572 Meeting of Executive Planning Committee

Minutes CANBERRA, 5 May 1947, 11.45 a.m.


[matter omitted]


(a) Appointment of Leader

Dr. Burton reported that Cabinet had directed that the question of the appointment of a Leader for the forthcoming Expedition to the Antarctic be brought back to Cabinet when a suitable person had been selected by the Committee. He said that he had discussed with Air Marshal Williams the possibility of the latter's releasing Group-Captain Campbell [2] from the Department of Civil Aviation for service as Leader of the Expedition and that, while Air Marshal Williams was anxious to retain his services for an important position in his Department, it had been agreed to leave the choice to Group-Captain Campbell himself. It was agreed by the Meeting that Group-Captain Campbell was clearly the most suitable man for the position and that every effort should be made to secure his services. Even it if was not found possible to have him released from the Department of Civil Aviation, it was considered desirable to enlist his co-operation and advice on preliminary planning at once.

(b) Practicability of Expedition

The Navy Department's representatives raised the question of the practicability of organising and mounting an Expedition on the scale which the proposals before the Committee appeared to contemplate. It was suggested that if the Expedition set out for the Antarctic as proposed, it might well run into unforeseen difficulties of landing and lighterage, such as would cause delays sufficient to deprive it of effectiveness. Commander Oom [3] urged that advice be obtained at once as to whether the present plans were practicable. The Committee therefore decided to co-opt Captain J.K. Davis, Director of Navigation [4], as a member to take part in its future meetings, and that he, together with Commanders Wright and Oom and the Leader, should go into this question. Their report was asked for in time to be presented to the Committee's next meeting.

(c) Auxiliary Vessel

Commander Wright reported that progress was being made with the refitting of the Wyatt Earp. He referred to the question of an auxiliary vessel and stated that neither of the vessels which the United Kingdom Government was in a position to make available for use by Australia would be suitable. He said that an LST [5] could be placed in service if required and would be preferable to any other available craft. For an Expedition of any size an auxiliary vessel would be essential in view of the very small size of the Wyatt Earp.

(d) Detailed Planning

The Meeting agreed that a technical Committee should be constituted to prepare a report on detailed planning for the Expedition, to deal with such matters as person[ne]l supplies, stores and technical equipment. This Committee is to consist of Sir Douglas Mawson, Dr White [6] and the Leader and may consult Mr. John Rymill [7] if desired. Dr. Burton asked that this Committee's report as to what was required and what was available should be presented in the shortest possible time, preferably by the end of the current week. It was also agreed that the procurement of these supplies should be undertaken by this Committee at once. Commander Oom asked that all supplies be ready by the end of October with a view to ensure that the Expedition be ready to sail at the end of November.

(e) Personnel

The Meeting agreed that another Committee should be set up at once to determine on what personnel would be required for the Expedition and then to proceed with the selection of individuals for their respective duties. This Committee is to consist of Dr.

White, Commander Oom, the Executive Officer and another representative of the Navy. This Committee is to consider whether scientific workers from New Zealand and South Africa might be included in the expedition.

(f) The Meeting agreed on the appointment of Mr. A. Cunningham Tweedie as Secretary of the Executive Planning Committee. [8]

(g) Next Meeting

At the end of the morning session, it was agreed that the next meeting of the Committee should be at 2.30 p.m. on Monday 12th May.

When the meeting resumed after luncheon, Sir Douglas Mawson was able to give the Committee his views on the practicability of plans for the Expedition and firsthand information on conditions at sites likely to be used for its headquarters. While he had himself seen Cape Freshfield, he could not definitely state that the rock on which the covering ice was based was above sea-level or sufficient to provide foundations for huts. He said it was essential that any scientific station should be on hard rock in view of the movement of surface ice.

On the question of landing strips for aircraft, Sir Douglas and Air Commodore Scherger agreed that on Macquarie Island there was little possibility of the construction of such a strip in view of the great expense involved and the difficulty of landing equipment necessary for the work.

Sir Douglas said that Cape Denison would not be suitable as a base because of prevailing high winds, but that there were better places about fifty miles on either side of it. One is in French territory and the other is to the East, at Cape Pigeon Rocks. Sir Douglas said that this is the most suitable area for the establishment of a permanent base as it is very close to the present position of the South Magnetic Pole and a great deal of valuable scientific work can be done with this as a basis. Cape Bage, Penguin Point, or a place known as The Bluff in this neighbourhood, might also be suitable sites for bases.


After some discussion it was agreed by the Meeting that, in view of the lack of complete information as to conditions, it would be desirable to decide on an Expedition with limited objectives for the coming summer. In accordance with this revised plan, the Wyatt Earp alone should sail carrying only strictly essential scientific personnel. The purpose of the voyage should be to reconnoitre the area in which the establishment of a permanent base is contemplated and to obtain the fullest information about potential sites, so that the Expedition sent in the following year might be able to establish itself with the minimum delay and effort. In addition, the forthcoming Expedition should carry out scientific, particularly meteorological work, at Macquarie Island and at a point to be selected in the Cape Freshfield - Cape Bage Cape Denison region. It was felt also that consideration might be given to the possibility of carrying on meteorological research in the Balleny Islands, which are in the Ross Sea Dependency, if the New Zealand Government concurred. Six men should be left at the base station to continue observations through the winter.

Dr. Evatt was present during this discussion and expressed his concurrence in the revised programme. He indicated his keen interest in the success of the undertaking and urged that everything possible be done to this end.


Sir Douglas Mawson said that his original suggestions for the scope of the Expedition had been based on the assumption that an Australian Whaling Expedition would also be going to Antarctic waters this year. Whaling vessels could then have been used for the transport of quantities of stores and equipment. This might in any event be borne in mind in the future. Dr. Evatt expressed agreement and said he would try to obtain a whaling factory ship from General Macarthur.


Commander Oom said he was in favour of the construction of a new wooden vessel in Australia for use in subsequent Expeditions, as part of the long-range plan.

7. The meeting then adjourned.





Dr. Evatt asked members of the Committee for their views on the question referred to the Defence Committee as to whether Australia might annex Heard Island. It was agreed that it was desirable to establish a post of some kind on the island and show the flag in token of annexation.

[AA : A1068, A47/26/1]

1 The meeting was chaired by Burton. The Departments of Navy, Air and Treasury were represented, with McMillan from External Affairs. The Director of Fisheries (Department of Commerce and Agriculture) was present as an observer. Evatt and Sir Douglas Mawson attended the afternoon session.

2 Group Captain S.A.C. Campbell, Director of Air Navigation and Safety, Department of Civil Aviation; Officer-in-Charge of Flying Operations in the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Expedition, 1929-31, (BANZARE) under Mawson. On 13 May Cabinet approved his appointment as Executive Officer and leader of the expedition.

3 Commander K.E. Oom, a former hydrographer to the RAN; surveyor in the BANZARE expedition.

4 Department of Supply and Shipping.

5 Landing Ship Tank.

6 F.W.G. White, Executive Officer, CSIR.

7 J.R. Rymill, South Australian grazier; member of several Arctic and Antarctic expeditions in the 1930s.

8 In all later minutes T.G. Heath is listed as secretary.