Vale David Cowan

Station Year Season
Davis 1969 Winter

DAVID COWAN (1944-2023)

David Cowan, met observer at Davis Base in 1969, passed away at Newcastle on 19 April 2023. He died doing what he loved most, having a swim at Bar Beach, or more accurately “having a float”. David was a talented athlete, first grade Rugby player, accomplished organist, endurance cyclist, and avid surfer.

There were just 10 people at Davis Base in 1969 and conditions were rudimentary compared to today. Preparing for self-help entertainment, David brought along a piano accordion but it was damaged in transit and never used. However, he did succeed in bringing a sail and other basics to make an ice yacht, which proved to be very popular and currently holds the record for the most southerly sailed ice yacht in the world. Ironically it was David who was struck by the boom on a very windy cruise and damaged his eardrum.

David was always up for a swim, and fascinated by the ability to float easily in the hyper-saline lakes near Davis. Whenever a hike into the Vestfold Hills was suggested, it had to be near a lake. It is fitting that Lake Cowan is an officially-gazetted lake near Davis Base.

On 13 December 1969 David persuaded three of us to “go for a swim” at the retreating edge of the sea ice about a kilometre out from Davis – a swim in the Southern Ocean. He planned a smooth swan dive but unfortunately the ice edge collapsed and he was dumped unceremoniously into the icy sea. Getting out wasn’t easy either. The photo and the retreating penguins says it all.

David was a gentle giant, always quick to volunteer, a humble man who contributed greatly to maintaining the harmony that endured for the whole year at Davis. On returning to Newcastle, he continued his long career in non-destructive testing of metals, but never missed an adventure to “have a swim”, including a (matching) swim in the Arctic Ocean in the Artic Sea in Norway. He also stunned everyone in 2002 by his deliberately unsupported solo six-week bike ride from Perth (WA) to Newcastle’s Bar Beach! A life well lived and greatly missed by his wife Helen and family.

Alan McNeill, Davis Physicist 1969