Antarctic Medal for construction leader of Scott Base buildings

By David Haxton

RECOGNITION: Queen's Birthday Honours List recipient Randal Heke, who was in charge of building Scott Base.
RECOGNITION: Queen's Birthday Honours List recipient Randal Heke, who was in charge of building Scott Base.

A man tasked with leading the construction of Antarctica's Scott Base has been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Randal Heke, from Waikanae, who is 89 today, has been honoured with a New Zealand Antarctic Medal for his services to New Zealand interests in Antarctica and historic preservation.

Six decades ago, Heke, then 28, was the leader in charge of building Scott Base, which opened in early 1957.

TEAM EFFORT: Randal Heke, front middle, and his Scott Base construction team.
TEAM EFFORT: Randal Heke, front middle, and his Scott Base construction team.

"I'm thrilled and absolutely delighted that the hard work I've done, and the responsibility I have carried, has at last been recognised," he said regarding the medal honour.

Heke was the Ministry of Works chief building superintendent when he was asked to spearhead a government project to build Scott Base, on Ross Island.

The base was important to the government because of the International Geophysical Year programme as well as Sir Edmund Hillary's Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

The base, a complex of six separate buildings, was prefabricated in Wellington before being dismantled and shipped to Antarctica for assembly by Heke and his small hardworking team over seven weeks.

"It was a big job and I was very conscious of getting the thing to go together properly.

"That's why I took the responsibility of setting the whole thing out particularly laying those platforms on which the buildings were built on.

"The platforms had to be exactly dead level for the floor panels to go on and then the wall panels to go up."

MUSCLE: Hard at work building Scott Base.
MUSCLE: Hard at work building Scott Base.

The base pioneered "cold porches" which allowed people to walk between buildings without being exposed to external weather, a design concept picked up by other countries establishing their own bases.

Heke also organised for the retrieval of the flagpole from nearby Scott's Hut and its erection for Scott Base's official opening.

"Ed Hillary said to me 'look there's the pole over there, would you get it over' so I just sent some men to bring it over."

Heke said the base project's completion was satisfying and overall "a great success".

JOB DONE: Scott Base.
JOB DONE: Scott Base.

He met Hillary a number of times throughout the years and the famous mountaineer would "always say to me 'well done' and 'thank you' for building the base".

Heke assisted with the construction of further buildings in Antarctica in 1959 and 1960 and remained involved with Scott Base as an adviser until the mid-1980s.

He has held positions with the New Zealand Antarctic Society, including chairman of the Wellington branch, four years as president of the Canterbury branch, national vice-president and president in the late 1970s, and is a life member.

He intended to celebrate by going to a restaurant with his son as well as "a bit of reflection".

- Kapiti News

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