579 Cabinet Submission

Agendum No.1275E 11 November 1947,



A. LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION In Cabinet Agendum No.1275D an interim report was given on the progress to the end of July, 1947, of organisation of the forthcoming Antarctic Expedition, and certain recommendations were made with regard to long range planning for the development of the Australian Antarctic Territory. Cabinet approval was given on 15th August, 1947.

Since then the first meeting of the Antarctic Scientific Advisory Committee has been held on 4th September, 1947. Sir Douglas Mawson was elected Chairman and the scientific programme for the forthcoming expedition and for future years was discussed.

A further meeting of the Executive Planning Committee was also held on 4th September, 1947, at which it was decided that the itinerary of the Wyatt Earp as set out tentatively in Cabinet Agendum 1275D should be confirmed. It was decided, however, to revise the itinerary of L.S.T- 3501 to enable it to carry out a reconnaissance of the Cape Freshfield area of the Antarctic Continent late in the season and on the same journey as the winter party is landed on Macquarie Island. This reconnaissance will supplement the work done in the same area by the Wyatt Earp earlier in the season.

Plans for this year's Expedition including engagement of personnel are now almost complete. A list of personnel engaged, excluding naval personnel, is attached as Annex A. L.S.T.3501 will leave Melbourne for Heard island on 14th or 15th November on its first journey. The L.S.T. is expected to return to Melbourne in time to leave for Macquarie Island and the Cape Freshfield area in January. It is hoped that the Wyatt Earp will leave Hobart for the Antarctic Continent itself about the middle of December.


With a view to consolidating Australian territorial claims in Antarctica, arrangements have been made to give publicity to the work the Australian Government is now undertaking. In particular, regular broadcasts will be made from Heard and Macquarie Islands and news items based on these broadcasts will be released to the press in Australia and overseas. So far as circumstances permit, broadcasts will also be made from the Wyatt Earp itself and dealt with similarly. Photographers will also accompany each party for the purpose of making films and taking still photographs, also intended for wide release.

French Observer A request has been made by the French Government that it be permitted to send an observer with the Expedition. The main reasons for this were that the French sector of Antarctica-Adelie Land-lies between the two parts of the Australian Territory and that the French Government was itself unable to send an expedition there this summer. The French Government has granted refuelling facilities to the Expedition at the French possession of Kerguelen Island, 280 miles north west of Heard Island. Owing to the limitation of space it was not possible for any extra personnel to be accommodated on the Wyatt Earp but the French Government was informed that the Australian Government would be happy to provide accommodation on the L.S.T. on her journey to Macquarie Island and the Cape Freshfield area. It is understood that the French observer will arrive towards the end of December to join the Expedition.


It is proposed that the leader of the expedition to Heard island be authorised to organise the occupation and administration of Heard and McDonald Islands on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.

It will be recalled that Cabinet has already approved a proposal to establish scientific and meteorological stations on Heard Island and to maintain them for an initial period of at least five years.

Heard and McDonald Islands are situated in the South Indian ocean about halfway along the great circle route between Perth and Cape Town. The McDonald Islands, a small precipitous group about 26 miles to the west of Heard island, are of less importance than Heard Island. They have usually been treated, however, as an administrative unit with Heard island and there appears to be no good reason to depart from this practice. A short description of these islands is attached as Annex B which also summarises known British and United States activities in relation to the islands.

Present Legal Position regarding Heard and McDonald Islands

It is not necessary at this stage to refer to the position under international law with regard to these Islands, except to say that, in the light of events to which reference is made in Annex B, the United Kingdom probably has a legal claim to Heard Island although that Government is not satisfied that it would succeed in establishing its claim should other nations dispute the claim.

This doubt arises in part from the fact that the Island does not appear to have been occupied by British units for nearly twenty years. If the United Kingdom doubt be well founded, it would be open to any other country to establish a legally valid claim by open, peaceful and continuous occupation. The proposed Australian occupation has the full concurrence of the United Kingdom Government which is prepared to transfer any rights it has in respect of the Island to the Commonwealth. The wise course for Australia appears to be to take no steps which would reflect on the United Kingdom's claim.

The McDonald Islands have been regarded as being in the same administrative unit as Heard Island. So far as is known, neither the United States nor any other country has openly asserted any claim in respect of these Islands.

The subsequent procedure by which Australia will legislatively and administratively complete her title to Heard and McDonald Islands is at present under careful consideration.


In the light of the foregoing the following recommendations are made:

(1) That no formal annexation of Heard and McDonald Islands be made at least at this stage.

(2) That the leader of the Expedition be authorised to refer to His Majesty's Sovereign rights over Heard and McDonald Islands, and to initiate a programme of activity that will evidence continuous and effective Australian occupation of the Islands.

(3) That approval be given for the following steps to be taken after the arrival of the Expedition at Heard Island:

(a) A formal ceremony will be conducted by Group Captain Campbell on arrival at Heard Island. This will consist of raising the Australian flag, reading a prepared declaration which will refer to His Majesty's sovereign rights over Heard and McDonald Islands and initiate the Australian occupation of these islands. This declaration, witnessed and signed, will be inserted in a metal case which will be enclosed in a cairn erected at the foot of the flagpole and an exact copy will be returned to the appropriate Commonwealth authorities. A draft declaration is attached for approval (Annex C).

(b) A detailed description of the ceremony will be entered in the ship's log and witnessed.

(c) Immediately following the ceremony a signal will be despatched whereupon a press release will be issued from Canberra either by the Prime Minister or by the Minister for External Affairs. This press release will be prepared by the Department of External Affairs in consultation with the Attorney-General's Department.

(d) Throughout its stay on Heard Island the Expedition will forward a series of reports which will be issued likewise as press releases, each so drafted as to imply that the Expedition is in effective occupation of Australian territory.

(e) The arrangements already made with the Postmaster-General's Department for the special post-marking of envelopes posted from Heard Island will be carried out.

(f) For the duration of the Expedition the Australian flag will be flown over Heard Island.

(4) That the leader of the Expedition be directed that in the event of a landing by any other party during the Expedition's stay on Heard island, he should peacefully assert Australian rights over the islands. [1]

(SGD.) J.B. CHIFLEY Prime Minister and Acting Minister for External Affairs

1 Cabinet approved the recommendations on 11 November.

[AA : A2700, VOL. 31]