It seems as though Australia and Antarctica are as different as two masses of land can get. While Antarctica is completely covered in a deep, frosty layer of snow, our searing hot terrain is blanketed by desert. But this has not stopped many brave Aussies from venturing below the land Down Under. From mountaineers to photographers and scientists, our country men and women have played a large role in Antarctica’s history. With Australia Day on January 26, here are just some of the things that our fellow Aussies have done on the world’s iciest continent.
Sir Douglas Mawson
Born in 1882 in Yorkshire, England, but growing up in Sydney, Sir Douglas Mawson was a geologist and explorer, responsible for documenting many of the unique geological aspects of our part of the world. Mawson accomplished a great many things in his lifetime such as being the one of the first people to ever climb Mount Erebus. He was also the leader of the ill-fated Australasian Antarctic Expedition — and sadly, he was one of the few survivors from his group. On November 10 1912, Mawson set out with Xavier Mertz, Belgrave Ninnis and a team of sled dogs. Disaster struck and, after the deaths of his companions and the majority of the party’s dogs, Mawson was forced to complete the rest of the journey alone in a harrowing tale of lone survival. His journey was retold in a book, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts.
Mawson was greatly respected by his peers. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, his mentor Sir Tannat William Edgeworth David once said of him: “We really have in him an Australian Nansen, of infinite resource, splendid physique, astonishing indifference to frost.” Mawson’s bravery and thirst for knowledge would pave the way for many future Antarctic voyages and even tourist expeditions.
Right there with Mawson on his Antarctic expedition was Frank Hurley, a photographer that was around to capture some of the world’s biggest moments during that period of history. Hurley was born in the Sydney suburb of Glebe, although he ran away from home at age 13 to escape a tumultuous family life and pursue a career in adventure and photography. He eventually developed a reputation of daring, being known to put himself in danger for the sake of a good shot. In 1911, Hurley convinced Mawson of his skill and merit and he was invited on the doomed Australasian Antarctic Expedition as the official photographer. For the next three years, Hurley worked diligently, taking photos and recording videos of the Antarctic, which were eventually released to the public as a documentary called Home of the Blizzard. The film was a great success, allowing Australians to better imagine the dastardly conditions of that part of the world. Hurley successfully made it home from that trip, although he would later embark on another expedition to Antarctica, from 1914-1917. Like the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, this voyage, lead by Ernest Shackleton, was also to end in disaster, as the crew lost their ship, the Endurance. With no way to contact the outside world and no hopes of a rescue, their chances of survival looked slim — but survive they did. Hurley lived on to record more important moments throughout history, including both World Wars, firmly cementing his status as one of the finest photographers and adventurers in memory.
Aurora Expeditions founder Greg Mortimer, along with partner Tim Macartney-Snape, became the first Australians to climb Mount Everest in October of 1984. What makes this feat even more impressive is that the duo made the journey via a new, previously undiscovered route (now one of 15 established routes for getting up the mountain) and that they made the journey without bottled oxygen, making history for both Australia and Everest. A geologist and a mountaineer, Mortimer also has the achievement of being the first Australian to climb both Mt Everest and K2. A passionate adventurer and scientist, Mortimer organised the 1988 Australian Bicentennial Antarctic Expedition, from which two documentaries, the Loneliest Mountain and Everest — the Australian Assault, were made. Mortimer has also made several other climbing accomplishments, including being the first Australian to scale Annapurna Two on its South Face and Vinson Massif, Antarctica’s highest mountain. Notably, he was the first person ever to ascend Mt Chongtar, which was previously the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. For his many achievements, Mortimer has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal, as well as numerous other science and mountaineering accolades.
The Australian Antarctic Division
Today, Australia’s presence on Antarctica takes the form of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), a branch of the Department of the Environment. Maintaining a base on Macquarie Island, the AAD regularly sends expeditions to Antarctica and work hard to ensure improve the country’s environmental, economic and strategic standpoint on the continent. The AAD also has three stations on Antarctica itself, one of which is fittingly called Mawson. If you’d like to be one of the next Australians in Antarctica, get in touch with our team for more information.