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Giant icy obstacles give Antarctic travellers cold feet

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Giant icy obstacles give Antarctic travellers cold feet

Giant icy obstacles give Antarctic travellers cold feet

A century after Australia's pioneering Antarctic expedition sailed south, renewed polar national interest is facing a giant ice obstacle.

The start of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition was commemorated by a ship flotilla on the Derwent River yesterday, after Governor-General Quentin Bryce called its leader Douglas Mawson a revered Australian hero.

She told a celebration dinner attended by 95 AAE descendants that the expedition paved the way for Australia's claim to Antarctica, ''the ultimate affirmation of Mawson's life's work''.

But awaiting ships this summer are tough ice conditions that threaten the plans of government and tourist expeditions to do what Mawson did, and land at Commonwealth Bay to raise the flag.

A giant iceberg, originally the size of the ACT, is breaking up to the north of the bay and thick ice is packing around it.

University of Tasmania marine glaciologist Jan Lieser said, ''It looks unusually difficult to get access to Commonwealth Bay this summer.''

Already heavy ice at the nearby French Dumont d'Urville base has delayed a supply ship, forcing the last-minute cancellation of plans by the Mawson's Huts Foundation to send a work team south in the centenary season.

The huts on the bay's shore at Cape Denison were also on the potential itinerary of six tourist ship voyages.

Aurora Expeditions marketing manager Rebecca Wood said, ''We're hoping that through a miracle [the iceberg] might move.''

The Australian Antarctic Division said it had contingency plans for long-range helicopters to fly in a commemorative party on the day of the landing, January 8.

Mawson's grandson Emlyn Thomas, 61, of Perth, said interest in his grandfather's achievements was growing.

''I think it has to do with the fact that he managed to get through such a heroic event,'' Mr Thomas said of the 1912 expedition, in which Mawson narrowly survived an epic sledging trip after his two companions perished.

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