On 22 October, Syd Kirkby, AO, MBE, engaged an audience of around 60 people for two hours at the University of the Sunshine Coast with his excellent presentation on how Australia’s Antarctic Territory came into being.
Syd had spent several summers and winters from 1956-1981 working with Australia's Antarctic programme, undertaking extensive and prolonged sledging journeys for exploration and mapping. During his presentation, Syd outlined the history of Antarctic discoveries and exploration going back to the 1830s including the British, French, German, US and Australian expeditions, particularly highlighting the tremendous achievements of Shackleton and Mawson. He explained the significance of the 1929-31 BANZARE and the 1962 ANARE expeditions which established Australia as a major player in Antarctica. In 1933 Britain surprisingly divested its Antarctic territory to Australia and New Zealand, resulting in Australia’s share of Antarctic Territory comprising 42% of the continent! The 1958 International Geophysical Year ramped up interest in Antarctica and establishment of stations by multiple nations followed. The Antarctic Treaty was originally signed by 12 nations in 1959 and there are now 55 signatories.
Syd recalled his strong camaraderie with scientists of all nationalities, including many Russian scientists, and regaled the audience with personal vignettes of the exploits of penguins, orcas, snow petrels and skuas. He stated that he welcomed Chinese scientific endeavours in Antarctica and also tourism. Although the latter has the potential to bring the beauty and conservation of Antarctica to a wider public, Syd cautioned that there was a need to protect areas heavily visited by tourist operations. He offered the idea of a period of “tourism exclusion” after 5 years of some frequently visited areas to allow environments and wildlife to recover. Syd was awarded the Polar Medal in 1958, made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1966, gained the Order of Australia in 2018, and was awarded the RGSQ Thompson Medal in 2002. It was, indeed, a rare privilege to hear Syd Kirkby, one of Australia's Fifty Greatest Explorers, present his experiences