There’s been an extraordinary response to the invitation extended to Tasmanian schools, to visit the Antarctic icebreaker Aurora Australis during the Australian Antarctic Festival. And no wonder, because this is a very rare opportunity to get aboard this amazing ship, which has completed millions of nautical miles in the most remote parts of the Southern Ocean. The ship, which is part fuel tanker, part expeditioner transport, part supply vessel and part floating marine laboratory has a long and outstanding history of service. Almost 800 school children from 14 Tasmanian schools will visit the ship for special guided tours, courtesy of P&O Maritime, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS). The children will meet scientists, technicians and veteran expeditioners, who will explain the exciting adventure of visiting Antarctica and the important work that Australians do there.
School Teachers Quick to Respond
‘We were staggered by the uptake’ said festival director Paul Cullen. ‘Word seemed to spread like wildfire and all available capacity was booked out within a week. We are limited by safety guidelines and capacity on the ship. It’s not a cruise liner, it’s a working ship. That makes it a very exciting visit for the children, but we are also determined to do this safely, so we have to limit numbers.’ The school children will be met by Antarctic scientists, ship’s crew and former expeditioners, who will explain what the ship does and why it is so important to Australia’s Antarctic program. ‘The station crew call her the Big Orange Taxi’ said Cullen, himself a former Antarctic expeditioner, ‘but she’s much more than that. This tough little ship has crashed through heavy pack ice and enormous seas, endured being stuck for weeks on end, gone to the rescue of other Antarctic ships and of course carried all the fuel and supplies for Australia’s three continental stations and Macquarie Island. But she’s also a fully equipped marine science vessel and a pretty impressive tanker. You read about all the various scrapes she’s been in, but that’s because she goes to very challenging places and does hard work there.’
It is the first time for more than a decade that the ship has been opened for such large numbers and the school outings will be well cared for by a small army of volunteer guides and safety marshals. School groups will also visit IMAS, for a fascinating look at the important work done there. The children will learn about research that helps us to understand how tiny creatures in the sea and massive ocean systems influence not just our climate, but all life on earth.
Public Tours of Antarctic Ships
The good news is that the general public will also be able to visit the Aurora Australis and the French Antarctic vessel L’Astrolabe, during the festival, with pre-booked tours available on Saturday and Sunday. ‘It’s part of the full festival program’ Mr. Cullen said. ‘There is a major Antarctic Expo in Princes Wharf No.1 on the weekend (10-11 Sept.), with displays and information on the many agencies and companies that work in and supply the Antarctic, including the Australian Antarctic Division, TasPorts, the Tasmanian Polar Network and many more. The Antarctic Expo is entirely free to the public. Guided tours of the ships will available by donation to the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, but must be pre-booked on the festival website. Bookings open on August 1 and are expected to sell out quickly.