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Media Release

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

CLEAN UP OF BURIED ANTARCTIC BASE


22 April 1998

The Federal Government will undertake a detailed survey of a 'ghost town' buried under ice and snow in the Antarctic as part of an on-going clean up of Australia's Antarctic Territory.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, Senator Ian Macdonald, announced today that he has instructed the Antarctic Division to allocate funding of $90,000 to undertake a survey of the old Wilkes Station next summer as a basis for a comprehensive plan to clean up the abandoned and buried site.

"Wilkes Station was established in 1957 by the United States and two years later was transferred to Australian control. As a result of its position in a valley it was continually bedevilled by ice and snow accumulation. It was abandoned in 1969 when Australia opened Casey station at a more suitable site on nearby hills," Senator Macdonald said.

"The structures remaining at Wilkes are like a buried ghost town and include accommodation, dining and working quarters, and research structures," Senator Macdonald said. "The abandoned station site also includes extensive rubbish dumps, old fuel drums and bladders, and old stores including food."

Under the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty which came into force on 14 January 1998, nations are required to remove abandoned facilities and rubbish dumps, subject to environmental considerations.

"Cleaning up Wilkes is a big task, and may take more than 20 years to complete because many buildings are only exposed during major thaws. The Howard Government recognises these difficulties but is committed to fulfilling its commitments under the Antarctic Treaty."

"The survey to be conducted next summer will provide vital information to enable me to finalise an environmentally friendly and cost-effective plan for the clean up of Wilkes. Subject to any environmental or heritage requirements, the plan will result in the removal of rubbish and old buildings from the site," Senator Macdonald said.

Historic video footage and past and present still photos of Wilkes station are available by contacting James Shevlin on 02 6277 3665 or 0417 717 935.

For further comment please telephone
Townsville (07) 4771 3066; Canberra (02) 6277 3665; Mobile 0411 042813

Commonwealth of Australia