctic Program.

After more than three decades of service, the Aurora Australis sailed up the River Derwent this morning, returning from its last resupply expedition to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.

A series of farewell events planned to farewell the ship have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Kim Ellis, said the ship has had a colourful and exciting 31 years plying the Southern Ocean.

“The ‘Orange Roughy’ has carried more than 14,000 expeditioners on over 150 scientific research and resupply voyages to our Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations,” Mr Ellis said.

“All expeditioners who’ve sailed on the Aurora Australis have a soft spot for the icebreaker, whether it’s because the ship has enabled their science or transported them south for an Antarctic adventure.”

The ship was built in Newcastle and launched in September 1989. It’s first voyage with the Australian Antarctic Program was to Heard Island in 1990.

“The Aurora has been involved in rescuing stricken ships and injured expeditioners, as well as facing a few challenges, with engine room fires in the 90’s and running aground at Mawson station in 2016,” Mr Ellis said.

“She’s much more than a ship, she’s been a lifeline, she’s been a home, she’s been a symbol that really captures that whole Antarctic spirit.”

The delayed arrival of Australia’s new icebreaker RSV Nuyina means an alternative ship will be used next summer season.

The Australian Antarctic Division is finalising negotiations with another company to supply a vessel for a minimum of 90 days.