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Antarctic Division
State Branches & Regions
Antarctic Service Medallions
Awards for Antarctic Service


There are three types of award:
  • Honours recognize the merit of achievement or service;
  • Decorations recognize specific deeds; and
  • Medals (1) recognize bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct.

Generally, an honour ranks above a decoration which ranks above a medal. The 'Order of Wearing' indicates the relative status of awards e.g. The following are in order of prestige: AC, AO, AM and OAM.(2)

The Order of Wearing of one nation differs from that of another - because a nation generally values its own awards above those of any other nation e.g. In the UK, the British KBE ranks above the Australian AC; but in Australia, the AC ranks above the KBE. Note, however, that the Australian Order of Wearing ranks several imperial (British) awards above Australian awards e.g. the Orders of the Garter, Thistle, Bath and Merit rank above the Order of Australia. Order of Wearing should not to be confused with Order of Precedence. (3)

Some decorations entitle the wearer to postnominals e.g. Ivan Hawthorn (Diesel mechanic D71, 73; Officer in charge Q75, 79) is entitled to put the letters BEM after his name.(4)

Polar Medal
pm-storer front   pm rear  rear
Photo of Imperial Polar Medal awarded to William J. Storer.

The Polar Medal was instituted in 1904 by King Edward VII to recognize distinguished service in the Arctic and Antarctic. The medal is a bronze or silver octagon suspended from a plain white ribbon with a moiré ('watermarked') pattern. There is no post-nominal entitlement. This prohibition, however, has not stopped many in the Australian Antarctic community (the late Phil Law included) from including PM among their postnominals).

Before 1968, the Polar Medal was issued to many of those who participated in a polar expedition endorsed by the government of any British Commonwealth country. The word 'polar' implied Arctic and Antarctic i.e. not sub-Arctic or sub-Antarctic. The word 'expedition' implied wintering. Those participating in a Summer program were not eligible. Many people received the Polar Medal. Some received one or more bars to the award. Then came a change.

Between 1968 and 1987, the Polar Medal was issued only for 'extreme human endeavour against the appalling weather and conditions that exist in the Arctic and Antarctic.' As a result, many fewer expeditioners received the award. In both Australia and the UK, the Polar Medal ranks below campaign medals & stars.(5)

Australian Antarctic Medal

Antarctic Medal AAM rear
Photo of Australian Antarctic Medal awarded to Denise Allen.

The Australian Antarctic Medal (AAM) is awarded for 'outstanding service in scientific research or exploration in connection with an Australian Antarctic expedition or for support of such work'. The service or support is normally for a period of at least 12 months.

The AAM is a nickel-silver octagon suspended from a white ribbon edged on each side with three narrow stripes of blue, representing the transition of water to ice as one approaches Antarctica. Like the Polar Medal ribbon, the AAM ribbon has a moiré ('watermarked') pattern. A date bar attached to the ribbon denotes the period of service for which the medal is awarded. The AAM was introduced in 1987. For Australians, it replaced the Polar Medal (See above). Recipients of the Australian Antarctic Medal are entitled to the postnominals AAM. In Australia, the AAM ranks below the OAM but above the BEM, campaign medals & stars, and the Polar Medal.

Australian Antarctic Medallion

Medallion AM rear

The Australian Antarctic Medallion was conceived in the early 1970s to recognize those who wintered on the continent and at Heard Island. In 1973, eligibility was extended to those who wintered at Macquarie Island. The medallion is a bronze disk, 6cm in diameter, bearing maps of Australia and Antarctica on one side and the Australian coat of arms on the other. It is usually issued in a blue, gold-embossed, imitation-leather presentation case.

1 Medals include stars e.g. the 1939-45 Star awarded to those who undertook operational service during WWII.

2 Companion, Officer, Member, and Medal of the Order of Australia.

3 An order of precedence is a hierarchy of individuals e.g. in Australia at the time of writing (2011), the Governor General ranked above the Prime Minister who ranked above the Chief Justice. Order of precedence is not necessarily an indication of importance; rather, it is an indication of ceremonial or historical relevance.

4 Ivan's British Empire Medal was awarded while he was a corporal in the RAAF.

5 Some Polar Medals are valuable. That of Oates who accompanied Scott to the South Pole, was bought at auction in 1984 for $50,000. The buyer was an agent for the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, the regiment into which Oates' unit, the 6th RIDG, was eventually amalgamated: Aurora 1984.

 By Phil. Vardy.
Revised Aurora article (Sept 2011)
Revised (Sept 2012 )