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Speech
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

Opening of the 50 years of Australians living and working in Antarctica at Mawson Station exhibition
Parliament House, Canberra
Friday 13 May 2004

Opening of the Australian Antarctic Division exhibition celebrating 50 years of Australians living and working in Antarctica at Mawson Station


[Dr Stone is introduced by Dr Tony Press, Director, Australian Antarctic Division]

Thank you very much. Thank you to our director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Dr Tony Press. He's also the chairman of the Antarctic Treaty System Environment Protection Committee. We're very pleased that Australia is chairing that committee - it's very important that we do.

I want to acknowledge our Minister for Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, who's here and the Shadow spokesperson, Mr Kelvin Thomson. And my other parliamentary colleagues who are here, including our President of the Senate, himself a Tasmanian Senator, so therefore it's very important that we acknowledge that the Australian Antarctic Division is located in Hobart, which given its geographic position, along with other parts of the country has a very particular role to play in the linking between the Antarctic and the mainland.

We are here, of course, to celebrate two things. One is the fiftieth birthday of Mawson's permanent station down in the Antarctic, and that's why we welcome the members of the Canberra ANARE Club, including former Mawson station resident Hugh Oldham and Vic Jabs [from Davis Station] and if there are any other ANARE members here, we welcome them in particular because they are the champions who went down and worked in the Antarctic when it wasn't as comfortable as it is today. Even though today, of course, it's still a big risk when you go and work right through winter on the ice and on the continent.

This Parliament House exhibition is an annual event and it does two things. We are showcasing the work of the Australian Arts Fellows, an extraordinary program perhaps unique in the Australian government and it encourages some of Australia's best-established artists, photographers and developers of curriculum to take the opportunity to voyage down to the Antarctic and to interpret what they see for the Australian public at large. This work is of such significance because most Australians will never have a chance to go down to the great Antarctic and you see their artwork displayed around you today.

But as I said to you a minute ago, this is also the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Australia's oldest continuous permanent station in Antarctica. The station is, of course, named after an Australian pioneer, explorer and scientist Sir Douglas Mawson. He was one of those extraordinary men of what we call the heroic age, when exploration down in Antarctica was at its peak. His name is of course synonymous with the adventurers of his time like Shackleton and Scott.

He was in one sense a great scientist, a geologist, but his own personal qualities were such that he survived conditions that many humans just simply wouldn't have survived. But there were also tragic times, when he was there. He had originally gone down to Antarctica with Britain's Ernest Shackleton in 1907, the first expedition to reach the magnetic South Pole.

On his return he set about organising his own expedition and in December 1911, left Hobart aboard the Aurora, a great name still associated with Australian shipping since its first voyage to the Antarctic continent. His was the first Australasian expedition to Antarctica and his plan was to explore and map eastern Antarctica. His first stop was Macquarie Island, where he established a wireless station, and you can still see traces of it there.

At the end of December, six days after leaving Macquarie, Mawson and his men arrived at the place they named Commonwealth Bay, where he set about building his modest quarters - they were prefabricated timber dwellings - at a place he named the Home of the Blizzard.

He inadvertently chose one of the windiest parts of the continent, but extraordinarily we still have those huts and Mawson's huts are amongst our most treasured built heritage down on the Australian claimed Antarctic portion of the continent.

And the Australian government is making sure, through our management strategy and the investment we're making in looking after those huts that they remain as a tribute to those extraordinary times when in the early 1900s men travelled to the Antarctic to live and explore.

Sadly, of course we had Doctor Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis die in that first expedition. Mawson only just survived himself. We can't imagine, I suppose, the shock for him to literally see the ship that was to rescue him out in the bay heading off. I understand that Mawson himself said they would have risked everything in returning to collect him and there was still a party staying at the huts who would help him through the next winter.

Mawson is on record as saying if he hadn't had that extra winter in the Antarctic, he perhaps could never have actually survived himself, physically and psychologically because he needed that extra year on the ice to recover from the extraordinary hardships he'd experienced on that trip in which Mertz and Ninnis died.

Mawson undertook three polar expeditions. It was the 1911-1914 expedition that lead to his knighthood and his reputation as a leader, but also to Australia understanding how significant the Antarctic continent was for us. And it ultimately lead to our science research program and our claim for forty-two per cent of the continent. A commitment we take so very seriously.

The Australian government each year commits significant resources to maintaining our four Antarctic stations and to do world best science to understand, to preserve and conserve the Antarctic for the betterment of all humanity and for the ecosystem's survival itself.

When Mawson returned from Antarctica, he lobbied the Australian government to ensure there was a permanent presence there and that began if you like, with Dr Phillip Law, who sadly isn't with us today. Dr Phillip Law was the first director of the Australian Antarctic Division, as a lot of you will know. In his own way, he is another giant in the history of Australia's Antarctic exploration and science.

He led an expedition south to find a suitable harbour in eastern Antarctica and to establish a permanent site for scientific research. He established this station to become Mawson and later established Davis and Casey stations. He also identified Horseshoe Harbour in eastern Antarctica as the first priority site on rock and he perhaps was a little better in choosing locations than the Home of the Blizzard, because Dr Law's choice is in fact, one of the safest anchorages in Antarctica.

In 1954, Dr Law and his party raised the Australian flag on the rocky shore of Horseshoe Harbour. That was the thirteenth of February 1954 - fifty years ago. And he named the new station, of course, in honour of our great polar explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

His men built the rudimentary station and started their work and I hope we have with us geologist, Hugh Oldham. Is Hugh Oldham here? Yes, there he is. He sailed south on voyage number two as part of the 1955-1956 program. So he missed the Olympics and sailed south on only the second voyage.

Another early expeditioner was Vic Jabs - one of our radio operators at Davis in 1961 and also, of course, our other ANARE club members here today.

As you look around this exhibition you will see early photos of Mawson from 1954 to 2004. You will see the Huskies, which were sadly in many ways having to be shifted off the Antarctic because of their potential contamination and risk to other wildlife.

You'll see references to the atmospheric research that was done there as well as life at the stations with its drama, activities, special fun and high jinks that occur over winter periods.

I thank Liz Haywood and graphic designer Pauline de Vos for putting these collective memories back together again for people to see the importance of Mawson station's last fifty years.

As I've said, Australia claims forty-two per cent of the Antarctic continent because of the successive work of generations of great Australian scientists and explorers and successive Australian government commitments to resourcing that work. Australia has never turned its back on Antarctica and we continue to put significant resources into the Antarctic division.

Our claim is over six million square kilometres. That area of the Antarctic is as big as Australia without Queensland, a huge piece of territory and we take our responsibilities in relation to that claim very seriously.

We're one of the twelve original signatories to the Treaty, which was established in 1961. It is probably the most extraordinary treaty that ever has been written in that despite some members of an early treaty being at war - Argentina and Britain, there has still been on the continent, ongoing extraordinary cooperation and collegiate activity between all those signatory nations.

Sharing information, sharing bases is just an extraordinary example of what humans can do it if we try hard enough. And the Antarctic is just a superb example of governance, which can be organised for the good of all human kind.

This exhibition is a collection of beautiful work including seascapes and photography.

At the start of this I mentioned the Antarctic Fellowship Program, previously called the Humanities Program. The Australian Government says the scientists and technicians and station leaders do an important job, but we should complement their work with some of our greatest creative workers - our artists, photographers, writers and journalists.

Each year, we have two or three berths available. It's a highly competitive process. And today, we have on display the work of two of our humanities program whom we now call Antarctic Fellows. They are Lyn Irvine and Jenni Mitchell. Jenni is our painter and Lyn is our photographer.

They were both expeditioners who travelled to Antarctica two or three years ago, and a lot of their time since has been very much dominated by their Antarctic experience.

I would also like to recommend a book Jenni has written. You will see the original in the glass case just in the middle, which is the journal of her time in Antarctica. You can buy your own very beautiful and signed copy in the parliamentary bookshop before you leave. It's called To The Ice.

I would like to commend to you this exhibition. The Antarctic Division has representations of all of the artists who have been to Antarctica and the books written, television series made, curriculum developed.

A new development of this humanities program is that in the future, we will have our artists and others who have been to Antarctica helping to work with expeditioners, technicians and scientists to make the best use of their own spare time on the ice with their own photography, their own writing, their own journals and their own dramatic performances. I know this will enhance the work, enjoyment and development of their time there.

I congratulate our two great artists whose work you see here, but as this is also a celebration of fifty years of Mawson station I am pleased we have the artistic work here supplementing our understanding of the scientific work.

So with no further ado, let me officially open this great exhibition and commend to all of you Australia's work in the Antarctic and the Australian government, who has never blinked when it has come to the substantial resources we put into our work down there.

It's never been more important since that work informs us about climate change, which impacts upon all of us.

It's never been more important with incidents such as tooth fish piracy for example.

Australia is also leading the world in tourism protocol development for Antarctica and I'm proud to be a part of that, as is, my Minister, David Kemp, who leads our portfolio.

So, thank you for coming to this exhibition. Please take the time to look at the work and speak to some ANARE members, all of whom have been down to the Antarctic, and to others here who can help you better understand the images before you.

Thank you very much.

Commonwealth of Australia