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Memento : Issue 35
Australia claimed Heard Island as part of its territory in December 1947. Until then, it had been accepted as being a British territory, even though Britain had only a thin claim to it. An American, Captain John Heard, discovered the island in 1853. He urged the United States Government to claim it but, unable to believe that it could possibly be of any benefit to them, the Americans ignored his requests. With Britain's urging, Australia made its claim in 1947, sending small parties of a dozen or so men annually to occupy the island until March 1954. The men did biological and physical sciences research there after building and occupying a base at Atlas Cove. The work was an almost incidental benefit to the Australian Government, which saw Australia's occupation principally as a way to reinforce its territorial claim. At the same time as Heard Island was occupied, men were also sent to Macquarie Island, where they built a base near its northern end on a site where elephant sealers had lived nearly a century earlier. Life on Heard Island was gritty, cold and dangerous for the men of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE). The constant strong winds blew the island's black volcanic sand into everything. Fresh fruit, vegetables and imported meat were limited to the few months of the year after the annual resupply ship had called. The keeping qualities of the meat were not all they might have been. Reluctant to waste food, the men washed their ageing supplies of mutton in dilute permanganate of potash, which took off the meat's coating of slime and sand. They then cooked and ate it. In 1950, Heard Island was the scene of an emergency rescue of the base's doctor, Serge Udovikoff, ill with appendicitis. On 27 July 1950, HMAS Australia sailed from Melbourne, where the Antarctic Division had its headquarters at the time. A Movietone News cameraman, two journalists and two photographers were on board to capture the historic winter landing. When the ship reached Heard, its crew sent ashore fresh vegetables and some reading material. After retrieving the sick man, the ship took on two penguins, which they named Percy and Pauline. They were washed overboard before the ship had gone far on its return voyage to Melbourne. Heard Island's icy shores are no longer occupied year-round, though sometimes there are expeditions in the summer months. After Dr Udovikoff's emergency evacuation, any doctor intending to work on an Australian base in Antarctica now has an appendectomy before 'going South'. Macquarie Island Macquarie Island, 750 km south of Tasmania -- halfway to Antarctica -- is a long thin island with a high central plateau. Its narrow coastal terrace has shingle, rocky and grey sand beaches. In places, the cliffs drop sheer to the sea. It is 5 km at its widest, and 34 km long. After its discovery in 1810, sealers sailed to Macquarie Island to kill fur seals for their skins. By 1815 there were no more fur seals -- they had been 'sealed out'. Later visitors killed penguins and elephant seals, whose blubber produces a clean-smelling and long-lasting oil. On his way to Antarctica in late 1911, Douglas Mawson left five men from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition on Macquarie Island under the leadership of meteorologist GF Ainsworth. 'Sealers were on the Island continuously during the time of our occupation,' Ainsworth noted in a report now held by the National Archives, 'and thus [there was] an unique opportunity for observing the methods employed in obtaining bird and animal oil.' [below] Unidentified man, probably geologist AJ (Jim) Lambeth, with an elephant seal on Heard Island, December 1947. NAA: A1200, L10036 MEMENTO ISSUE 35 11