Lisa Roberts

From Lisa Roberts:

Below is an anecdote that relates to Phil Law’s significant contribution to arts education. It is the postscript of my PhD thesis, ‘Antarctic Animation: expanding perceptions with gesture and line’ (submitted to the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, April 2010), which features the artistic responses to Antarctica of ANARE veterans Fred Elliott and Jack Ward….

“On the day of the first lunar landing, 20 July 1969, I entered the National Gallery School of Art in Melbourne. This was the school that my great-grandfather, the painter Tom Roberts, had attended. The old school felt like home ground. I attended life drawing classes and used the same easels he would have known. Then suddenly everything changed. The school was moved and renamed. ”

Under the leadership of the sculptor Lenton Parr, the school was transformed to become the heart of the emergent Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). After years of directing the Australian Antarctic Division, Phillip Law guided this project as Chairman of the Victorian Institute of Colleges (VIC) (Sturgeon et al., 1984, p.25). Law and Parr shared a vision. Training in the various disciplines of art would be integrated to form a new college so that art could become more a part of the community than was possible through ‘single discipline’ institutions. At the VCA I worked with other students to make experimental films that combined drawing, dance, and animation. Lectures were given that related the arts to other fields of knowledge. As a sculptor who worked with metal, Parr shared with us his deep understanding of earthly forces that provided the physical and aesthetic sources for his work. We were introduced to geology through art. The artist Bea Maddock soon joined the VCA as a teacher. Years after I left the college she travelled as an artist to Antarctica. She said that going there was like going to the moon.

After my own Antarctic voyage and the research project that resulted in this thesis I relate to my home ground differently. I more deeply perceive and understand Earth as a delicately balanced system that we are just on the edge of knowing. I understand the meaning that our senses can bring to scientific information.

The words of a cosmonaut (Taylor Wang, China/USA, in Kelly, 1988, p.60) [footnote: Taylor G. Wang was a cosmonaut who worked on the American space expedition, Challenger 7, in April 1985. ] accord with my belief that our senses are essential for understanding climate change data in ways that can stir us to maintain the health of our home planet:

They say if you have experiments to run, stay away from the window. For me, preoccupied with the Drop Dynamics Module, it wasn’t until the last day of our flight that I even had a chance to look out. But when I did, I was overwhelmed.

A Chinese tale tells of some men sent to harm a young girl who, upon seeing her beauty, became her protectors rather than her violators. That’s how I felt seeing the Earth for the first time. ‘I could not help but cherish her.’


Des Lugg

Des Lugg

has written a piece on Phil Law for the Australian Antarctic Magazine, which is produced by the Australian Antarctic Division.
Information regarding Phillip Law can be found on the AAD website

John (Snow) Williams

From John (Snow) Williams:

I went south in Jan 59 on Magga Dan with the RAAF crew as airframe fitter on the Auster aircraft, Doug Leckie was the pilot and Nev Meredith was the engine fitter for the voyage to relieve Wilkes station and take it over from the US. The trip was to take about 3 months; however, after arrival and seeing the amount of buildings and equipment to maintain Phil decided to find a third mechanic to stay for the year.

I, along with Bob Dingle, our Wilkes OIC was, at 10 am called to his cabin on Magga Dan [with the ship due to sail at 5 pm] and asked if I would like to stay. With my mind blown by the cargo cult aspect of the place [this was during the austere post war years in Australia when there was not much in the way of overseas stuff around] and the thoughts of adventure I readily agreed.

Phil then told me that I was the third mechanic and Bob said to call into his office after the ship sailed and he would outline my duties. That evening Bob said something like ‘forget what Phil said, you are the carpenter and plumber’. And so, my first job was to clear the blocked galley drains. Incidentally, on the maintenance side the US had 8 personnel which Australia replaced with 3.

I had a very good Carpenters shop and a good plumber’s workshop beside it and plenty of work. However, 3 months on I was moved to number 2 mechanic when the original number 2 had to be sedated for over 9 months. Three months later in July our well liked chief engineer was killed and I took over his job; with help from all I was able to cope and although a bit twitchy, from coping with the power house mainly, I survived a mostly enjoyable year even with a lack of field trips!

Phil had to get me seconded from the RAAF; I don’t think that was a problem as the air force had no choice! But, after I took over the mechanical side he lobbied the Department Of Air to pay me at Civilian rates of pay and allowances which was contrary to Queens Regulations; I believe that he had a hell of a fight but eventually they acquiesced.

The civilian rates were only marginally better and I was happy to stay under any conditions.

A couple of years later I was only released on condition that I accept air force pay and allowances.

I was a Corporal then at Richmond air force base working on Hercules inspections and repairs. One of my crew had been named by his parents – Robert Falcon Scott! I did not think of my secondment as being anything special but my co-workers did and presented me with a travel alarm clock, that after many field trips at Mawson, a couple of years in the tropics and etc is still going strong when needed.

p.s. the alarm clock could probably tell some good tales!

Ingrid McGaughey

From Ingrid McGaughey:

I was lucky enough to meet Phil several times over the last few years. Usually it was at an ANARE function. Of course I knew who he was from photos, and also I guess from the way people around treated him -with respect and affection. I didn’t think he knew me from a bar of salt. But one day he walked over, fixed me with a piercing gaze, and proceeded to ask me a range of questions about Macquarie Island. Then he proceeded to tell me a ‘blue’ joke with obvious enjoyment.

My main contact with him was at the Tasmanian midwinter dinner in 2009. We had seating and meals for 120, no more. It was 19.25, the dinner was due to start at 19.30 and the place was heaving with people. I was giving out name tags at the door, meeting and greeting, just generally flapping around. Suddenly there was a bit of a hush and I looked up  to see slight space forming in front of me. The crowd literally parted and Phil tottered in holding the arm of a friend.

My first reaction was ‘wow’, my second unprintable as I realised that neither he nor his friend was  on the guest list, and things were to become a bit messy.

My next thought was that he had mixed up his days and dates. Afterall I had heard a few days earlier that he has been invited as a guest of honor at the Polar Networks gala ball which had been held in Hobart the previous night. However he grandly informed me that he had been to the gala ball on Friday, and now was here for the ANARE Club dinner. Thankfully it all worked out. People moved seats at short notice so Phil could sit with his friend (thanks especially to Deb and Ken Barrett), meals were shuffled and everyone, young and old, made such a fuss of Phil. We were just delighted to see him.

Phil was 93 years old, was starting to look frail, and conversation was difficult as he was very deaf. But when he spoke about claiming Davis, and other Antarctic stories I just sat there thinking that I was listening to a man who had created antarctic history, a man who was a legend.

My favorite moment of the night however was when I asked him if he would mind being photographed with a group of young female expeditioners who were keen to meet him. He looked at me with this rougeish twinkle in his eye and literally said something along the lines of ‘bring it on…’ My regret is that I was the photographer, and not one of those ranged around him in the photograph.

I recently heard that Phil had asked after me…he had heard I had been elected to National council and wanted to know how I was going. And deep down a part of me was absurdly pleased that he had asked. He may have been ageing and frail, but he was mentally sharp, and kept himself informed. I regret that I did not know him well, because I think he would have had some amazing stories and wicked insight.

Paul Chapman

From Paul Chapman:

When we sailed from Melbourne on the Thala Dan in 1958, we had a well-known journalist aboard named Osmar White. He and I competed in writing scurrilous lyrics for well-known songs.

Most of them were fake gripes about conditions aboard (although we were actually having a ball) or were too offensive to reproduce, but here is one that I think is acceptable.

Perhaps you would like to put it on the page of reminiscences about Phil Law.

            Antarctic Rock

Well, I went for a walk down Collins Street
‘Til I came the where I had to meet
A bearded little man named P.G. Law
Said “Will you go to an icebound shore
Will you rock on the Thala, roll on the Thala,
Will you rock and roll on the Thala Dan?
Well, I said I don’t dig that kind of plan.
But he said that the pay was pretty sweet
And so at last I said all reet,
So I gave my gal to another guy
And I sailed south for the IG Why
Did I rock on the Thala, roll on the Thala,
Did I rock and roll on the Thala Dan?
Well I wish I never met that man.

Grahame Budd

A Short Swim at Spit Bay
By Grahame Budd

What follows is a minimally edited transcript of an anecdote and a letter to the Editor that were published in Aurora (vol 11 No 4, page 12) in June 1992  – a Special Issue in honour of Phil Law’s 80th birthday. The letter to the Editor of the Aurora also tells us much about Phil.

It was mid-morning on the last day of the ANARE 1963 Heard Island expedition and the pontoon was nearing the shore at Spit Bay.  Phil Law sat in the stern and filmed while the 8-man crew hauled the pontoon along the floating rope, or grassline, that had been sent in earlier by rocket and now stretched between the shore and a buoy anchored outside the breakers.

Five of the island party were at Spit Bay (Warwick Deacock, Max Downes, Nils Lied, Jon Stephenson, and myself) and Alan Gilchrist was at Atlas Cove.  We stood in front of the hut and watched the pontoon with the usual mixture of eagerness and apprehension.  There wasn’t much wind, but wicked dumpers more than two metres high were crashing close inshore.

The pontoon made it safely to the beach, and we hastened to load our equipment and scientific results before the surf or the weather could deteriorate.  We manhandled the pontoon back into the surf, climbed aboard, and took our places around the grassline.  A moment later we were on our way, hauling hard and trying to keep her head to the surf.

We were going well, through manageable waves, when a huge dumper reared up close ahead.  At the same time a momentary slack in the grassline let the pontoon swing broadside to the approaching wave.  “Pull like buggery!” shouted Phil.  Pull we did – but we were still at a bad angle when the wave broke over us.

The pontoon reared on its side and I thought we’d roll.  But a moment later it was upright again, wallowing in the water with the foam pouring off and everyone soaked and dazed and Phil struggling in the sea a few metres away.  Supported by his life jacket and swimming strongly, he soon regained the pontoon and was hauled aboard.  He lay there gasping, but still found the strength to glance seaward and again shout “Pull like buggery!”  We were still at the wrong angle and more big waves were coming.

At last we were safely beyond the breakers.  The pontoon surged on its tow-rope, the motor boat puttered ahead, Nella Dan grew larger every minute.  We relaxed and enjoyed the view.  Only then did I notice that in the haste of our departure none of the island party had remembered to put on life jackets.

A Letter to the Editor of Aurora from Grahame Budd

I enclose an anecdote about Phil Law’s swimming prowess entitled ‘A short swim at Spit Bay’, as a contribution to your special P.G.L. celebration issue.

Phil always said that the landing and disembarkation operations at Heard and Macquarie were the most difficult and dangerous parts of his relief voyages. Certainly I think they called for some of Phil’s most admirable and necessary (in those circumstances) qualities.

In my Heard report of 1963 (ANARE Report No. 74, 1964) I tried to sum them up by writing that his ‘patience, experience, and personal leadership were in large measure responsible for our safe landings at the right places on Heard Island’, and every word of that was advisedly chosen.

When you recall the extraordinary run-around we had from weather and surf in making our various landings on the island that year and the patience and time it took to cope with it, you wonder how many voyage leaders (looking over their shoulders at what the accountants might say) would have resisted the temptation to dump us at the most convenient place for themselves and leave us to do the best we could.

I think Phil showed an exemplary mixture of caution and patience in waiting for acceptable (never perfect) conditions, and then of resolution and personal example once the decision had been made and swift firm action was required. He was the voyage leader we needed for the 1963 trip, and also the Director ANARE needed in those early years.
Grahame Budd

Patrick Quilty

Patrick Quilty AM wrote:
My memories of Phillip Garth Law

My first venture south with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) was to Macquarie Island at the end of 1968, in company with, inter alia, Martin Betts and the late Murray Price, two who would later become close friends. Thus my association with Phil Law began well after he had left the Antarctic Division, and I never worked for, or with, him.

After joining the Division at the end of 1980, I met him from time to time at conferences, including most importantly, the 1997 symposium (Marchant et al. 2002) to celebrate 50 years of ANARE research. Thus my contacts were pleasant but sporadic. It is fair to say we got on satisfactorily.

The Tasmanian Division Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS) held a symposium at Antarctic Division headquarters early in October 1981 and Phil Law gave the opening address. That was my first ‘formal’ association with him.

I suppose my first memory of Phil as a controversial character was at the ANZAAS meeting held at Monash University. I was chairing a session along normal Antarctic lines and due to cease at 12.30. During question time at about 12.29, a woman stated she had heard someone say that Antarctica would be an ideal place to store radioactive waste. Phil piped up to say ‘that was me’. As a coward, I then announced that time was up and thus short-circuited a spirited debate.  Phil held strongly, views that were not in line with government policy, and was not afraid to air them.

In 1998, I was one of the lecturers/commentators on a voyage of the Kapitan Khlebnikov, operated by Aurora Expeditions. This voyage departed from Fremantle, via Mawson and Davis, returning to Hobart. I had the good fortune to share a cabin with Dr Law for the three weeks of the voyage and we developed a deep friendship because of similar views on the Antarctic and the role of science. In this, we shared concerns over the approach of successive directors at the time.

s one who did not know him well, I had brought a bottle of a good Scotch whisky to share with my cabin mate, not knowing initially who that was to be. Phil could not stand even the smell of whisky so I blundered there but luckily Bill Storer, one of the founding fathers of Mawson, was also on board and Bill and I did the honours to that bottle. Bill had, of course, worked closely with Phil in the early days of our presence on the mainland of Antarctica, including the foundation of Mawson. The origin of his dislike of Scotch was during his days as an intervarsity boxer when, during his earliest naïve days, someone gave him a bottle of Scotch and he drank it, apparently leaving an indelible impression.

At the stations, including Law Base, and at the Chinese base of Shong Shan in the Larsemann Hills, he was very active, re-visiting his old haunts with very well-developed memory of early days. He missed nothing and re-climbed earlier vantage points to note changes since ‘his’ days.

An interesting (well, to me at least) feature of the voyage was that Phil suffered no seasickness, when he was renowned as a seasickness-sufferer in his early days. The change we surmised was due to his deafness later in life.

Following my return from that trip, I had more to do with him, including lunch at the Kelvin Club when he brought a bottle of his good red wine which he had opened earlier at home. The excellent sketch of Law by Roy Hodgkinson hangs there. That image caused a later exchange of correspondence with Phil (see below). 

One event that stands out was a visit I made to his home in Canterbury. My sister Anne, then associated with Monash University but not at the main campus, came along and she and Phil clicked immediately. We arrived in time for a formal morning tea prepared by Phil – all done properly according to protocol. Typical. Very quickly, they found the connection through the Victorian Institute of Colleges – his other major success. The discussions led on to his life with Nell and he opened up her art collection for us to have a look at. It was an excellent morning, not just a few minutes, and Anne and I had long discussions after this event.

In June 2004, the Royal Society of Victoria asked me to escort a group of about 20 around Tasmania for a week culminating on 8 June in Campbell Town to observe the Transit of Venus. Phil Law was one of the more enthusiastic attendees and missed nothing. This was the first time I had the chance to spend more than a few minutes or hours with him.

After that, it as mainly meeting at events such as his 95th birthday celebrations at the Melbourne Club. The last time I saw Phil was at the Neumayer Symposium held at the Royal Society of Victoria headquarters in May 2009. He was a stooped, frail old man until a microphone was available when the voice and mental acuity of many years came again to the fore.

I regret not having had the chance to work with him. He was of a generation when strong wills could voice opinions and get things done, walking over the bureaucracy. I have a few good friends now in their 90s and in my Christmas cards, beg them to continue to be inspirational to the younger generation. I now am retired to university. People with the individuality and the sort of strength of will typified by Phil Law are now few and far between; they scare the bureaucracy. This is to society’s loss.

Marchant, H.J., Lugg, D.J. and Quilty, P.G. 2002. Australian Antarctic Science: the first 50 years of ANARE. Australian Antarctic Division; Kingston, 622 pp.

Law has a paper entitled ‘Developing ANARE research programs’, p. 15-19. As a footnote, I was returning in 1999 from ‘doing’ the Canning Stock Route with Dr Eric Canning (Eric was Alfred Canning’s grand-nephew and my father worked for a time in the 1920s as an office boy for Alfred Canning), when I came through Jamestown in South Australia, where there is the Hubert Wilkins Aerodrome as a tribute to a local hero. As part of a small display about Wilkins, there is a book entitled ‘Sir Hubert Wilkins: his world of adventure as told to Lowell Thomas’. It was published in 1961/62 by Readers Book Club and distributed in each state by the state’s leading newspaper. My copy is from the Herald-Sun Readers Book Club, and it was distributed in South Australia by the Advertiser Readers Book Club. THE IMAGE ON THE DUST COVER IS SUPPOSED TO BE OF WILKINS, BUT IT IS LAW! It is based on the Hodgkinson image but it has been redrawn and flipped 180° so that instead of looking to the left as in the original (see the image on the cover of Kathleen Ralston’s book ‘Phillip Law: the Antarctic exploration years 1954-66’), it has him looking to the right. We had some correspondence about that. Not happy!

Warwick Deacock

Warwick Deacock wrote:

I was a member of the 1962/3 ANARE summer expedition to Heard Island when there were three of us, Budd (leader), Stephenson (geologist) and myself( assistant scientist (climber handy man preferred !) We attempted to summit Mawson peak on Big Ben (named by Bob Dovers, son of one of Mawson surveyors.) We failed due to the weather and also the fact that we had scientific gear where food would have been more acceptable, but then science was our task. We enjoyed a’ tribulation’ Age and the SMH reported us front page missing etc.

So in 1964 I decided to try a return match privately. I approached Phil for ideas  and he suggested the vessel that we eventually did use, The Patanella, which he had allowed to sail to Macquarie Island to research elephant seal harvesting. She was excellent.

During the planning I received a letter from Garfield Barwick minister for External Affairs, indicating  that we could not visit Heard. Legal opinion indicated that at that time we could. In the back ground were two ‘Missing Link’s a Legal QC and very quietly (I am sure) Phil.

We went and we succeeded, end of story.

Phil was heart and soul for such private enterprise and I am sure heated a few telephones, unofficially on our behalf.

In 1963 at Spit Bay Phil, movie camera and all, was swept off the bologny boat into the sea. Of course he survived .

I have copied in Grahame Budd a member of the 64/5 sailing trip, Grahame was i/c of the science programme.

I believe that the South Indian Ocean Expediton to Heard Island somewhat sailed in the wake of Mawson, however in our case we were purely private,
Government in this case presenting just another problem to be overcome… 6 of the crew were ‘sharp  ANARE’s.’

When I first joined ANARE in about December 1962 Phil’ since he knew I kicked off the Outward Bound school in OZ and had been in the Brit’ SAS invited me to take some PT classes!

I didn’t know much about that so cooked up a few simple and easy jinks for the lads and off we went. I was flummoxed when no less than three withdrew sick, in one case as in vomiting. Yes in those days enjoyed PM was the 6 o’ clock swill at the local pub,a clue ? It came to my mind that a bloke expert say in diesel motors hardly has to be some sort of fitness freak.

However having started as a royal Marine Commando in WW2 I was trained in Cliff and shore assault methods. As I watched two men fumbling with two brand new rolls of Hessian rope, needed to pull in the inflated barge after Graham and I landed(in an 8 foot plywood dinghy ( in fact capsized) on long Beach (very BRRR !) I concluded that ANARE might benefit from some extra inputs of ideas.

No more need be said and for sure there have been changes. I had also received vital training in the weather at Heard and the Heard brand of Sods Law, the prime element in all planning in wild places.
Many years later Phil appeared at our house on the Blackall range North of Brisbane. After lunch he went on to Flaxton to see Syd Kirkby there.

Phil boasted that he had driven from Melbourne to Queensland in one bash. When I walked down the road as he had called on mobile that he could not find us, I waited while he opened a window when a cloud of cigar smoke emitted. Talk about Green House! Phew.

We thought that at his age this was not a very good idea, but then Phil was always convinced that he was close to 21? He was in mind for sure.

Good Bloke that!

Jim Haggart

Jim Haggart wrote:
We all know of Phil’s leadership qualities and rapport with the expeditioners and this was summed up very succintly by the speaker on behalf of ANARE, Life member Malcolm Kirton at  Phil’s 90th. Birthday Celebration in 2002.   It was said in front of 175 people, (but not printed as part of the official speech) during Malcolm’s interesting address, — “There was many a time we could have screwed the little bugger’s neck but we’re all here because of him”.      It received loud applause mid – speech.At a Midwinter Dinner in the ’90’s Phil was 45 minutes late!His excuse was his car had broken down on St. Kilda Road  and he recieved help to to push it out of the traffic but he could not flag down a taxi.The intrepid explorer however was successful in hitching a ride in a pink concrete truck that was stopped at the lights.  But the driver could not drop Phil off until he had got another load of Readymix from the Port Melbourne Depot.   There was relief when Phil arrived and much hilarity when he told the story.

In 2003 I was privileged when Phil wrote the Foreword for my structural repairs welding book.He was 91 and dressed resplendently in his long creams ready to play tennis at 10 a.m. when I arrived at his home to give him a book.  Morning coffee and biscuits were also laid out.

What a privilege it has been to know him…

Brian Harvey

Brian Harvey wrote:
I knew Phil as a fiercely independent person with a personal life that was very private.

Some years ago I visited Phil at his home in Canterbury. Nel was still alive then however  she was bedridden and Phil looked after her every need without there ever being a  suggestion that she should be cared for in some hospice, Phil was chief cook and  bottle washer and then some to his beloved wife Nel.

In Phil’s later years at Canterbury just prior to him selling up and shifting to aged care, there was a downpour and the carpet at the rear of the house got saturated so Phil now in his 90s proceeded to pull up the damp carpet on his own, it would have taken only one phone call and there  would have been an army of ANARE people to help.

R.I.P. Phil.