Modern Colonialism in Antactica: the coldest battle of the Cold War

Collis, Christy & Stevens, Quentin (2004) Modern Colonialism in Antactica: the coldest battle of the Cold War. In Lehman, Gunter & Nichols, David (Eds.) 7th Australasian Urban History/Planning History Conference, 12-14 February 2004, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC, Australia.

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Antarctica was the last continent to be colonised, and Antarctic colonisation continues into the Twenty-first Century. Today, thousands of people live and work there at numerous national bases. This paper is part of an ongoing study of the colonial settlement of Antarctica, focusing on bases established by Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the Soviet Union. It examines the historical development of the built form of Antarctic stations and the planning ideas which have shaped them, against a broader backdrop of geopolitical objectives.

The performance of scientific activities and the establishment of permanently-staffed facilities were always means to display and justify national interests in Antarctica. By the 1950s, many nations were actively pursuing and contesting territorial claims on the continent. Knowledge about its valuable natural resources was growing. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty was signed to forestall both the enforcement of national rights and economic exploitation. Antarctica was set aside for wildlife and for scientific research. Nonetheless, in the climate of escalating tension between the world’s superpowers, Antarctica remained a battleground of national prowess, both scientific and political. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. invested millions in efforts to explore, utilise and tactically dominate the continent. Military resources were mobilised, and nuclear power was brought to the world’s most pristine environment. At the same time as both countries competed to conquer outer space and the Moon, ostensibly in the name of science and for the benefit of all humanity, they also sought to explore and dominate the equally-difficult south polar region. This battle for supremacy between the cold-war superpowers was primarily played out in the eastern hemisphere of Antarctica, particularly the 42% of the continent that is claimed by Australia, and the large adjacent sector claimed by New Zealand. These two nations, themselves former colonies, sought to further develop their own territorial ambitions in Antarctica by developing bases there. These ambitions could either be aided by the superpowers or eclipsed by them.

Today, the four nations under study have ten permanently-staffed research stations in Antarctica. This paper examines in detail three examples of scientific colonies: Mawson, McMurdo and Mirnyy. The paper compares the planning approaches of nations serving distinctly different imperial agendas. It does so in part by reference to other colonial, territorial and scientific initiatives pursued by these nations within their own national borders, in particular science cities in the U.S.S.R.

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ID Code: 4605
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Antarctica, Mawson Station, McMurdo Station, cultural geography, cold war, Australian Antarctic Territory, polar, nationalism
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY (210000) > HISTORICAL STUDIES (210300) > Historical Studies not elsewhere classified (210399)
Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (160400) > Social and Cultural Geography (160403)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2004 (please consult author)
Deposited On: 05 Jul 2006 00:00
Last Modified: 10 Aug 2011 17:38

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