The 2020 – 2021 NSW Council
History of the NSW Branch of the ANARE Club
For many years, the chief (indeed the only) regular gathering in NSW of old ANAREs was the Midwinter Dinner (“the Ding”). From that grew in time the more formal NSW branch structure and a range of other activities, but Midwinter remains central. Early records are scarce and those who remember fading fast, and it is not clear when Midwinter Dinners began in NSW, though it was presumably in the 1950s.
Before then, Antarctic Midwinter dinners for Australian expeditioners were held – by invitation only – by the British Antarctic Society in Melbourne. Attendees included such luminaries as Phil Law, Lem Macey, Bill Storer, Pat Lee and many others having “Melbourne” connections. As an increasing number of wintering expeditioners started to come from NSW, informal Sydney dinners took place. (Deemed informal as there was no NSW Chapter of the Club at this time.) One group thus formed was “The Antarctic Club”, led in part by Dick Thompson, Bill Storer and Pat Lee, and running parallel with another group – the NSW equivalent of the Melbourne ANARE Club.
It is on record that from the late 1960s and early 1970s, the latter gatherings were organised by Jerry Walter (CSIRO), Jack Sillick and Bill Thomas who worked for the Department of Supply, then the home of ANARE. These were open to expeditioners only, befitting the culture of the time. But numbers fell gradually until, in 1975, there was a Midwinter in Sydney with very few people (19; even the organiser didn’t show up). The dinner became a round-table discussion about what could be done to improve numbers and membership. In a resulting “young Turk” invasion of 1970’s expeditioners Lem Macey was elected as interim President, as was a committee to organise the next year’s dinner, including David Ellyard, Kit Scally and Bruce Smith. The following year (1976) the committee assembled a mailing list of financial ANARE Club members and other potential members to organise a more formal Sydney Midwinter’s Dinner.
Concerted efforts by the NSW Council in the late 1970’s, led by Steve Symonds, challenged the Club’s constitution to establish Branches and Branch Councils in each State. Steve went through the Constitution, flagging areas for amendment. The Amendments established the Branch Councils, the rights of the Branches and their Council and capitation fees. After discussion with the rest of the Committee, the proposals were accepted and the amendments were sent down to Council following the rules for amendment in the Constitution.
At the same time, the NSW Council discussed whether to allow spouses to accompany their expeditioner partners at the Midwinter’s dinners. This was in order to raise numbers after a disastrous few years and to show the value placed on expeditioners’ partners. This new move set the character of all future events. The first of the Midwinter Dinners with spouses was held in 1981 at the Mandarin Club, with well over 100 expeditioners and their partners in attendance. Steve spoke in favour of the amendments, which by that stage had been printed in Aurora. The ANARE Council put the amendments to the vote of the members as required under the Constitution and the amendments were carried in NSW by a huge majority. Other States quickly followed suit and soon there were Branches in every State and Territory. It is the view of the current council members that the amendment to the Constitution of the Club to allow the establishment of Branches was the single most important step forward for the Club in its history after its formation.
These are the main reason for our existence. We have changed our venue every three years or so. Venues have included the Air Force Association Club, Sydney University, Taronga Zoological Park, the Cyprus Hellene Club, Macquarie University, The Bowlers’ Club (Sydney), The RSL Club and Parramatta Leagues Club, and our themes and speakers have varied even more. As previously intimated, our Midwinter dinners have been formally organised since 1976 and partners have been included since 1981. For the last 20 years they have been MCed by David Ellyard, and we have had guest speakers from the early 1980s onwards. David introduced the Call of the Years in 1988, following the excellent example of the Melbourne Midwinter Dinner of 1987. The NSW Branch suggested the idea of staggered dates for MWDs, mainly for the event of the Jubilee years (for ANARE and for the Club) in order to allow members to attend more than one event.
The unsung heroes are of course the NSW Council members who, along with all other branch councils, put in hard work and innovative thinking to realise the aims of the Club within a tight budget, and to host a damn good party come Midwinter’s! They are listed in the attached spreadsheet.
The NSW Branch has been honoured by the presence, over the years at our various events, of a number of notable guests and visitors. The attached spreadsheet gives details of our guest speakers. ANARE celebrities attending have included Club presidents, liaison officers and Antarctic Division staff (John Gilles, Ian Mackie, Shelagh Robinson, Dr Philip Law and many others). Other personalities have included members of other Antarctic expeditions, both Government and private (for example, British Antarctic Survey, New Zealand Antarctic Expeditions, Don & Margie McIntyre); representatives of Antarctic organisations (Antarctic Society, Society of Polar Philatelists, Antarctic Wives & Parents Association); Norman Linton-Smith and other notaries.
The Canberra Mob
The NSW Branch has a tradition of strong ties with our geographically close neighbours the ACT Branch. For many years we have had a reciprocal arrangement of advertising our Midwinter’s Dinners in each other’s mail-out.
Reunions and Other Gatherings
Quite apart from reunions held in conjunction with our Midwinter events, members have organised their own reunions, with and without Branch assistance. Just a couple of those are mentioned here. A Wilkes ’61 reunion was held on the weekend of 8-10 October 1999, at Binalong (near Yass). All NSW members attended – Bill Burch, Steve Grimsley, Jock McGhee, Neville Smethurst and Ray Torckler. From Vic came Max Berrigan and Stan Church, and from WA Peter Parish. MI 85 had a 10th reunion barbecue following the Midwinter gathering, on the weekend of 24-25 June 1995.
Ever since the brilliant dinner held at Taronga Zoological Park, the NSW Branch has held a good relationship with the Zoo, and we have been constant supporters of theirs. Mrs Rob donated a painting, which was most popularly raffled at the Dinner, resulting in our first cheque to the Zoo of $400.00. Taronga had just opened a Macca display centred on three elephant seal pups – Macquarie, Maud and Nella, brought in from Macca December 1987. From 1991 to 1996 we sponsored elephant seals. It took a lot of fish to feed them – at full weight, Mac weighed in at 698kg and Nella at 481kg (the last, Nella, died in December 1996). Ellie was rescued on the verge of death from severe kidney failure – she was brought to the Zoo late 1994, successfully rehabilitated, and released from a beach in Tasmania through the combined efforts of AntDiv (Harry Burton and Dave Slip), Zoo people and Qantas. Another elephant seal, Rosy, was picked up at Rose Bay (Sydney) where she had been hit by a boat. Unfortunately she didn’t respond to treatment. Then we sponsored leopard seal Georgia, and the Zoo’s ongoing rehabilitation program for leopard seals injured or washed up on our shores. Not a pretty seal, with its reptilian head, but a formidable hunter. Georgia was washed up on a beach at Surfers Paradise (Qld), nursed back to health and transferred to the Zoo. Nowadays we have spread our sponsorship to cover all Antarctic seals and penguins on display at the Zoo. From 1991 to 2001 inclusive, we have donated $5 800 to this worthy cause. Each year we receive a sponsor’s certificate and very public credit for the Club with a plaque in the Sponsor’s Display.
Another worthy cause, and one close to every ANARE Club member’s heart, is the Mawson Antarctic Collection Appeal. This appeal is an effort to find a permanent home for the Mawson Collection of artefacts and memorabilia in order to create a living memorial to Sir Douglas Mawson. Basically, the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum got together with the Mawson family to plan a fitting and permanent tribute to Sir Douglas Mawson’s life and achievements and to make his story accessible to future generations. The NSW Branch of the ANARE Club has assisted this appeal with $2 000 raised by raffle at the Midwinter Dinners from 1996-2000. We also were instrumental in providing a further $2 000 in November 1996. In this case, in an acknowledgment of help provided by NSW Club members in an exhibition called “Looking South – Amazing Antarctic”, AAP Information Services donated $2000 to Appeal at the Branch’s request. His Excellency Sir Eric Neal, Governor of South Australia, formally launched the Mawson exhibition at the South Australian Museum on 3 April 2000. The completed display is indeed excellent, and listed prominently as one of the major sponsors is “ANARE Club – NSW Branch”.
More on Mawson: the NSW Branch has assisted the Mawson Hut restoration appeal of AAP. Bill Burch did much work throughout the history of efforts to save Mawson’s Hut from a slow, cold, neglectful death, and reported on this in much detail in June 1997 and March 1999 Aurora articles. In our Jubilee Year mail-out we included pamphlets etc informing all NSW and ACT Antarcticians of this worthy project and encouraging individual contributions. NSW member Alan Rooke played an important part of the Commonwealth Bay project, and spoke at the following NSW Midwinter’s Dinner on this.
We have also used our popular Midwinter Dinner raffles to assist the ANARE Club Council. In 1989 the NSW Branch donated $300 to the Nella Dan memorial plaque project and, more recently, the Branch raised $500 to assist Melbourne’s efforts in their Jubilee of ANARE program.
Other Social Events
These are notoriously hard to organise, given the active lifestyles followed by the average Antarctician.
Sydney ANARE Club Picnic days have been held since the 1980s. It was first suggested for October 1984 (as was an “Antarctic parents’ and wives’ night” – for March 1985). They have been held at Lane Cove National Park from then annually until about 1994.
We have run many successful Zoo Picnic days – the first was held in 1998. Here club members have taken advantage of free Zoo passes (courtesy of our sponsorship arrangement with the Zoo). These have generally taken place on a Spring Sunday, entailing visits to the seal and penguin exhibits and displays. We have also enjoyed the Kodak Free Flight Bird Show, which showcases the greatest variety of amazing adaptations and unique behaviour of free-flight birds, from birds of prey to cockatoos – and in a spectacular 1000-seat amphitheatre perched on the edge of a cliff-top, set against the backdrop of magnificent Sydney Harbour.
We have also tried our hand at holding irregular slide/movie evenings at members’ houses. These have come and gone over the years, most lately being resurrected August 1994 and held every two or three months for a few years.
The Club Berth
The NSW branch has contributed some of our Club’s more recent Club berth candidates. The first was Col Christiansen. Col voyaged in the 1997/98 season – V5, which left on Australia Day 1998. Steve Symonds was the ANARE Club representative on Aurora Australis, V5, which departed Hobart 5pm Monday 24/1/00, bound for Casey and Macquarie Island. Details of both these voyages may be found on the NSW Branch website and in former Aurora’s. Lucinda Coates was recently selected as the Club rep for the 2001-02 season.
The NSW Branch has used every effort to keep abreast of modern technology, and first initiated the idea of a website at the March 1996 NSW Council meeting. Colin Christiansen has been the stalwart behind the scenes, and got the NSW branch site up and running in that month. He suggested having a website linked to the Antarctic Division to the ANARE Council in 1996/97.
On the site there are links to all the other branches, and to other Antarctic sites of interest to our members. There is a members’ section, where members can advertise needs, wants, reunions, Websites etc as well as information on Midwinter’s Dinners and other club activities. Members have been kept informed of visits to icebreakers – the Polar Bird in August 1998 and June 2000, and the Shirase annually, around the end of March. We also helped get other Club branch Websites up and running – for example, the Alice Springs club (January 2000). We contribute to the main Club website, including the Expedition History; Members Email addresses; Antarctic Service Medallions ; Reunions and Wanted pages. All these pages are regularly updated and maintained.
Other Antarctic Events
Many of our members have given talks to schools and other organisations (such as Rotary Club) of their time in Antarctica. A few of the irregulars are Colin Christiansen, Lucinda Coates, Jenny Selkirk, Paddy Butterworth and Kit Scally.
Antarctic tourist flights, run by Croyden Travel (Victoria), recommenced during the 1994/95 season, and our erstwhile Bill Burch was one of the first flight commentators gleaned from the NSW ANARE Club network, after Melbourne declined Qantas’ request for Antarctic commentators.
During the Jubilee Year celebrations, many members of the NSW Branch officiated as guides for school tour groups at an AAP Information Services photographic exhibition called “Looking South – Amazing Antarctic”. Opened by Senator Rob Campbell, it was attended by many NSW ANARE council members and Antarctic Division staff (including former Photographic Officer Bob Reeves). Antarctic Division supplied the photographic, video and other material and NSW club members showed school groups over the exhibition and gave talks on their experiences in Antarctica. The exhibition ran from 1 August to 31 October 1996. The following expeditioners gave of their time: Don Adamson, Denise Allen, Ken Batt, Bill Breeze, Rowan Butler, Col Christiansen, David Ellyard, Vin Gibson, Geoff Naughton, Trevor Olrog, Dave Rogers, Neville Smethurst, Ron Smith, Lindsay Stubbs, David Vansell, Ross Walsh, John Wignall and Warwick Williams.
We sent a small contingent to participate in the Australian Army LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) ANARE Detachment Disbandment Parade – held 25 June 1994 at Woolwich Barracks. The Detachment had given 46 years of support to ANARE – the World War II DUKWs from 1947/48 and the LARCs from 1970/71. They moved from Melbourne to Sydney in 1985/86, coming under the command of the 10th Terminal Regiment. In 1993 the Army decided to withdraw the LARC V from service. Present were the first and last officers – Laurie Stooke (Macca, March 1948) and Captain Malcolm Stewart (Macca, 1993/94).
Icebreaker Shirase (a Japanese vessel) is a regular visitor to Sydney on her inbound journeys, around March. Colin Christiansen has organised visits to this vessel for members for the last few years. For the initial visit Colin was asked to MC the opening reception (guests including the Japanese Consul) at the Japanese Cultural Centre and Trevor Olrog addressed the gathering on ANARE activity and the Club in general. Edgeworth-David (Chief Geologist at Sydney University; wintered in 1908 with Mawson on Shackleton’s expedition) assisted in the Shirase expediton in 1911 when it was in Sydney, and on this occasion was presented with a Samurai sword, which now lives in the Australian Museum. The Polar Bird (Icebird) visited Sydney Harbour in August 1998 and June 2000. The Polar Sea (US Coast Guard cutter), Glacier and Polar Star have all made visits to Sydney, as has the Kista Dan.
NSW members were invaluable in providing names and contact details for John O’Connor’s Polar Medallion project. Colin Christiansen, via the NSW Branch web site, maintained the web list of medallions.
NSW Council members have represented the Club at any talks and exhibits of Antarctic interest held in the Sydney area. Exhibitions include those by the State Library of NSW (eg the photographs and diaries of Frank Hurley) and the Maritime Museum (eg “Secrets of the Frozen World”; seminar on “Understanding Antarctica”). Presentations and talks have included those by the Australian Geographic Society (eg Antarctic aviator Sir Hubert Wilkins; the Pole walkers; mountaineer Greg Mortimer; Extraordinary Antarctic Paintings – Catherine Bone) and many others. Book launches have been attended, including, most recently, Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer – The Life Of Herbert Dyce Murphy, by Heather Rossiter
NSW Branch Council meetings have been held on an ad hoc, as required basis – generally six to eight times a year. The final meeting before Midwinter’s is always a combined mail-out session, with beers and food perched precariously amidst mounds of paper and envelopes in a veritable production line of frantically flashing hands and barbed wit. Meetings are occasionally held at convenient watering holes, but generally at a council member’s place. Those who have extended the hospitality of their homes to Branch Council members are Lyn Williams, Denise Allen, Richard Stephens, and, more recently, Steve Symonds and Lucinda Coates.