Reference: Dept of National Development and Energy report NMP/82/007



Extract from the Australian Government, Antarctic Division web site www.heardisland.aq



In 1979/80, a National Mapping expedition visited Heard Island for little more than two weeks. During this visit, the second landing was made on McDonald Island, this time by amphibious vehicle (the first landing having been a brief visit made by helicopter during a joint French-Australian expedition in 1971). A small team was present on the island for five days conducting the first scientific surveys of the island.


“and only two landings on McDonald Island (in 1971 and 1980)”


(It appears from web research that Natmap camping on McDonald Island is the only known overnight habitation of the island, the French visit was not overnight).(TG note)




Natmap, as part of its topographic and bathymetric programs, mounted an expedition in March 1980 to the uninhabited Heard Island (53º 06'S, 73º 30' E), some 4120 kilometres from Perth and McDonald Island some 43 kilometres away. The expedition travelled on the MV Cape Pillar with the journey commencing and ending in Fremantle. A Hughes 500 helicopter was hired from Central Australian Helicopters, Alice Springs, to support the expedition.


Berths were made available for personnel from BMR and the Australian Antarctic Division.


The Expedition involved:




Con Veenstra      Leader, Heard Island.


John Manning      Heard and McDonald Island land party

Rod Streeter       Heard and McDonald Island land party

Ted Graham        Heard and McDonald Island land party


Barry Obst          Shipboard party OIC

Jack Pittar           Shipboard party

Ken Brown          Shipboard party

Mick Spellacy       Shipboard party


Bureau of Mineral Resources


Larry Tilbury       BMR shipboard party

Ron Dulski           BMR shipboard party


Antarctic Division


Richard Williams  Heard and McDonald Island land party

Gavin Johnstone  Heard and McDonald Island land party

John Jenkin         Melbourne University, Heard and McDonald Island land party

Ian Clarke          Monash University, Heard and McDonald Island land party




Ron McNeil          AB, MV Cape Pillar, Heard Island Base Assistant

Des Ross             Helicopter Pilot

Roy Rayner         Helicopter Engineer


MV Cape Pillar Crew


Captain Gordon Maxwell and crew, being:


R. Ireland, A. Codrington, P. Verheyden, R. McManamon, V. Osborn, T. Merson, E. Orman, D. Cleghorn, W. Rothacker, C. Bridge, K. Balling, A. Scott, N. Cobb, J. Hatfield, R. McNeill, R. Davidson, P. Stokes, P. Pittiglio, J. Vinter, P. Jiear, P. Birch, M. Flood, R. Lidster, P. Gardner, P. Hutchins, A. Aquillina, S. Stokoe, T. Roxby, B. Fowler, T. Spence, B. Mulligan, M. Treloar.


The Expedition budget was A$333,680 and departed Fremantle on 29 February and returned on 7 April 1980. (As an example of changing times and costs the cost today of mobilising and steaming a 60m vessel from Singapore to Dampier, a 7 day trip, is around the same budget cost, i.e. A$350,000)


Upon departure the vessel commenced soundings and they continued throughout the voyage using a Magnavox Satellite Navigation Positioning System. This was coupled to an Atlas Deso 10 Depth Sounder. Water depths up to 1400m were recorded. During this transit south the scientific program used XBT (eXpendable BathyThermographs) probes at regular intervals (Expendable bathythermographs are deployed from a vessel and measure changes in water temperature as it descends into the water column. By plotting temperature as a function of depth, the scientists can get a picture of the temperature profile of the water. The probe can work to a depth of 1500m. The probe is connected by two small telemetry wires leading back to the recording device on the vessel, where data is recorded for later analysis).


11 March - the vessel anchored at McDonald Island and the shore party departed by LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) amphibian and helicopter. Aerial photography of McDonald Island was undertaken and the shore party established a camp consisting of two tents amongst the extensive penguin colony on one of the rare open tussock grass spaces. The island was home to many hundreds of thousands of Macaroni penguins. A later volcanic eruption presumably depleted the numbers.


12 March - the Pillar departed at 0940 hours to commence its soundings program around the Islands and the Kerguelen Plateau.


15 March - the Pillar anchored at McDonald Island and embarked the shore party before departing for Heard Island where it arrived at Atlas Cove at 1730 hours.


16 March - Heard Island shore party disembarked and set up camp.


17 March - vessel remained at Atlas Cove to undertake a bathymetric survey of Atlas Cove as well as unload the remainder of the equipment. The shore party commenced mapping and scientific work.


18 March - the vessel weighed anchor at 1307 hours to continue its offshore sounding operations.


25 March - the vessel returned to Atlas Cove at 1800 hrs and over the next two days loaded stores and equipment and recovered the wrecked Walrus aircraft. The vessel departed Atlas Cove at 1545 hours for Iles Kerguelen, anchoring at Port aux Francais at 1330 hours.


30 March - the vessel departed Kerguelen at 1327 hours for Fremantle (after a dinner and heavy night ashore and a walk around the Base in the morning).


7 April - the expedition arrived back at Fremantle.



Expedition programs


Survey and Mapping of Heard Island


During 1855 the sealing Rogers family roughly chartered Heard Island but these early maps do not seem to have survived. In 1874 the Challenger visited the island and in June 1874 the first British Admiralty chart of the island was published.  All charts prior to 1949 were sketchy and incomplete, and chart AUS 08, based on the work of Bob Dovers, surveyor with the 1948 ANARE expedition, was the first complete chart published. A further map was produced by Natmap in 1964 and in 1969 an American team wintered on the island as part of the world wide PAGEOS mapping project (PAGEOS for PAssive GEOdetic Satellite was used in the Worldwide Satellite Triangulation Network, a global cooperation that connected the network of 46 stations (3000 - 5000 km distance) on all continents with an accuracy of 3-5 m (approx. 20 times better than Terrestrial triangulations at that time). The aim being to improve the knowledge of the figure of the Earth).


The primary purpose of the 1980 shore survey was to fix the points of Heard Island and Shag Island lying closest to the French Territory of Isles Kerguelen, to assist in the calculation of a median line to determine territorial rights. The secondary task was to take as much aerial photography of the islands as possible using a 70mm Hasselblad camera mounted vertically in the helicopter. Further, a Doppler position fix was made at the American PAGEOS camera site to connect it and the original Dovers 1948 triangulation.


For the Doppler survey JMR observations were made at 6 stations on Heard Island. Severe weather conditions proved challenging for the equipment, but adequate survey data was obtained under harsh conditions.


Tellurometer (CA1000) surveys were conducted to verify the accuracy of the 1948 survey and to provide a base for future geodetic or topographic mapping control on the island. Twelve single direction lines were measured and angles read with a Wild T2 Theodolite at six stations to verify and supplement the original triangulation. Directions were also read to Sail Rock, Shag Island and Drury Rock to check their position by intersection.


Survey and Mapping of McDonald Island


Discovered in 1854 by Captain McDonald the islands were positioned by sightings from Heard Island in 1948 and shown as 5 separate islands on chart AUS 08 published in 1949.  In 1971 a sketch map was drawn by Natmap following a visit by the French ship Gallieni compiled from hand held oblique photography taken from a helicopter. This map showed that only three islands existed in the group, McDonald, Meyer Rock and Flat Island.


The primary purpose of the 1980 shore survey was to obtain aerial photography of the whole group and to fix sufficient control points so as to compile an accurate map from the photographs.


Vertical photography of the islands was completed, some at temperatures of -22°C.


Control surveys were under taken using JMR Satellite Positioning, Tellurometer distance measuring equipment and Wild T2 Theodolite instruments. Magnetic observations were made at one location.


Bathymetric surveys in the vicinity of Heard and McDonald Islands 


The Kerguelen Plateau was almost covered by a 30 mile sounding grid but large gaps remain to the south of Heard Island. Whilst the ship was at anchor at Atlas Cove a detailed bathymetric survey was undertaken using a survey launch and Miniranger transponders for position fixing the recorded depths.


An “Aanderra” tide gauge was placed in 19 metres of water in Atlas Cove providing good records. (This type of gauge records tide variations internally via a pressure sensor and recording device for later downloading and analysis when the gauge is recovered)


A “Bristol” tide recorder was established at Atlas Cove. This recorder consisted of a pressure transducer placed below low water mark with an pressure airtube (sensing changes in pressure as the pressure of water on the sensor changes with the changing tide level) running to a recorder on land


Meyer, Drury, Seal Rocks and Shag Island were positioned from the ship using satellite fixes with short radiations from the ship to shore.


Marine Geophysical and other scientific works


Considerable detail of these programs is contained in the Natmap report, referenced above:


- BMR undertook an extensive collection of magnetic and bathymetric data during all vessel passages;


-ANARE personnel undertook extensive and valuable Zoology, Marine Science, Botany and Geology programs.


Brief recollections - by Ted Graham


I was pleased to be part of this expedition and my recollections hopefully reflect that pleasure.


I initially became aware of the program when Peter O’Donnell asked me to take part, whilst we were travelling to Canberra airport one day. I then became very closely involved in the helicopter tender and final selection, onshore planning, detailing equipment and the aerial photography processes both in Canberra and Melbourne. I then drove the supply vehicle to Fremantle, from Canberra, whilst others were on the vessel for its voyage to Fremantle from Melbourne.


In Fremantle the vessel was further mobilised and whilst that was occurring the helicopter arrived from Alice Springs and was readied for the trip. Included was final certification by the Department of Civil Aviation of the vessels helipad. Lifejackets were borrowed from one of the commercial airlines in Perth. I also purchased the Australian Flag which was flown above the survey mark on McDonald Island and Heard Islands and flown from the vessel at Kerguelen Island. The flag remains in good condition and is flown from time to time in Perth.


The voyage to McDonald Island is best remembered by the corkscrew motion of the Cape Pillar in the rough Southern ocean seas. A very uncomfortable motion developed by some vessels. I have pictures of huge seas breaking over the bow and the Bridge but as always I enjoy time at sea, after the initial couple of days of not feeling well.


I remember one particular event where Roy Rayner and I noticed that the helicopter was not seafastened well, and was trying to move across the deck. It was around mealtime which was fortunate as our absence was noted; we sat on the skids fearful that if we moved the helicopter would break loose. Our absence from the meal prompted others to look for us, and hence we obtained more help to tie the helicopter down. Some time during the voyage Roy sustained one or several broken ribs, which caused him great discomfort for weeks.


As we proceeded further south the migratory seabirds joined us with huge albatross flying alongside the vessel, and on one occasion landing on the deck.


Our first landfall was McDonald Island where the shore party camped in three tents for a few days. I can still “smell” the penguin manure but the sight of such a huge colony of penguins is one never to be forgotten, especially the view from Maxwell Hill.  It was also from there that I first saw the wonderful sight of Heard Island’s Big Ben towering out of the water on a particularly clear and sunny day. The survey work proceeded, with one of the photos attached to this article showing the Australian flag flying above the survey mark; in effect a modern day territorial land claim. 


My other McDonald Island story is the “penguin count”, involving from memory Rod, John, and I. We placed four corner markers/spades to mark out a predetermined sized square - the idea being to wait and count the penguins inside the square/metre and thus establish a rough island count. Well the idea was excellent but the penguins had a different idea, they all stood around the edges of the square and refused to venture inside it!


The Report shows the work scope was fully achieved and that is my recollection as well - it went well without any hiccups.


We then proceeded to Heard Island where the shore party disembarked. We occupied two 1970’s French “Arbec” huts which were very well preserved and dry. They even had gas heaters and gas bottles still hooked up to them. More about that later.


My first impression was seeing it from McDonald Island then coming into Atlas Cove and seeing the towering mass of Big Ben in all its glory. The Atlas Cove camp site was strewn with enormous amounts of man made rubbish from previous expeditions. I hope it has all been cleaned up by now. A significant number of Elephant seals remained a constant presence whilst the majestic King Penguins were always interested in our activities.


I, chosen probably because I was the tallest, placed a tide gauge recorder in a suitable depth of water, dressed only in “jocks”. It was rather cold; in fact my toes took months to recover their feeling. 


Apart from establishing the three sleeping huts - the two French huts and another whose name I can’t remember which Con and another used, we used one of the generator sheds to run our own generator, and of course the excellent latrine hut.


During breaks in the scientific program we undertook various maintenance tasks on the buildings to try to preserve them for future use. In particular, the Australian recreational living hut was cleaned out and nailed up tight, and the cross above the graves of Mr Hoseason and Mr Forbes, who both died on 26 May 1952, was remounted.


A hot water shower was also established, fuelled by the large amount of scrap wood lying about. The shower was good, but entry and exit was rather cold.


As always there are amusing incidents. One which could have been very dangerous occurred when I was trying to open an old French gas bottle valve inside a hut which at that time was occupied by several people, and which had the gas heater burning. The valve broke and gas escaped everywhere, I ran to the door and suggested everyone should vacate the hut immediately; it was interesting to see four or five grown men all trying to get out one door at the same time. We rolled the gas bottle away and it was then deliberately set on fire.


We took a reconnaissance helicopter trip over Shag Island then flew over the top of Big Ben. It was very tempting to land on the peak but clearly unsafe to do so as we were not equipped should something go wrong. 


On one flight Des Ross and I were flying around the southern side of the Island somewhere above Winston lagoon (always the worst weather side), when without warning the helicopter iced up and became completely unstable, shuddering and shaking, and very difficult to fly. Whilst this was happening we discussed the best place to land if we were forced down - on the edge of the sea or on the ice shelf - my preference was on the edge of the water, at least in my view we would have been away from the crevasses. I think Des had a different view. We kept flying slowly and Des fought to maintain control, eventually we moved to the northern side of the island towards Cape Gazert where weather conditions were better and we made our way back to Atlas Cove. We became far more wary of the weather after that.


My only disappointment was that we never had the opportunity to climb. We had undertaken some training in a quarry in Melbourne but time didn’t permit.


At the end of the time on Heard Island we retrieved the Walrus aircraft which had come to grief years before.


The report details the field work undertaken so I won’t comment further.


I was fortunate to be part of an enjoyable and memorable trip.