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16 MAR 2018

Sydney Kirkby: surveying Australian Antarctic Territory

As part of our Pride in the Profession campaign for RICS’ 150th anniversary, we introduce Sydney Kirkby, who has surveyed more Australian territory than anyone else.

As a member of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE), Kirkby also personally surveyed more Antarctic territory than any other explorer – including Scott, Shackleton and Mawson.

Before Antarctica

Before working in Antartica, Kirkby was indentured to the Surveyor General of Western Australia, completing his theory studies by correspondence.

In 1954, he was chosen as surveyor-astronomer on the Great Sandy Desert Expedition. Its aim was to map the area around the Canning Stock Route. Surveyor-astronomers used astronomical observations to help survey vast areas of land.

Surveying in the 1950s

Thanks to his work in the desert, Kirkby was appointed as Surveyor at Mawson Station, one of three permanent bases and research outposts in Antarctica managed by the Australian Antarctic Division.

The Station was only in its third year of operation when he joined in 1956, aged just 21 years. Back in the 1950s, much of his work was completed by dogsled and theodolite, in temperatures as cold as minus 70 degrees Celsius. Over three winters and four summer seasons, he established the most easterly, westerly and southerly astrofixes in the Australian territory. In the 1950s, surveying was hard work involving rock climbing while carrying heavy equipment.

Over three winters and four summer seasons, he established the most easterly, westerly and southerly astrofixes in the Australian territory. In the 1950s, surveying was hard work involving rock climbing while carrying heavy equipment.

Kirkby’s firsts

On his first expedition, Kirkby was part of a three-man party to survey the Prince Charles Mountains – they were the first to explore these mountains and view Lambert Glacier, the world’s largest.

By 1964, the astrofix method had been largely replaced by electronic distance measuring. However, surveyors still needed to carry essential equipment with them to the top of peaks. 

Honours

Kirkby’s achievements heralded the start of the modern age of Antarctic exploration. He was awarded a Polar Medal in 1958, an MBE in 1966, and several Antarctic features bear his name. These include Mount Kirkby, Kirkby Glacier, and Kirkby Head.

Nominate the people and projects that you admire most for our Pride in the Profession campaign.