Ian with his favourite year-old Husky
Back in Perth, my brother Kenneth and his wife announced the arrival of their second child they named Josephine, born on 12 October 1961, and dad, who had power of attorney over my savings, purchased (at my telegraphed request) 20 acres in the hills west of Perth for $3,000. Being the wicked capitalist that I was, I resold the block in the 1970s for $56,000. I know that mum and dad really enjoyed driving up into the hills to walk around the block of land, sometimes having a picnic on it – they did this until dad became too sick to drive which probably happened late 1967 early 1968.
Another good friend from St Georges College, Malcolm Hay, was both the Officer in Charge and the Medical Officer at Davis at the same time as Rod Hollingsworth and I were at Mawson – quite a coincidence. Rod and I had a formal celebratory St George’s Day dinner at a separate table in the canteen, with table cloth and candles, served by a waiter – one of the other guys dressed in a dinner suit. The next day, not surprisingly, Rod and I received many insults from the other expeditioners for being so arrogant and pompous!
They were probably correct! The warden at St George’s College during my four years there and for a few years afterwards was the very popular historian academic, “Josh” Reynolds. Josh was the person (described earlier in this story) who was not exactly happy with my behaviour (at times) and fined me for showing a female over the college when such a practice was forbidden. Josh was known, among other things, for his rambling speeches with frequent pauses, ums, aahs, scratchings of his head and mentions of his wife. Each expeditioner was rationed to a limited number of words per year in telegrams they sent to Australia. I used up a large chunk of my “word” rations when I sent a long telegram covering two pages to Josh, coinciding with the St George’s Day dinner at the College. In the telegram, I imitated Josh’s rambling speech with a parallel speech about Mawson, the sea ice, the seals, the weather and anything else that occurred to me at the time. I understand that Josh read the telegram aloud to the undergraduates at the college dinner where it received wild acclaim – my second successful speech!
As well as Mawson, the other Australian Antarctic bases operating at the time were Wilkes, Davis and Macquarie Island (Sub-Antarctic).
Expeditions have been carried out every year to the above bases since about 1954 except for Wilkes, which was abandoned in the late 60’s and replaced by Casey Station located opposite Wilkes on the other side of the bay. The old Wilkes base is now totally covered by snow and ice and is no longer visible although the high observation deck might still be visible above the ice in satellite photos from “Google Earth”.
Geographical features within “Enderby Land”, an area west of Mawson, were named after the following Mawson 1961 expeditioners. Two or three other features were named after expeditioners from other years but are not listed in the table below:
|Expeditioner||Position at Mawson||Feature Named|
|Bob Bergen||Radio Operator||Mt Bergen|
|Bob Francis||Aurora Scientist||Francis Peaks|
|Graham Maslen||OIC||Mt Maslen|
|Gunter Weller||Chief Meteorologist||Mt Weller|
|Ian McNaughton||Cosmic Ray Physicist||McNaughton Ridges|
|Ian Todd||Assistant Meteorologist||Mt Todd|
|Keith Brocklesby||Upper Atmosphere Physicist||Mt Brocklesby|
|Rod Hollingsworth||Geophysicist||Mt Hollingsworth|
|Russell Pardoe||Medical Officer||Mt Pardoe|
|Ted Giddings||Head Chef||Mt Giddings|
|Dave Trail||Geologist||Mt Trail|
There was never a reason given for assigning the names of some, but not all, 1961 expeditioners to geographical features in Enderby Land. I can only surmise that those whose names were used had made an impression on the OIC during the year at Mawson and possibly on Dr Phil Law (Director of the Antarctic Division) and his wife during the three week voyage down to Mawson on the Danish icebreaker “Nella Dan” in January 1961. Phil and his wife Nell, accompanied half the expeditioners on that voyage, stayed at Mawson for a few nights and then continued with the ship as further surveys of the Antarctic coastline were conducted by scientists before the ship returned to Australia. It’s likely that Dr Law had final say on those whose names were to be used for naming features in Enderby Land.
Reflecting upon my time in the Antarctic, I remember I had thrown myself into all aspects of life, not only at the base but also on the icebreakers during the two Antarctic trips. This possibly contributed to my name being amongst those chosen for naming features in the Scott Mountain Range.
Note the ice breaker, “Nella Dan” was named after Phil’s wife,
The feature assigned my name was a set of high mountainous ridges within the Scott mountain range, about 1,500 metres high. They can be seen on Google Earth or Google maps.
Viewing the area of the Scott Mountain Range on the map invokes a feeling of nostalgia because I see “frozen” forever in time, the names of nine of my colleagues – some within the prestigious Scott Mountain range named after “Scott of the Antarctic”.
Enderby Land, which forms part of Antarctica claimed by Australia, is about equal in size to Western Australia – that is, VERY big! Most of it is unexplored, including the Scott Mountain range which includes the McNaughton Ridges which can be found on Google Earth at 67° 28′ 43.77″ S, 50° 31′ 04.46″ E. This feature is definitely on my “Bucket List”.
Regarding Mawson itself, input 67°36′ S 62°52′ E to “Google Earth” and zoom in to the arrow pointing to the Mawson base coordinates – then hit the tab “satellite” on the top right-hand side to get the actual photo. When zooming in, keep the locator arrow in the centre of the screen otherwise it will be difficult to locate Mawson because there will be nothing to see except white ice!
In the Google photo below, a ship can be seen in Mawson’s “Horseshoe” Harbour as well as all the accommodation and science buildings on the adjacent land. Zoom out, and the four mountain ranges behind Mawson that some of us visited on the odd occasion for a “holiday” become visible. They are included in some of my photographs.
As previously mentioned, I made two trips to the Antarctic; the first was a visit to
Mawson in 1961/62 that took a total of fifteen months and the second to Wilkes and a few other places in 1962/63 that took three months. The second visit was to assist a colleague from the University of Tasmania, John Greenhill, with his Cosmic Ray experiments. In all, this added up to a total of 18 months either in, or to, or from, or around the Antarctic.
During the second trip, the day before the ship was due to leave Wilkes to continue survey work around the Antarctic coastline, my colleague was ashore and I was aboard the ship for reasons I can’t clearly remember but they might have involved my recovery from a party aboard the ship the previous night!
Anyway, a blizzard moved in over the whole region covering several hundred square Kms. It was so cold and the winds were so strong, belting snow at us at over 160 Kms per hour that, for safety reasons, the captain decided to move the ship out to sea. We never returned! The danger of being stuck in the ice around Wilkes for the next 12 months was so great that the captain and the ANARE Officer-in-Charge decided to continue with the survey work along the Antarctic coast line, leaving my very angry colleague behind. I spoke to him by radio from the ship that night and his language was colourful to say the least! In fact, the poor bloke didn’t manage to return to Australia for another six months and even then, the Russians had to make a special trip to Wilkes to pick him up before flying him onto South Africa from where he caught a commercial flight back to Australia.
A couple of times during the tour of the Antarctic coast line, the captain anchored the ship by charging into the pack ice at top speed, running the ship up and over until it stopped then dropping the anchor onto the ice. It was very effective and expeditioners only needed to climb down ladders onto the ice to disembark rather than use the life boats. The photo shows one such occasion.
Living and working in the Antarctic was the greatest challenge I have ever faced in my life, from monitoring cosmic rays to the multitude of other activities in which we engaged, some compulsory, some by choice. For example, each expeditioner had to take his turn at being “watchman” for a 24-hour period. With twenty-five expeditioners, this meant that each one of us was the watchman every 25 days..
What did we do? The number one task was to ensure the safety of the station so that should a fire start for whatever reason, we would raise the alarm and take immediate action to put it out. I have never felt so isolated as I did when on night-watch, walking around the base when everyone else was asleep, knowing the nearest civilisation was another Australian base of 10 men 800 Kms away and that Australia was thousands of Kms away. At night in the Antarctic, especially in winter, dark is REALLY dark with only the light of the stars to see by if one is walking around the distant perimeters of the base.
Not only is it extremely cold but it’s amazing how silent it is and one’s imagination goes into overdrive if one hears a noise coming from some dark area – ghosts of Scott and his men or some large grotesque Antarctic monster with big teeth and a veracious appetite for night watchmen?
During these periods of being the night-watchman, there was always a chance to see the Aurora Australis – and luckily for me, there were a couple of mind-blowing displays. I took many photos, unfortunately only black & white because that was the only film available at the time that was fast enough to capture the action.
Additionally, the “watchman” of the day had to assist the chef, washing up and cutting blocks of snow to melt in a large tank in the kitchen to obtain water. After melting snow for about six months, we decided it was time to clean out the water tank and guess what we found at the bottom? You probably guessed right – husky poo that had been trapped in the snow that we had innocently harvested for water. Amazingly, nobody ever got sick from viruses or bacteria at Mawson – it was just too cold for the little buggers! Luckily, our sense of smell was also diminished because none of us showered more often than once every two or three weeks – or even longer! To have a shower, we had to collect snow, melt it, heat it up on the coal stove in our hut then pour it into a can with holes in the bottom – that was always a recipe for a really fast shower and might be one of the reasons we tended to avoid it.
Another watchman’s duty was to empty the large cans of pee (usually half-frozen) into the
harbour – and you guessed it again – we didn’t have toilets that flushed. Also, every day, one of the four toilets had to be pulled out into the open and the “contents” reduced to ash by setting it on fire using oil and a touch of petrol (if you really wanted to live dangerously). Even with our reduced sense of smell, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant job. Although Weddell seals were the main animals around Mawson, on occasion, a leopard seal would turn up and they were really something. They were aggressive, had rows of very sharp teeth and attacked anything or anyone in their vicinity. They could also move fast so we all learned to keep our distance from them and/or run if we chanced upon one of them whilst walking on the sea-ice.
On another day, a large black Russian aircraft (a Lisunov Li-2) flew low over the camp and radioed us they were landing on a flat area about 10 Kms inland from Mawson. For reasons I don’t remember, I was the only senior officer available at the time and was asked to drive up to the landing strip on the plateau, meet the Russians and help them refuel. I took one of our guys who could speak Russian (an ex-East German) with me in one of the base’s Snow Tracks (the only time I have ever driven a Porsche) and the two of us spent the next 20 hours helping the Russians refuel their aircraft.
It took a long time because none of the available sleds I could tow were strong enough to carry even one 44 gallon drum of petrol (they were all being used on current expeditions) so we had to rig up an old bed frame and tow the drums on it and THAT took a REALLY long time. At the end of the refuelling exercise, I sat in the Russian aircraft while the pilot taxied it along the ice runway in preparation for a later take-off.
My reward – the Russian Pilot’s fur hat!
His reward – my woollen hat!
There were many Russians on the aircraft, the visit from which must have been some sort of PR exercise by the USSR Government, especially since one of them was a Pravda journalist. The others were a mixed bag including the usual cold-war political commissar whose purpose was to keep his eye on the politics and behaviour of the others. We had some great parties with them and one of the photos shows the aftermath – I’m on the right-hand side wearing the Russian Pilot’s hat and the Aurora Physicist, Keith Brocklesby, is on the left. The Pravda journalist who spoke good English was the life and soul of the parties During one party, he gathered about ten of us together and, conducting with his hands in front of our group, taught us how to say “Bolshoi Spasiba” and what sounded to me like “Za vashya zdrovia” in unison. We obliged and even now, many years later, I still remember the lesson. From memory, the first meant “big thanks” and the second something like “you’re welcome” but I could be wrong!
1961 was at the height of the “Cold War” between the Western world and the USSR so it surprised me that the Russians we met and partied with were so friendly. However, as much as I tried, I could never get used to the Russian trick of drinking half a bottle of Vodka at breakfast to counteract a hangover.
We often had a clear blue sky at Mawson and if so, life was beautiful, even if the air temperature was as low as minus 40c. With no wind we could strip to the waist and sunbake with no discomfort. But should even the slightest wind spring up, the chill-factor was a killer. Unfortunately, blue skies were a rare occurrence since most days were overcast and it was often snowing – not vertical snow that we see at the snow resorts in Victoria and NSW but horizontal snow belting into our faces at high velocity due to the constant strong winds.
I volunteered for and was allowed to participate in a “scientific excursion” to an Emperor Penguin rookery on the coast over 100 Kms east of Mawson, led by our doctor, Russ Pardoe (the one who performed the earlier brain operation). While I was away, one of the other scientists, Keith Brocklesby, looked after the Cosmic Ray equipment, after a short bout of training.
The “excursion” was no Sunday drive!
I had to learn how to drive a team of huskies and be prepared to live in a tent for three weeks in mid-winter when the sea was frozen and the temperatures outside and inside the tent went as low as -40c. As a comparison, this was colder than camping inside the deep freeze in your kitchen, but at least a deep freeze doesn’t have blizzards blowing through it! At night, frost formed in our underwear next to our skin and for the whole three weeks, I froze every night, but because I was so exhausted after running all day, I still managed to sleep. And what did I dream about every night? I dreamt of being incessantly thirsty and drinking gallons of clear water – and so did Geoff, the guy I with whom I shared the two-man tent. We didn’t dream about being cold because we had to put it right out of our minds.
Five of us set out with two sledges each drawn by five huskies. We didn’t sit on the sledges because we were too heavy for the huskies – instead we ran along-side the dogs and sledges for the 100 Kms to the rookery and the 100 Kms back to base. For breakfast, lunch and dinner, we ate a special food known as pemmican, which could be likened to a soup made from fat and gravel if viewed from the warmth and safety of the base; however, exposed to severe conditions where the temperature was continually -30c to -40c, the pemmican tasted like food fit for a king.
About two thirds of the way to the rookery the wind speed started to increase and increase until it reached blizzard proportions – a blizzard was defined as snow being blown by winds exceeding 160 Kms per hour continuously for 24 hours. This blizzard lasted five days! After two days, our tents were no longer standing upright – they were flattened. After five days, our tents were a mess -just covered us lying down – we couldn’t stand upright in them. If that wasn’t enough, our radio failed so we couldn’t radio for assistance, not that anyone at Mawson could have taken any effective action. Crawling outside to go to the toilet during that episode took a lot of endurance but of course, we had no choice. Just a one-minute exposure outside the tent at minus 40 C with the wind blowing at over 160 kph was enough to induce rapid hypothermia so toilet “breaks” were necessarily very short, albeit, after many days confined inside a tent, rather necessary. The weird thing is that at the time, as far as I’m aware, none of us regarded the situation as life-threatening – after running with the huskies for many days in extremely low temperatures, we were all acclimatised to extreme weather and the last thing on our minds was that we might die – probably a result of being young and stupid and, like most young people, immortal. It’s only when I look back on episodes such as this that I realise how close we all came to dying.
At the height of the blizzard in the middle of the night, one of the huskies broke loose from the tie-line and, although I didn’t realise it at the time being somewhat preoccupied with staying warm, walked next to our tent, continually brushing against the canvas trying to attract our attention to the fact that he was sick. I was so sad after the blizzard had blown itself out when we found the husky’s body lying next to the tent – he had died from hypothermia. I cursed myself for not doing something about his cry for help – we could have brought him into the tent where he might have had a chance to survive.
After five days the blizzard stopped so we just packed our gear and carried on to the penguin rookery!
As soon as we arrived at the rookery, we started to count the Emperor penguins – our main task. The technique was to form an image in our minds of an area covered with penguins and count the penguins within that area. We then estimated how many of those mental “areas” there were in the whole rookery and multiplied that by the number of penguins first counted. The problem was that they covered such a vast area that I kept losing the “place” where I was counting. After about three attempts, I finally arrived at a figure and we then compared notes, finding that our penguin counts were pretty close to each other, give or take a few tens of thousands!
We then ran all the way back to Mawson with the huskies taking a few more days. Soon after arrival, the doctor treated an enormous blister almost two inches in diameter on my right heel. It was extremely painful.
Back at Mawson – after getting used to operating the cosmic ray telescopes and reducing the time required for their operation, many other interesting activities soon became available for my increased leisure time. For example, several times I accompanied the meteorologists to one of their weather stations located at the base of an impressive mountain range 15 Kms inland from Mawson and known as Rum Doodle. That used to be quite a fun trip, driving or being driven in a Porsche Snowtrack.
On one occasion when I was driving, the chief meteorologist, Gunter Weller, suddenly started yelling at me to stop (he was German and when excited, yelled in German). So I stopped the Snowtrack and asked him why he was yelling. By this time, he was frothing at the mouth, but still managed to yell out something like, “Gott im Himmel, you haf stopped on a snow-bridge” which was a bridge made of snow covering the gaping mouth of a crevasse so deep you couldn’t see the bottom. Driving ever-so-carefully, I edged the Snowtrack over it to safety on the other side. The crevasse was wider than the length of the Snowtrack so had the snow-bridge collapsed, the vehicle would have fallen at least 100 metres and possibly more. Those remaining at Mawson base would have had no chance of finding us or even where we broke through the snow-bridge. Not only that, it would have been impossible for the four of us to escape and we would have been entombed, preserved for thousands of years frozen in a moment of time at the tender age of 22 – a fate worth some philosophical consideration.
On another occasion, the Officer-in-charge of Mawson, Graham Maslen, allowed four of the radio operators to take a couple of days off – providing someone responsible went with them. Amazingly enough, the responsible person was me – a 22-year old. So off we went in another Snowtrack to a nearby holiday resort otherwise known as Taylor Glacier. That was also fun. The hut where we stayed was located close to the edge of Taylor Glacier adjacent to an Adelie Penguin rookery. We recovered a plastic dome from the site and brought it back to Mawson where it was installed as a sky-light on our new recreational building. When the new hut was ready for occupation, the old mess hut was abandoned. I visited the old hut many months later and found the interior covered with thick bright sparkling frost creating a most eerie icy-cold ambience to an area that had once throbbed with life. On the return trip to Mawson from Taylor Glacier, we stopped briefly to photograph the wreck of an RAAF DC3 on the edge of the ice plateau that had been blown from its moorings at Mawson by a blizzard the previous year. Two De Havilland Beaver aircraft were also destroyed by the same blizzard. One of the RAAF pilots tried to “fly” one of the Beavers into the blizzard on the ground but ran out of fuel and had to abandon the aircraft which was then torn apart by the high winds.
As an indication of the trust the OIC had in my behaviour, at my request, he allowed me to borrow his .38 calibre revolver to have a few shots (for fun) at some empty oil drums floating around in the bay east of the base. Luckily for him and the rest of the expeditioners, I didn’t turn out to be a serial killer, but I was disappointed – the bullets couldn’t even penetrate the drums!
What else did we do at Mawson? Well I fished….and I continued to learn how to ski on the snow slopes inland from the base, along with a few other expeditioners. The Chief Meteorologist, a German (the same German as in the crevasse episode) was undoubtedly the best skier. He taught me how to sing (in German) the WW2 Wehrmacht song, “We’re marching against England” – “wurden marschieren gegen England”. It used to annoy hell out of the only Pommie we had at the base!
We watched movies – we had about ten movies and we watched each one so often that the projectionist had no need to turn on the sound-track – we knew all the words. One of my favourites was a 1950s musical with Fred Astair and Cyd Charisse called “Bandwagon”, and at our Christmas party, a few of us re-enacted a scene from it substituting our own words! Quite amusing!
We had a truck and motor bike at the station. On one occasion, a couple of us drove the truck onto the frozen sea and had a competition to see who could do the most “whirlies”. To do a “whirly”, one had to accelerate to a high speed heading out to “sea” (it was all frozen) and then throw the truck into a full-lock turn. The truck then slowly but surely performed an elegant “ballet” of “whirlies” until running out of speed. This fun continued until one of us (not me!) “whirled” the truck into a crevasse in the ice where it stayed for a few days until our mechanic worked out how to recover it. We used the motor bike for a number of activities, one of which was to tow somebody on an old aircraft ski on the sea ice and execute a few more “whirlies”. Not something our mothers would want to know about. That was definitely frightening, especially if you were the one sitting on the aircraft ski.
From our very first day at Mawson, acting as a step to the supplies hut was an unused JATO bottle brought to the base when it was first constructed. JATO is an abbreviation for Jet Assisted Take Off, a device which when used, is strapped to an aircraft like the DC3s used by ANARE, to provide extra boost when taking off from (say) a short runway. I had eyed-off this JATO device for some time with the intention of strapping it to a sledge, sitting on the sledge and starting the JATO. Fortunately for me, the opportunity never arose because had I carried out my ill-conceived plan, I would likely have transported myself several Kms at very high speed over the frozen sea with little chance of survival! It wasn’t the first time one of my plans failed to materialise which probably accounts for the fact I am still alive.
The voyage home took longer than most of us had anticipated because of the number of Antarctic bases and other locations the ship visited.
Well I guess that’s about it – apart from the final night on board the Thala Dan before arriving at Melbourne in January 1962 when we had a boisterous but rather sad final party anchored somewhere in Port Phillip Bay.
Of course, there was further three month trip to the Antarctic scheduled for later in 1962 to assist John Greenhill in balloon-borne cosmic ray measurements at Davis.