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Pride in the Profession

9 JUL 2018

Sydney Kirkby MBE: Surveying the ice

Sydney Kirkby MBE, born in 1933 in Perth, is a pioneer surveyor who served in the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) and personally surveyed more of the Antarctic territory than any other explorer.

Kirkby’s first expedition was to the Great Sandy Desert, when he was just 19 years old. It was the first of many, and a stark contrast to his future trips to Antarctica.

In 1956, the third year of ANARE operations, Sydney was appointed as Mawson Station’s surveyor. During his first year at the station, Sydney and his team were beginning to develop a navigation technique that used daylight stars, otherwise known as astrofixes. The establishment of an astrofix enables a greater degree of accuracy in mapping and paved the way for further expeditions into the Antarctic.

Sydney began surveying Antarctica at a time when 85% of it was still unexplored. Following several expeditions, starting in the 1960s and running through until the 1980s, he retired having completed work on the establishment of astrofix points in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Sydney was also the first man to venture into the Prince Charles Mountains, Antarctica, with sled dogs in 1956-57. The hardest and longest expedition of Kirkby’s career was on the Leckie Range in 1965 where his rope broke during a six hour climb. He fell nine metres and injured his neck and back but managed to continue the climb to complete the work.

Kirkby’s professional contributions have made a significant impact in several fields, from tectonic geology to geomagnetism. These contributions have led to multiple geographical features bearing his name across the Australian Antarctic Territory; Mount Kirkby, Kirkby Head and Kirkby Glacier to name a few.

As well as these accomplishments, Sydney was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1965 and was awarded the Polar Medal in 1957.