Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition 100th Anniversary


Stamps commemorating Mawson's first Australian Antarctic Expedition

Stamps commemorating Mawson's first Australian Antarctic Expedition

Douglas Mawson Antarctic Explorer.

If you ever take a trip to Antarctica I highly recommend you read the story of Douglas Mawson’s expedition to discover Antarctica – Home of the Blizzard. It is an amazing story of will and survival and the extremes that an adventurer is willing to go to fulfill a dream.

Recommended Reading – Sir Douglas Mawson; The Home Of The Blizzard

It is 100 years now since Douglas Mawson and his crew started to plan the scientific expedition to the Antarctic coast south of the Australian continent. On December 2nd 1911 Mawson’s expedition left Hobart bound for Macquarie Island and was the first Australian-led Antarctic expedition.

First Radio Communications from Antarctica

Macquarie Island is about half way between Hobart and Antarctica and had been used for exploiting the abundant source of seals and penguins on the island for skins and oil since around 1810. The populations of seals and penguins diminished rapidly due to this lucrative resource.

Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) stopped at Macquarie Island en route to Antarctica to set up a wireless repeater station on the northern end of the island which is now known as Wireless Hill. A hut was built on the Isthmus for a party of five who were to remain on the island.

The repeater station would be the first means of communication to Antarctica. A HF radio system was set up for morse code between Mawson’s base camp in Antarctica and Australia using the repeater station at Macquarie Island to relay the signal.

Douglas Mawson headed a campaign to declare the island a nature reserve, and condemned the royal penguin industry in particular. This was a major step forward toward the preservation of seals and penguins on the island.

Unfortunate Ill Fated Expedition

Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition is unfortunately most famous for the ill fated trek where he lost two members of his party. One fell to his death in a crevasse on the Glacier now named after him, Ninnis Glacier, taking with him six sled dogs and most of the supplies. Mertz the remaining companion died soon after due to Vitamin A poisoning from eating the livers of the remaining sled dogs in order to prevent starvation. The Mertz Glacier is named in his honour.

Mawson barely survived but made it back to the base camp and spent the following winter in the “Home of the Blizzard” with six others from his crew, after their ship the Aurora had set sail only hours before Mawson had been found by the crew that stayed behind to find him. A return by the ship to pick them up after a radio call failed due to bad weather. Mawson returned the fallowing year to Australia a hero.

History Frozen In Time

The amazing tales of survival and will are abundant in those early years of discovering Antarctica. There are still some remnants of those early expeditions, and Mawsons Hut at Cape Denison is one worth visiting. The hut was built in area prone to fierce katabatic winds and was buried in snow and ice for the majority of the time, it is now a heritage listed building of significance and has undergone some extensive efforts to preserve this most amazing moment of history.

Below is some recommended reading, these are books which I read while I spent two years in Antarctica. It never ceased to amaze me what the human body and soul is capable of surviving. Being in Antarctica and experiencing the conditions first hand gives you a real appreciation of what these amazing adventurers and explorers endured.

© 2011, Haich. All rights reserved.

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