The Aurora Australis was Australia’s Antarctic flagship from 1989 until 2020. It was named after the southern hemisphere atmospheric phenomenon, the aurora australis.

Designed as a multi-purpose research and resupply ship, the Aurora Australis was built by Carrington Slipways in Newcastle for P&O Polar and launched in September 1989. The ship was 94.9 m long and 3,911 tonnes in weight. It had a cruising speed of 13 knots, and accommodated 116 passengers. It was capable of breaking ice up to 1.23 m thick. The ship was also fitted with a helipad and hangar facilities for three helicopters.

The Aurora Australis regularly sailed across the Southern Ocean where storms can generate 10 m high seas and winds of 120 to 150 km/h. The ship was known to roll up to 45 degrees in big swells. In these situations the angle of the deck was far steeper than any streets in Australia. The Aurora Australis was painted a very bright orange, thus allowing it to be easily seen in ice-strewn waters.

The Aurora Australis was well equipped with a trawl deck, purpose designed for marine science and oceanographic work. A wide range of science was conducted in onboard laboratories, including biological, oceanography and meteorological experiments and observations.

On a 6 week voyage, the ship’s kitchen could go through 4,500 eggs, 1,000 kg of potatoes and 280 L of ice cream. The ship was able to produce up to 45,000 L of fresh water per day for use on board for both drinking and other uses.

With satellite communications, people on the ship could phone anywhere in the world at any time. Expeditioners could also stay in contact with friends and family via email.

Expeditioners were accommodated in small cabins that sleep three or four people on bunk beds. The beds fold away into couches to save space, and each cabin had its own bathroom and toilet. The ship also had a gym, library and recreation areas. Everybody ate together in a large communal mess.

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