Cool fact…
Southern elephant seals are the largest seals in the world.

Research expeditions

The unique and largely unmodified natural qualities of Heard Island and its surrounding waters have for many years attracted the attention of hardy scientists, willing to make the long ocean journey and brave harsh elements to better understand what's there, how it is changing and why.

Early visits were brief but important in providing initial records and baseline data, which has been built upon by more recent expeditions.

Early scientific visits

The first recorded scientific visit to Heard Island was by the Challenger in 1874, when a brief landing was made at Atlas Cove and a few scientific samples were collected. Poor weather limited the visit to three hours.

Later the same year, the Arcona brought a German expedition to Heard Island, looking for suitable sites for observing a transit of Venus. It is likely that the poor weather discouraged their interest in the island.

Three scientific visits to the island were made in the early 20th century. The first was in February 1902 by the German Antarctic Expedition, when a small team landed at Atlas Cove for a brief visit to make observations and collect samples.

The second was an eight-day visit to the Atlas Cove region in January 1928 by two French geologists and the third was in November 1929 by the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, led by Douglas Mawson. As with previous visits, poor weather reduced the duration of the visit and limited the scientific investigations by the field party.

More recent scientific visits

Periodic Australian research expeditions have been made to HIMI since the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) station at Atlas Cove was established in December 1947, and more recent research expeditions have also been made by other nations.

Australian scientists journey to Heard Island

© Education Services Australia Ltd and National Archives of Australia, 2007-10


Australian scientists journey to Heard Island

Video transcript

Narrator: A strange craft for a strange voyage. HMAS Labuan is ready to leave Melbourne with a relieving party of 12 scientists who will spend the year on Heard Island, the Australian research station in the sub-Antarctic. Heading south on the 3700 mile adventure, Labuan skipper is Lieutenant Commander Dickson.

The vehicle deck of the former tank landing craft makes a good gymnasium to keep the personnel fit and active.


Narrator: In the ward room the expedition leader, Mr Phillip Law, is already planning. Kee Ooi [spelling unknown] is a Chinese biologist from Perth University.

When we sight an iceberg, we know that the Antarctic is really near, although we’re only half way to Heard Island.


Narrator: But now Heard Island itself is looming up, with Big Ben mountains towering 9000 feet above sea level. For the newcomers, one of the few sunny days turns on a sightseeing welcome. HMAS Labuan anchors in Atlas Cove, site of the expedition’s permanent camp.

Twelve men can get through a lot of stores in a year, and the first job is to unload 120 tonnes of food, fuel oil, radio and engine parts.


Narrator: The cargo is ferried to the island by army ducks. The new party will live on this frigid rocky outpost, where the South Pole’s nearer than home, and their closest neighbours are some South African meteorologists, 1400 miles to the west.


Narrator: But the local inhabitants always turn on a warm if inquisitive welcome, with the invitations reading 'white tie and tails'.

A fur seal is another member of the reception committee, and we have no trouble in getting close to a rookery of skewer gulls, the scavengers of the island.


Narrator: Twelve months reading will soon make a dent in that library!

Campbell-Drury demonstrates the home-made wireless which he used to contact Australia. Dr Gilchrist supervises violet ray treatment, which is compensation for lack of sunlight.

Weather expert, Aussie Watt [spelling unknown], discusses problems with his predecessors. The old instructing the new, but all fully experienced technicians.


This page was last updated on 28 February 2005.