- Doctor Tony Press, Director, Australian Antarctic Division
- Mr Andrew King, Managing Director, P&O Maritime Services
- Ms Shannon Stacey, Queen’s Baton Bearer
- Ladies and gentlemen
What a great pleasure for Marlena and me to return to Hobart, to farewell the Melbourne 2006 Queen’s Baton on its journey to the Antarctic – the first time a ‘games’ baton will visit the South Pole. Surely it could be the most remarkable location of the 71 Commonwealth countries through which the baton will pass.
Whilst on the Antarctic Division flagship, may I say that I am an enthusiastic supporter of Australia’s Antarctic endeavours. I have always thought of our polar scientists as underpinning Australia’s reputation as a “Nation of Excellence – the Global example”, and indeed spoke of this in my Australia Day address in January.
Australia’s earliest contact and pioneering scientific work in the Antarctic were synonymous with one person – Sir Douglas Mawson.
This graduate of engineering and science was a man of immense courage and determination. And his exploits and travails are the stuff of legend.
He was a member of the 1907 expedition headed by the great British explorer Ernest Shackleton that was the first to reach the magnetic South Pole.
That trip left Mawson “hooked” – and he soon began planning the first Australasian Expedition to Antarctica to explore and map the coastal area closest to our shores. He and his team left Hobart in 1911 aboard the Aurora – first visiting Macquarie Island and then setting up base in a place they called Commonwealth Bay. That three-year expedition came at a terrible cost due to extreme weather.
In November 1912, Mawson – with Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis – set off on foot to explore the inland.
Only five weeks in to the trek, Ninnis disappeared down a deep crevasse with a team of dogs and a sled carrying most of the food.
Mawson and Mertz were forced to turn back and – in order to survive – they shot and ate the remaining huskies. Mertz weakened and died.
Perilously close to death, Mawson staggered on with awful, bloodied feet.
He arrived at the base camp just hours after the Aurora had been forced to leave – the ship at risk of having been trapped in pack-ice.
Mawson eventually recovered with the help of a small support crew and – amazingly – he stayed for another year at the base.
Mawson demonstrated exceptional leadership. And his efforts are widely seen as crucial to Australia’s claim to nearly half of Antarctica.
Back home, Mawson played a pivotal role in establishing government-led funding of Antarctic research. And he became a dogged lobbyist for a permanent Australian presence on Antarctica. His efforts reached fruition with the establishment of a station in MacRobertson Land.
That station was founded 51 years ago – with the raising of the Australian flag on the rocky shore of Horseshoe Harbour. Fittingly, it was named Mawson – in honour of our greatest polar explorer.
Australia’s presence grew steadily in the following decades – with the construction of more and larger buildings, and the carrying out of new expeditions and more advanced research.
Many people have contributed to Australia’s Antarctic efforts over the years. Just some of them include Dr Phillip Law, who designed the modern Antarctic Program, Diana Patterson, our first female station leader, and Dr Bill Budd, who has done so much to advance Antarctic science.
Indeed the scientific expedition heading south later today will continue magnificent Australian work – ours is the only nation with a specifically dedicated scientific program on human impacts in Antarctica.
In the 21st century we are faced with a different set of challenges to Mawson – challenges far reaching and defining for the future wellbeing our planet.
One of Australia’s major projects this season is on the Amery Ice Shelf where scientists will retrieve ice at various depths and lower a range of instruments to gather information on the ocean cavity and beyond, to the seafloor.
Information from this work will help us gain greater understanding of global climate processes.
The Australian Antarctic Division in partnership with the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the University of Tasmania through the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre is investigating natural and human-induced changes to the Antarctica and Southern Ocean region.
There are already indications that substantial and rapid change is occurring off the coast of Antarctica, which is affecting the quality of water deep within the ocean. This change is expected to have an effect on the world’s ocean circulation and marine biodiversity globally.
Given the complexity of climate systems, and the intricate interconnections of land, oceans and atmosphere, it is not surprising that there is still a long path ahead, to further improve our understanding of the climate system and reduce uncertainties in climate projections.
Amongst a range of other tasks in Antarctica, Australian scientists are looking to remediate the land. Last year about 1,000 cubic metres of contaminated soil was removed from the abandoned Thala Valley rubbish tip on the foreshore of Newcomb Bay near Casey station.
This year our scientists are returning to monitor the site to ensure the disturbance during the clean-up did not cause additional spread of contaminants.
I also commend the numerous other scientific investigations, including:
· monitoring krill and salps (jellyfish look-a-likes) and their abundance or otherwise in years of poor ice extent;
· ensuring that the human harvest of krill does not adversely affect any element of the Southern Ocean Ecosystem; and
· observing sea sponges which have potent anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties, as sensitive indicators of environmental health.
As custodians for a large proportion of the Antarctic continent – 42 per cent – almost another Australia in area – it is our moral global obligation to ensure we look after it and protect it for future generations.
In 1930, as Sir Douglas Mawson headed home as leader of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic expedition which had charted 1,600 kilometres of previously unknown Antarctic coast and recharted more than 2,400 kilometres of vaguely known coastlines, in the same year, half a world away in Hamilton, Canada, the first Commonwealth Games (then the British Empire Games) were staged.
Australia was rated 6th of the 10 nations that competed, winning 3 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze medal in athletics, boxing, rowing and swimming. As an aside, there were just 9 sports open for competition in the 1930 games.
Since these games Australia has conclusively proven itself on the sporting field. Indeed our country has demonstrated its great capacity for innovation and endurance across a very wide range of human endeavours. And thus I can think of no finer group of outstanding Australians to see the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton on its way than the scientific expedition aboard Aurora Australis.
May I also commend the management and staff of P&O Polar for their professionalism over the past 15 or so years in supporting Australia’s outstanding research work in the Antarctic. Yours is a wonderful demonstration of an effective partnership between government and the private sector.
It is now my great pleasure to take the Queen’s Baton and pass it to Kim Pitt – General Manager, Operations, Australian Antarctic Division – and ask him to entrust it to the safe keeping of the crew and members of this latest expedition.
Good luck and Godspeed to you all.