A commitment to Antarctica

Australia’s reputation in Antarctica had been founded on the initiative and energy of a few dedicated scientists and explorers. Those such as Mawson, Davis, Wilkins, Rymill and Law had the perception of Antarctica’s scientific wealth and the conviction that Australia should pursue it.

The first Australians in Antarctica demonstrated commitment to science and innovation. Mawson was first a scientist and leader, but introduced radio to Antarctica to report weather phenomena. He had the foresight to take an aircraft with him on the Aurora. Wilkins went on to prove the value of aerial survey, Rymill the effectiveness of small parties covering large areas on the ground.

While Mawson’s work led directly to the establishment of Australian Antarctic Territory, it was left to Law to consolidate Australia’s reputation in Antarctica. As a tireless promoter of Australia’s Antarctic interests, he secured substantial and ongoing national commitment to Antarctica.

Law capitalised on the experiences of the pioneers and, with the benefit of better ships and modern technology, under his leadership ANARE achieved in a short time what, to the early explorers, would have been inconceivable.

Over 19 years as an Antarctic explorer, Law made 28 voyages to Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions — most of them as leader of the Expedition. His coastal exploration achieved 28 landings at previously unvisited sites, and under his direction over 5000 kilometres of AAT coastline was accurately charted for the first time. Winter parties working inland from the stations extended the total area mapped to more than one million square kilometres. By the time of Law’s retirement from the Antarctic Division in 1966 he had established an indelible record of achievement in Antarctic exploration.

The national Antarctic program now owes a substantial debt to Phillip Law. Our areas of operations in Antarctica and our ways of working there follow the clear lead set by him.

Australia still maintains three stations occupied year-round in the Antarctic and one on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island. Mawson and Davis occupy the sites originally selected by Law, while Casey station was opened in 1969 to replace Wilkes which became uninhabitable following inundation by snow. ANARE now also mounts summer programs at Commonwealth Bay Base near Mawson’s original hut at Cape Denison in George V Land, Edgeworth David Base in the Bunger Hills, has re-established a base at Atlas Cove on Heard Island, and is establishing field programs at Dovers Base in the Prince Charles Mountains.

In 1987 Law Base, named in honour of Phillip Law, was established in the Larsemann Hills near the site where Law first landed in February 1958.