40 years on: ingenious Tassie-made igloos are found all around the world

By AG Staff 7 December 2022
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On this day 40 years ago, the first Tasmanian-made Igloo Satellite Cabin was flown onto Antarctica’s Magnetic Island.

Purchased by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), this igloo became the first of 63 acquired by the AAD in the years to come, used in Antarctica as communication centres, mess huts, laboratories, bedrooms, non-magnetic instrument rooms and bathrooms.

It all began with a phone call made by an AAD field equipment officer to Tasmanian-based fibreglasser, Malcolm Wallhead. Asking for a quote to repair a caravan they intended to use at the Magnetic Island penguin research site, Malcolm instead suggested they use one of his dome-shaped igloos. 

Malcolm had designed these in the 70s and at the time was manufacturing and selling them as remote cabins.

He explained their more aerodynamic design would allow a fully-assembled igloo to be flown onto site by helicopter.

“The AAD said ‘yes, okay’, so we frantically got to work,” recalls Malcolm’s wife and business partner, Anthea Wallhead. 

As well as becoming the structure of choice for the AAD, orders soon started flooding in from across the world. 

“They became known mostly by word of mouth because often expeditioners from different countries would work together in Antarctica on a project and they’d go back to thier own polar institutions saying ‘we saw they were using these fibreglass igloos, can we have some too?’

“It was a thrill for both of us to see the orders come through. We’d say to each other ‘Oh, Chile wants one’, or ‘the UK wants one’, or ‘Japan wants another one’. It was exciting.”

Over the years, these Tasmanian-made Igloo Satellite Cabins, affectionately known as ‘apples’, have made their way to 20 countries – from the remote poles, to the balmy tropics and even to Google offices in Switzerland.

An igloo purchased by Google for their offices in Zurich, Switzerland. Image credit: QUADRAS Baumanagement Ltd

When Malcolm passed away in 2000, Anthea maintained the business until 2004 when she arranged for Penguin Composites (a company based in Penguin, Tasmania) to be the new manufacturer. 

Although handing over the reigns years ago, Anthea remains closely connected to the igloos.

“I’m still very locked into what they’re doing,” she says.

“I haven’t lost my keen interest – I feel like I’ve been guardian of the igloos, and I still am.”

So passionate is Anthea about preserving the igloo’s unique story, she has penned a book – Igloo Ripples: The story of a unique fibreglass cabin – based on diary entries describing every igloo made.