Twelve federal parliamentarians flew the 3400kms from Hobart to Antarctica recently in a rare opportunity to inspect facilities at the Wilkins aerodrome in the Australian Antarctic Territory.
It was a blustery minus 20 degrees Celsius when they landed on the $46 million runway that has been carved into a wide flat expanse of glacial ice, about 65kms from the nearest Australian base at Casey Station on Vincennes Bay. The MPs and senators joined a group of scientists and other base personnel being transported to and from Antarctica on an Airbus A319 for the first flight this summer.
Five members of the Joint National Capital and External Territories Committee flew for four hours from Hobart, along with Environment Minister Tony Burke (Watson, NSW) and Community Services Minister Julie Collins (Franklin, TAS), and also five members of the Senate’s Environment Committee to spend a few hours at the three kilometre ice runway opened in 2008.
Committee members Bruce Scott (Maranoa, QLD), Andrew Leigh (Fraser, ACT), Senator Stephen Parry (TAS), Senator Gary Humphries (ACT) and Senator Trish Crossin (NT) met the staff at the Wilkins aerodrome facing the challenges of maintaining the level of the runway and also its friction before each landing. Unexpected surface melt has curtailed the full use of the summer airstrip.
The MPs were also shown a demonstration field camp and the tents and transport used by scientists when they go on expeditions away from their bases. It was the first time this joint committee had made the flight to Antarctica with previous visits requiring a two week journey by ship across the Southern Ocean.