Heard Island and McDonald
Islands (HIMI) are uninhabited, barren islands located in the Southern
Ocean at 53°00′S 73°00′E, about two-thirds of the way from Madagascar to
Antarctica. They have been territories of Australia since 1947, and
contain the only two active volcanoes in Australian territory, one of
which, Mawson Peak, is the highest Australian mountain. The group's size
is 372 km˛ in area.
Heard Island (368 km˛) is bleak and mountainous, covered in glaciers and
dominated by Mawson Peak, a 2745 metre high volcano which forms part of
the Big Ben massif. Heard Island is located at 53°06′00″S, 073°31′00″E.
Mawson Peak is the highest Australian mountain (527m higher than Mount
Kosciuszko), and one of only 2 active volcanoes in Australian territory.
The other active volcano on Australian territory is on McDonald Island:
after being dormant for 75,000 years, it erupted in 1992 and has erupted
again several times since, its most recent eruption being on 10 August
A long thin spit named Elephant Spit' extends from the east of the island.
McDonald Islands, located 44 km to the west of Heard Island, are small and
rocky. McDonald Islands are located at 53°03′00″S, 72°37′00″E. They
consist of McDonald Island (230 m high), Flat Island (55 m high) and Meyer
Rock (170 m high). They total approximately 2.5 km˛ in area and, as with
Heard Island, are surface exposures of the Kerguelen Plateau.
There is a small group of islets and rocks about 10 km north of Heard
Island, consisting of Shag Islet, Sail Rock, Morgan Island and Black Rock.
They total approximately 1.1 km˛ in area.
Heard Island and the McDonald Islands have no ports or harbours.
The islands are a territory of Australia administered from
Hobart by the
Australian Antarctic Division of the Australian Department of the
Environment and Heritage. They are populated by large numbers of seal and
bird species. The islands are contained within a 65,000 square kilometre
marine reserve and are primarily visited for research.
From 1947 until the 1950s there were camps of visiting scientists on Heard
Island (at Atlas Cove) and in 1971 on McDonald Island (at Williams Bay).
There is no economic activity, but they have been assigned the country
code HM and Internet top-level domain .hm.
Heard Island did not have visitors until the mid-1850s. It is probable
that no human had ever seen the island until this time. Peter Kemp, a
British sealer (seal hunter), was the first person thought to have seen
the island on November 27, 1833, from the brig Magnet during a voyage from
Kerguelen to the Antarctic and was believed to have entered the island on
his 1833 chart.
Captain John Heard, an American sealer on the ship Oriental, sighted the
island on November 25, 1853, en route from Boston to
reported the discovery one month later and had the island named after him.
Captain William McDonald aboard the Samarang discovered the McDonald
Islands close to Heard Island six weeks later, on January 4, 1854.
No landing was made on the islands until March 1855, when sealers from the
Corinthian led by Captain Erasmus Darwin Rogers went ashore, at a place
called Oil Barrel Point. In the sealing period from 1855–1880, a number of
American sealers spent a year or more on the island, living in appalling
conditions in dark smelly huts, also at Oil Barrel Point. At its peak the
community consisted of 200 people. By 1880, most of the seal population
had been wiped out and the sealers left the island. In all, more than
100,000 barrels of elephant seal oil was produced during this period.
There are a number of wrecks in the vicinity of the islands.
The islands have been a territory of Australia since 1947, and became a
World Heritage Site in 1997.