January 31, 2011 / 11:01 AM / 7 years ago

Australian Post's Antarctica branch marks 1st season

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - Stamp ink that wouldn’t stick due to the cold was just one of the challenges facing the newest Australian post office branch -- in Antarctica.

The Cape Denison post office, clinging at the eastern edge of the vast icy continent, opened this month for its first season near a historic site popular with growing numbers of tourists, nearly 100 years after explorers first stepped on the site.

Sir Douglas Mawson, an Australian Antarctic explorer and geologist, departed Australia late in 1911. His expedition built several huts on the site, which became crucial for Mawson when he and several others ended up enduring through an unexpected second winter until the expedition ended in 1914.

“With so many tourists visiting the site and so much interest from the philatelic community, we wanted to go a step further for the Centenary year and have our own post office there,” Rob Easther, Expedition Manager of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, told Reuters.

The “post office” is a makeshift site in the living quarters of the Foundation, which is restoring the huts, 1 kilometre (0.6214 miles) away from the site.

It will be operational only a few weeks in the southern hemisphere summer each year, with the mail sealed before leaving Antarctica and taken back to Australia at the end of each season of restoration work. Then it will be sent through usual networks.

During the first season this year, tourists visiting on two cruise ships, about 150 in total, bought special edition stamps and then put their mail in a plastic post box at the site. There were also some 500 orders from avid stamp collectors around the world which had been sent prior to the expedition’s departure.

Postmaster duties this first season were handled by David Tingay, a researcher who also carried out a myriad of other responsibilities including weather recording and communications coordinator.

He took care of the mail during a two-day blizzard that confined him to quarters, with other team members helping apply stamps before Tingay added the postmark.

The special orders also required the application of several cachets, similar to passport stamps.

“The regular mail was easy and fun to do. Also the most rewarding, as they are actual letters written by people visiting Antarctica for the first time,” Tingay told Reuters.

While each of the Australian Antarctic stations have post offices, the Cape Denison facility lacked some amenities that they had, posing unforeseen problems.

“What hasn’t been anticipated is how poorly the stamp ink works down here,” Tingay said.

“The ink doesn’t seem to stick to the post markers and the ink doesn’t stick and dry properly. This isn’t a problem on the big stations as they are centrally heated.”

The expedition arrived back in Australia on January 31.

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation prepared a limited number of exclusive philatelic covers to mark the opening of the Cape Denison Post Office.

These covers include the Cape Denison Post Mark, a special cachet for the 2010/11 Expedition. and the postal cachets of relatively close L‘Astrolabe and Dumont D‘Uville Stations.

These will be available from the Mawson’s Huts Foundation website now that the expedition has returned.

Editing by Elaine Lies

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