Heritage values


Antarctica's unique environment is internationally recognised, and a wide range of its heritage values are protected under the Madrid Protocol. In addition to the general, continent-wide protection provided by the protocol, extra levels of protection can be applied to areas of outstanding environmental, scientific, historic, aesthetic or wilderness values by a range of frameworks (Table 7.1); for example, by designating them as Antarctic Specially Protected Areas. Sites of particular significance to Australia have also been added to the national heritage lists. Australia's subantarctic islands, which do not come under the Antarctic Treaty, are on the World Heritage List.

Table 7.1 Status of listings of Australia's natural and historic heritage in Antarctica
Site Register of the National Estate National Heritage List Commonwealth Heritage List World Heritage List
Natural and historic
Heard Island and McDonald Islands Registered 1983 Listed 2007 Indicative property; formal nomination not made Declared 1997
Macquarie Island Nature reserve registered 1980 Listed 2007   Declared 1997
Mawson's Huts and Mawson's Huts Historic Site Registered 2002 Listed 2005 Listed 2004  
Wilkes Station Indicative property; formal nomination not made      
Davis Station Registered 1999   Indicative property; formal nomination not made  
Mawson Station Registered 2001   Listed 2004  

Natural heritage

Australia's two subantarctic islands or island groups, Heard Island and McDonald Islands in the Southern Ocean and Macquarie Island in the south-west Pacific, were listed on the World Heritage List and the National Heritage List in 1997 and 2007, respectively, because of their 'outstanding natural universal values'. The inclusion of these areas on the World Heritage List underlines not only the physical and natural values these islands represent, but also their international importance. Moreover, these islands are significant for Australia's Antarctic history, as both contain sites of cultural heritage value.180-181 Heard Island and McDonald Islands are Australian territory and are managed through the Australian Antarctic Division. Macquarie Island is part of Tasmania and in the care of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services. However, the division coordinates and manages the maintenance of the station and field huts, as well as logistic operations.

Australia also manages 11 Antarctic Specially Protected Areas, including one at Commonwealth Bay (see Section 2.5.2), as well as two Antarctic Specially Managed Areas (ASMAs): Commonwealth Bay (ASMA 03) and the Larsemann Hills (ASMA 06).

Historic heritage

Significant sites associated with cultural heritage can be found in the AAT, on Heard Island and Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean. There are four key types of cultural heritage sites in the region,182 associated with:

  • early scientific endeavour and exploration (1911-14)
  • the sealing industry on Heard Island and Macquarie Island
  • the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (1929-31)
  • Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions and agencies of other nations that established research stations in the AAT after World War 2.

Any conservation work on the historic sites is assessed for its impact under the Antarctic Treaty Environment Protection Act 1980. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 also has application, because wildlife occurs within the protected areas. Rather than being managed onsite, some artefacts are recovered from Antarctica for conservation treatment or protection. These artefacts include books, clothing, scientific and mechanical devices, field equipment and many others that, if left in situ, would deteriorate and be lost. These items are catalogued in the Antarctic Heritage Register housed in the data centre of the Australian Antarctic Division.d

One of Australia's most important historic sites of international significance is Mawson's Huts, which were erected at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, in 1911 by the men of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under the leadership of Sir Douglas Mawson. The expedition was the first major and, as it turned out, most dramatic, scientific program of the young nation and, at the time, was important for the application of new technologies, such as the use of wireless transmissions between Antarctica and the outside world via a relay post at Macquarie Island. The expedition collected a wealth of biological, magnetic, geological and meteorological data.

The base that Mawson and his team established at Cape Denison in 1912 was never intended to be a long-term establishment. While the huts were solidly built and survived the Antarctic conditions for many decades, wind ablation and snow intrusion have taken their toll and the structural elements of the site have been deteriorating since their construction. The main hut and the magnetograph house are in sound condition, and the integrity of their interiors is high. In 1998, the magnetograph house was altered by timber cladding on the roof. The transit hut and absolute magnetic hut are in poor condition; both huts have been stabilised to preserve them as standing ruins. The Memorial Cross is in good condition.183 Most of the portable artefacts outside the huts are still in the same locations they were in when Mawson left the site in 1914.182,184

In 2005, the Australian Government registered the four huts on Australia's National Heritage List as Mawson's Huts and Mawson's Huts Historic Site and launched a conservation management plan to protect the site. The management plan was also a requirement under the Madrid Protocol, as the site had been proposed to be nominated as a Historic Site and an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA 03). Furthermore, the site was declared an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA 162) embedded within the ASMA, to afford further protection. All access and activities within the ASPA are regulated by a permit system.

In addition to Mawson's Huts, several sites within the AAT are formally protected under the Antarctic Treaty System through their designation as historic sites and monuments (Table 7.1). These include buildings at Mawson and Davis stations, and rock cairns erected by Sir Douglas Mawson at Proclamation Island, Enderby Land and Cape Bruce. Another cairn erected by Sir Hubert Wilkins in 1939 is located in the Vestfold Hills, Ingrid Christensen Coast. A further nine historic sites and monuments have been declared under Antarctic Treaty provisions to protect sites of significance to the United States and Russia.

Most sealing industry sites are on the coast and at risk from the effects of the extreme weather, climate change and a dynamic coastline, as well as human interference and encroachment by vegetation. At Heard Island, a significant amount of cultural heritage material has been lost or has had to be relocated since recording of the cultural heritage began in the mid-1980s. Many of the portable artefacts are slowly deteriorating and only have a limited lifespan.185 Many sites on Macquarie Island are now partially buried. Shipwreck material, structural elements and portable artefacts are slowly deteriorating.182,186-187 Ruins of the masts and huts on Wireless Hill survive but are deteriorating.182,187-188 One of the remaining masts was removed in 2011. Most Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition buildings at Buckles Bay are intact and in good condition.

Wienecke B (2011). Antarctic environment: Heritage values. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/science/soe/2011-report/7-antarctic/2-state-and-trends/2-5-heritage-values, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65b2b307c0