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Gallery 1960-1969

Images and stories from 1960-1969


Binders Nunatak, near Mt Cresswell, 1960

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Tractor down slot. Photo Neville 'Gringo' Collins.
  1960, not far short of Binder's Nunatak (near Mt Cresswell).  We (Henk Geysen, Ric Ruker, Doug Machin, Gringo Collins and I) had blundered up onto one of those rotten terraces which mark the drop off to Fisher Glacier. Gringo dropped his tractor in a smallish slot. Henk, always a man of immediate and decisive, but not necessarily considered, action unhitched his sledges and set off at great pace in the tractor to "rescue" Gringo. (You probably know by repute how little more anyone could contribute to a Gringo rescue than Gringo himself- despite much yelling and arm waving). 

As Henk came by me (I was driving a weasel) at the edge of this crevasse, which I was trying to mark for him and discourage him from hurling himself into, his tractor started to settle at the front giving rise to concern to Doug and myself - and perhaps even to Henk if he had happened to have his "Think" button switched on at the moment. 

It stopped.  Relief....Followed almost immediately by settlement at the rear.  More concern.  It stopped - more relief...Then with a roar the bridge collapsed and down it went by the nose to be tenuously help by a small lump on the wall of the crevasse which kicked the machine out of a vertical nose down situation into one where the rear of the machine jammed against the opposite wall.  The nose of tractor was some  5 metres below the surface.

Syd Kirkby.


Thala Dan, Southern Ocean 1961/62

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A fairly normal day in the Southern Ocean. 1961/62.  Thala Dan.  Much kinder to expeditioners in this ship than the Kista Dan (about half this size) in which 14 expeditioners slept in the forecastle and had to come out onto that deck and struggle aft to the superstructure to eat.  We also then did our own cooking in the shared ships galley on the poop deck.  In heavy following seas waves would roll over the stern of the ship and over the door combing and into the galley which was often ankle or more deep in a soup of food scraps, tins, packaging, potato peelings, fat and sea water.  A place for seriously strong stomachs only.   To the huge credit of our "babbling brooks", and their slushy offsiders, I recall only rarely having to subsist on "Storm Stew".

Syd Kirkby


Mukluk and pups, Wilkes 1961

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Photo by Bill Burch
Mukluk was a real Wilkes American bitch. She had been born at Wilkes during the first year of US operations there in 1957, and grew to be a most loved - in both the dog and human sense of the word - character on the station.   By 1961, our chief dog handler, Ray Torckler had deemed we had enough dogs, so when Mukluk became especially frisky, Ray issued strict instructions about keeping her well downwind of other dogs, particularly Oscar.   Now I have no idea how it was arranged, but it turned out there was a spectacular mating between these two right in front of the main entrance, and we all gathered around to cheer Oscar on; not that he needed it. Ray tried in vain to pull them apart and was bitten for his efforts.

Sometime later, the inevitable outcome can be seen in the photo. Ray had asked our OIC, Nev Smethurst, if she could whelp and suckle the pups inside the station, and Nev agreed on the one condition that any droppings were immediately cleaned up.   Ray then leaned on us in the Science group to make some space available, which we duly did -being the soft hearted dog lovers we were - and as you can see, Mukluk made herself very comfortable.

Now a strange phenomenon inhabited Wilkes, known as "The Phantom", and his signature was the skull and cross bones.   All manner of dastardly deeds or 'happenings' occurred around the base that bore the Phantom motif.   During Mukluk's post natal confinement, a very realistic pile of dogs sh*t appeared in the corridor right outside Nev's office.   Nev summonsed Ray and dressed him down for letting this happen, and Ray went to get it cleaned up.   It was only when he tried to move it did he discover it was in reality plaster of Paris stained with brown ink.  On the underside was the ominous skull and cross bones!

Bill Burch

PS I have begun a feature page on the dogs at Wilkes in our Wilkes history website.   Only Mukluk as a pup is shown at present.   Would anyone with a Wilkes dog story, or who knows anything of the breeding lines of our dogs, please send it to me at

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so I may add it to the site.

Neptune Crash, Wilkes 1961

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Tip of the tail plane evident in 1996 Photo by Darryn Schneider.
November 9th, 2011 marks 50 years since an overnight refuelling stop at Wilkes for a US Navy Neptune aircraft on its way back to McMurdo from the Russian station at Mirny, turned to tragedy.  It crashed on take-off.   The five men who had been seated around the supplementary long range fuel tank in the belly of the plane were incinerated; but remarkably, the four cockpit crew walked from the burning wreck and survived.  

I first wrote the story of that fatal visit in "Aurora", June 1996 (volume 15 number 4 "The All American Boy") after hearing a more recent Wilkes veteran recounting an inaccurate version to a friend at a Midwinter Dinner.    Clearly the oral history had not been well transmitted.   It saddened me also then to realise that the wreckage was rapidly disappearing under the accumulating snow on the plateau, and that before long there would be no visible evidence to stimulate thoughts and reflection in future expeditioners.   That point had also been noted by Darren Schneider when he and a small party from Casey visited the crash site late in 1996.   Only the tip of the tailplane was protruding from the snow.

The ultimate solution was to have a bronze plaque cast, recording the tragedy, and to have it mounted on the hilltop overlooking Wilkes beside the graves of Hartley Robinson and Reg Sullivan, Australians who had died in accidents in 1959 and 1968 respectively.   An ex-US Navy fellow from Operation Deep-Freeze at McMurdo, Billy-Ace Baker, had contacted me for a copy of my story about the crash to go on his website.   He was also an active member of the Old Antarctic Explorers Association (OAEA) based in the USA, and became the liaison person to bring a memorial plaque to reality.   

It has been a long drawn out process, but fulfilment of this project is almost complete.   The OAEA has generously sponsored production of the plaque here in Australia with a $1000 donation, with minor supplementary costs borne by members of the Wilkes 1961 party.

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Thanks to the logistic support of the Antarctic Division through Rob Wooding and Robb Clifton the finished plaque is in Kingston awaiting shipment to Casey.   If all goes well, Dave Buller and his team at Casey will build a stone cairn ready to take the plaque this summer season.   Originally it was hoped the plaque could be in place for a small dedication ceremony on November 9 this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the disaster, but that seems unlikely now unless there is an early C-130 flight in from McMurdo. 

 Our '61 crew will be holding a 50th reunion in Hobart late October, during which we hope to have our own little ceremony around the plaque before it goes South.   There's a good chance we will be joined for the occasion, by the original Co-Pilot, Ernest Hand, who is planning to fly out from the US.   His presence will give a special poignancy to the event.

The Wilkes history website has the full story: http://sites.google.com/site/wilkesstationhistory/home/years/1961/bluebird

Bill Burch

Postscript to the original story, "The All American Boy".  His name was William W (Bill) Chastain, and he was in fact 23 years old, married to Shelby.    A brief eulogy was written up by his cousin, Guy Wright in the San Francisco News Chronicle of November 10, and entitled "An Affectionate Farewell To a Young Explorer".


The Mawson Band, Mawson 1963

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Photographer Ken 'Scruffy' Shennan, Assistant Diesel Mechanic Mawson 1963
The photo features the Mawson "band" that was formed by March 1963.  The members are Bob White on drum, Keith "Blue" McDonald on bongo, Ted "Magoo" McGrath on chest fiddle and Bill Taylor "Billy T" on lagerphone.  The band usually appeared on Saturday nights and other "ding" nights (and not always in tune).  One of the band members recorded that the band sounded "like nothing on earth"! 

Ros
Shennan

VW 1, Mawson 1963

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Photo by Ray McMahon
I can share some light on the 1963 VW.   In Oct 1962 while I was indoctrinating myself at ANARE HO in 187 Collins Street, I read that there were a couple of water cooled engine vehicles at Mawson ie the Ferguson tractor and a flat topped Bedford truck. I reckoned if they were being used successfully around the station then why wouldn't an air cooled VW be suitable for some "around the station" functions.   So I picked up the phone and rang the marketing office of VW Australia at Clayton, I spoke with a "cadet" marketing person by the name of Graham Massingham. I asked him if VW would be cooperative and loan me a VW to take to Mawson for the year. It so happened that VW HO in Wolfsburg Germany, had recently told VW Australia to embark on a marketing plan to advertise the VW Beetle for winter conditions in Australia !!! That is how I got a new off the production line Beetle, a load of spares , a couple of cameras and film to take movies and stills during the changeover for advertising back in OZ. This vehicle was of NO expense to ANARE.  The name plate was titled "ANTARCTICA 1" ( please note the style of the letter 1).
I brought ANTARCTICA 1 back with me on the Nella Dan in Feb 1964, we were off loaded in Hobart and the Nella Dan carried onto Perth where the VW was off loaded there. The VW was subsequently brought over to Melbourne where it went on a publicity campaign as the Antarctic VW before it was re-liveried as the BP Rally car, there was no mechanical changes made to the VW for its 1964 Round Australia rally bash.
I was still aware of the activities of VW-Australia in 1964 when they handed "ANTARCTICA I" over to the BP Rally organisation. You will  note that it was still wearing the "ANTARCTICA 1" plate above the Rego Plate HZB 624.   That was the last I heard of the VW and the name plates. I have not heard any feasible story of the fate of the plates, I was led to believe that the VW suffered from the BP Rally and just disappeared.  

In 2003 I was approached by a couple of VW enthusiasts and subsequently assisted them in their efforts to  build a replica of ANTARCTICA 1. This 1962 VW was built to be an excellent replica of the original in all aspects with the exception of the name plate. ( please note the style of the letter 1 ). I also know that there were more name plates manufactured than the 2 which were attached to the replica.   The 2003 replica was taken  to Germany to be displayed at an auto show...it was ultimately purchased by a German VW collector and remains in Germany.

Ray McMahon

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VW1 in BP livery 1964. Photo by Ray McMahon.
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VW1 replica numberplate. Photo by Ray Mahon.
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VW1 replica 2003. Photo by Ray Mahon

Brewing in Biscoe Hut, Mawson 1966

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Ron Murray & Bill Cartledge, Mawson 1966

I am sure the location was in Biscoe where they had a corner set aside where it could be temperature controlled for the production of the 'perfect brew'. As I was tee-total at the time I was not personally involved but beer drinkers got a ration which from memory was two cans a week which was usually kept for Sunday dinner or for the monthly themed party's. So Monday to Saturday it was homers as you say.
All those involved contributed, I think it was 10 shillings each to purchase enough ingredients before departure to make enough brew for the year.
Regarding a 'fort knox' I really hadn't thought about it but I guess it would have been kept somewhere pretty safe, although I can't really imagine anyone being game enough to rob the nest-egg although I do remember that the actual 'testing' of the brew was a very popular activity.

John Le Quiniat (Quinert)

Mawson 1966

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Blizzard in the old garage workshop in 66.
The snow is just like talcom powder as the humidity is so low. This allows it to penetrate any crack or even keyholes,enough to give you this result!.The dog is alive and one of the huskie pups from the litter of Jennie?.In the background is myself. By the way the vehicle was know as a Snow Track.

Bill Edgar


Boat Launch, Macquarie Island 1967

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Photo by Ken (Scruffy) Shennan.
The picture of a boat being launched is the launch of Mike Chapman's dinghy that he built at Macquarie.  The "No boating" sign was put up by one of the expeditioners!  Mike ("Chippy") rowed about 20 feet out to sea to test the dinghy's seaworthiness!


Football Match, Macquarie Island 1967

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Photo by Ken (Scruffy) Shennan.
The football match took place on Midwinter's Day.  The bearded figure in a floral skirt and beard is Peter Ormay, the next person in the hat is Brian "Red" Ryder, the fellow on the right in pink shorty pyjamas is Richard "Dicko" Schmidt.


Bauer Bay Hut, Macquarie Island 1967

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Photo by Ken (Scruffy) Shennan
The picture at Bauer Bay shows a group of expeditioners who took down supplies to Bauer Bay  (including 44 gallon drum of fuel) on the Gnat because "Nella Dan" was unable to land any supplies at Bauer Bay that year due to heavy seas.  We don't know the identity of the fellow bending over the Gnat.  Standing in the middle with a peaked cap is Peter Ormay, then John Evans ("Doc"), Richard Schmidt ("Dicko") and unidentified man on the extreme right (can't decide between two of the blokes there that year).  Scruffy says it was extremely difficult to get the Gnat up onto the Plateau, let alone the 44 of fuel!  I notice that two of the fellows are armed, but of course they for catching bunnies for dinner.
Ros Shennan

The unidentified man on the extreme right may be Ray Gully.
For further pictures on the Gnat see gallery 1972 section.

MWD cake, Macquarie Island 1967

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Photo by Ken (Scruffy) Shennan
This photo is of the cake produced for Midwinter.  The Macquarie '67 cook was repatriated to Australia for health reasons and the party was without a cook from about April. The other expeditioners took it in turns to act as cook. 
This rather impressive cake was produced by Alf Svensson, a met observer.  It graced the table during the lunch celebrations and was enjoyed by all.  Alf was actually a very good cook - chocolate eclairs was another of his specialties! 
Ros Shennan



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Photo by Mark Forecast.
VW Forbes Glacier, Mawson 1967

How did the VW get there...In our day official vehicles were not allowed on the sea ice. There had been some earlier misadventures I believe!  So after a bit of "Definitely not, wink, wink ..." from the late Frank Smith, I purchased a wrecked VW, and with the help of my brother-in-law panel beater repaired it. I then left it on number 9 wharf near where Nella Dan was loading.    Lo and behold, it turned up at Mawson.   Security was definitely a different ball game in those days.   The choice of a VW was just a co-incidence.   I had originally thought to "take" an old 1926 Dodge that I owned.

The VW's use was purely recreational.  It made over a dozen trips to Auster Rookery, numerous trips up the plateau to Fischer and David Range (Rumdoodle), and got first place in the "Mawson Grand Prix de Midwinter". That's another good yarn ...a handicap race where 4¼ was handicapped 18 minutes - 3 minutes more than the time marathon man Ray Sharrock had taken to complete the 2 mile course. 

Why ANTARCTICA 4¼? After VWs called Antarctica 1 & 2 there was no way was mine going to be 3, hence 4¼. 

I'm looking for another photo where we were welding some angle iron bracket modifications on to the front end, which regularly broke loose thumping over tide cracks and sasstrugi. 

I note the "ease of starting" quoted in the Advertisements.  It does not say anything about using a 12 volt battery on a 6 volt starter-motor for starting...  

Mark Forecast


VW Forbes Glacier, Mawson 1967

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VW 4¼ with Syd Little (electrician) in the background. Photo by Mark Forecast.
These photos were taken in June or July 'ish on sea ice off Forbes Glacier, about 12 miles west of Mawson. 

The VW broke through the sea ice off Forbes Glacier (almost where the Emperor shot was taken).  Ian Thomas and I were returning to Mawson after reconnoitring a "safe" route to Taylor Rookery around the Jelbart Glacier Tongue. Jelbart is about 45 miles west from Mawson and about 15 miles short of our objective -the Taylor Emperor Rookery.  

It was September the 19th, perhaps a little late in the season.  The sea ice was rafted up for several miles out to sea in front of the Jelbart Glacier which itself extended about 5 miles out into the sea ice. It was impossible to cross and too dangerous to go around, so we turned back toward Mawson with a little time up our sleeve. 

We decided to stop at Forbes for some more "intrepid" photos.  Just as we stopped, the back of the VW broke through the ice, and on opening the doors to get out she started to sink.  Ice sheared on driver side blocking the door from opening.  Luckily we both got out the passenger side, me between the roof and top of door as 4¼ disappeared into about 40 fathoms.   A big chunk of ice broke off the "Ice Cliff" and the sea ice went up and down like a trampoline. (Addendum:  I had taken some canvass and "lift the dot" studs with me to Mawson intending to make an escape roof hatch - just never got around to it).
Of course all this was unofficial and off the record.  Statute of limitations etc. now allows us to tell all.

Mark Forecast


Swim, Davis 1969

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David Cowan emerging. Photo by Ron McLean, Radio-Tech and 'official photographer
David Cowan wrote:

The (email) item featuring modern OH&S style of ice swimming caught my attention. You've got to get out quickly so I liked the ladder, and I was impressed by the the rubber matting for protection of one's feet.
 
In the risky "old days", as in my case during December 1969, I accompanied two other expeditioners, Paul Watts and Alan Mcneill, for a short swim at the ice edge off Davis base. We had to choose a spot that permitted natural, safe with quick access and egress and we stood on a towel to protect our feet whilst drying-off and hastily returning to our welcome, warm clobber.
 
Not being too excited about the prospect of sharing the water with leapord seals we waited until a group of Adelie penguins swum by before I plucked up the nerve to plunge in first. I was about to dive in when the ice edge crumbled under my weight and I slid rather unceremoniously into the icy water, which was OK for me, but the penguins immediately jumped out and scurried to a safe distance away from the ice edge. I believe it likely that the penguins took me for a leopard seal and reacted normally.
 
As thoughtful as we were in choosing the swimming spot, we did not notice that the top layer of the ice was undermined, which collapsed as I endeavoured to clamber out, returning me to the water for a second dunking. The other swimmers followed in quick sucession, neatly diving, swimming and performing perfect exits, with Alan's swan-dive being recorded (incorrectly) by Tim Bowden in his book 'Silence Calling', page 219, as "an intrepid/lunatic ANARE expeditioner diving into sub-zero waters for a midwinter swim at Mawson 1961". Tim was made aware of this and was most apologetic. Of course the sun is not there during midwinter, and we picked a typical "Riviera of the South" sunny day for our cool swimming.

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Alan McNeill diving in. Photo by David Cowan.
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Alan McNeill clambering out post swim. Photo by David Cowan.
Above is a photo of me diving into the sea from the sea ice off Davis in 1969 (on 13 December - with the melt well  underway).  Note the few penguins looking on.  I can tell you it was cold - I was out in a flash (see second photo).   Both photos taken by Dave Cowan (Met Observer).  The sea edge was about half a kilometer from the base.  Dave, Paul Watts (Diesel Mechanic) and I were the only people silly enough to try this stunt.  There were no other observers.  Thinking back now, I'm so grateful that the photos worked because there was not going to be a repeat performance.  No digital photography in 1969 for checking on success.  No back up photographers.  Dave also planned to dive in (for a photo) but the edge of the snow crumbled and he fell in.  That was enough time in the water for him, and I fully agreed.  We timed Paul - he was in for 13 seconds.  We were too cold to get a photo of him.
Alan McNeill, Auroral Physicist
David 1969

Weighing dogs, Mawson 1969

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Photo by Ian Allison.

Resupply (unloading) Mawson 1969

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Photo by Ian Allison

Russian Aircraft at Gwamm, Mawson 1969

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Photo By Ken Withers
The aircraft was a Lisunov Li-2, a license-built version of the DC3.  It had arrived in December 1968 to lay a fuel dump. Back then Mawson was regularly used as a refuelling/ rest stop between the 2 Russian Antarctic bases Mirny and Molodyezhnaya. When leaving and taxiing down the Rumdoodle airstrip runway a strong gust of wind caught the plane and blew it into a crevasse, damaging the landing gear. (Other reports suggest the starboard wing and propeller were damaged... is any reader able to clarify this?) The Russian crew were collected the following day by 2 planes which flew out from Molodyezhnaya but the plane remained.  

The photographer Ian Allison arrived at Mawson on 15 January via Amery Ice Shelf.  He reports that the plane 'was securely tied down by the tail and two wing tips by a party from Mawson at the beginning of February 1969.  We had several blizzes early in the year, which the aircraft survived, but on 8-9 April we had a major blow with gusts to 123 knots which destroyed it.  Basically, it tried to fly; the fuselage broke into two near the tail, and the body of the aircraft flipped onto its back, rotating about the wing tie downs.  I think all the deadmen and tie downs initially remained in place, although it may later have been moved downwind.


Over the next decade or so various bits (instruments, etc.) were surreptitiously souvenired by ANAREs.  More openly, one of the propellers was engraved and presented to senior helicopter pilot Vic Barkell after the 1974/75 (I think) SPCM summer.  The aircraft was completely destroyed in 1981 by Czechoslovakian dieso George Hedanek who drove a D5 through it because he "hated Russians".


The VW in the photo is "Antarctica 2", although you can't see the numberplate because of the bridging timbers lashed to the rear bumper.' (See further advertisements featuring the VWs at Mawson here.)


Ian Allison


Bedford Truck, Mawson 1969

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Photo by Bill Cowell

Snow Run, Mawson 1969

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Photo by Ian Allison

Ice Yacht, Davis 1969

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Ice Yacht with Lou Bela, Met tech (in orange) and Dr Des Parker, OIC. Photo by David Cowan
I was part of the wintering team at Davis base in 1969. During that time I built an ice yacht out of available materials, with the exception of the sail, which had been donated by one of the Port Phillip bay yacht clubs.
 
Once the sea ice had frozen and the wind had removed the snow layer to expose a smooth icy surface, the yacht was brought out and it performed very well. It could be sailed solo, but was safer two-up, because there was less risk of capsizing.
 
On one occasion, in a following wind, we failed to see an up-coming tide crack. The front runner stuck in the crack causing the boom (made of steel pipe) to swing violently around, collecting me on the side of the head. I was knocked unconsious and Peter Jackson, my sailing partner, carried me several hundred metres to the base where I got medical assistance from Dr Des Parker. The extent of my injuries was a perforated ear drum, which took several weeks recovery.
 
The ice yacht was modified to extend the mast foot by a further 300mm, giving safe head-room beneath the swinging boom. Sailing continued right up till the ice surface became too mushy, providing plenty of exhiliration for all those who liked to sail.
 
As for the furtherest south, Davis is a full degree further south than Mawson. So is this a new record for southern-most ice sailing?
 
Attached is a photo of two ice sailors enjoying a sail in the sea ice in front of Davis station. It is interesting to compare the base layout in 1969 compared to modern day.
 
Regards, David Cowan

Sealing, Mawson 1969

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Photo by Ian Allison
'...The dog food consisted predominantly of 'pemmican'. In one sense the pemmican blocks were like 'designer' meals consisting of meat, fat, liver, grains and vitamins. The dogs were usually fed a 450 gram 'base' block on the station and a 600 gram 'field' block which had a higher content of fat when on trips. This was supplemented with kitchen food scraps, a small amount of butter and margarine, expired canned products and limited quantities of expired meat and offal. Seals were also killed for meat (about 30-50 /year) until 1985. Needless to say the killing of seals was not viewed with enthusiasm but was seen at the time a necessary act to ensure adequate nutrition and supplies of meat for the dogs.

Phil Chapman (1958) wrote into the feedback line with this account:

One of my jobs at Mawson was hunting (or, rather, slaughtering) seals, for meat to feed the dogs, and occasionally ourselves... We usually took a dogsled when we went hunting out on the sea ice. We needed transport for the meat because an adult Weddell seal weighs 500 kg or more.

The first problem was getting the dogs to cooperate. We had brought some fresh dogs down with us, and it took a while to get a pecking order established. Until then, any attempt to harness them led to a most impressive dogfight, with maybe ten big strong huskies, especially the males, in one squirming pile, trying to enthusiastically to kill each other...After the dogs had worked off their surplus energy in the fight, they could be persuaded to line up and start pulling. Riding the sled down the slope and out across the sea-ice was very exhilarating, great sport.

Seal hunting itself was no kind of sport at all. We could see them a long way off, basking on the ice beside a tide crack, typically in groups of six or so. As I am sure you have found out, Antarctic seals, unlike those in the Arctic, have not learned that humans are dangerous. Leaving the dogs a hundred yards away (they tended to go ape if we brought them closer), we would just walk up to the seals. They might raise their heads and look at us with those big brown beautiful eyes, but they never tried to escape. So I would just pick one and shoot it in the head at a range of about six inches...

The other seals would jump at the shot, but they still just lay there. So we could shoot another, if we needed that much meat. This was an awful, bloody, brutal business. We had to butcher the dead seal quite quickly, before it froze, but of course we made quite sure it was dead, shooting it again if necessary... We would gut the animal and cut it up, using knives and an axe. Then we would bring up the dog team, working hard to control their enthusiasm, and load the sled with big cross-sectional chunks... I killed maybe a dozen seals in total, and it completely changed my attitude to hunting. I have not hunted any animal since (except fish; somehow I do not mind killing fish)...' 

Excerpt from 'Ingrid on Ice'. See here and here for links to a story of the huskies at Mawson. The Wilkes History website also has a story on the dogs at Wilkes station.

Ian Allison also wrote:

The sealing story you have is pretty much as I remember it - nothing at all glamorous.  The hides were simply disposed into the ocean because Australian quarantine did not allow them in if tanned.

And as for the motorcycle in the distance by the sled... It was a 500cc Triumph, owned by Bill Cowell who has bought it, as was the tradition, from a 1968 wintering expeditioner. He had ridden up to join the sealing party.