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.