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Images and stories from 1960-1969
near Mt Cresswell, 1960
Tractor down slot.
Photo Neville 'Gringo' Collins.
1960, not far short
of Binder's Nunatak (near Mt Cresswell). We (Henk Geysen,
Ric Ruker, Doug Machin, Gringo Collins and I) had blundered up
onto one of those rotten terraces which mark the drop off
to Fisher Glacier. Gringo dropped his tractor in a smallish
slot. Henk, always a man of immediate and decisive, but not
necessarily considered, action unhitched his sledges and set off
at great pace in the tractor to "rescue" Gringo. (You probably
know by repute how little more anyone could contribute to a
Gringo rescue than Gringo himself- despite much yelling and arm
As Henk came by me (I
was driving a weasel) at the edge of this crevasse, which I was
trying to mark for him and discourage him from hurling himself
into, his tractor started to settle at the front giving rise
to concern to Doug and myself - and perhaps even to Henk if
he had happened to have his "Think" button switched on at the
Relief....Followed almost immediately by settlement at the
rear. More concern. It stopped - more relief...Then
with a roar the bridge collapsed and down it went by the nose to
be tenuously help by a small lump on the wall of the crevasse
which kicked the machine out of a vertical nose down
situation into one where the rear of the machine jammed against
the opposite wall. The nose of tractor was some 5 metres below the surface.
Dan, Southern Ocean 1961/62
A fairly normal day in the Southern Ocean.
1961/62. Thala Dan.
Much kinder to expeditioners in this ship than the
Kista Dan (about half this size) in which 14 expeditioners
slept in the forecastle and had to come out onto that deck and
struggle aft to the superstructure to eat.
We also then did our own cooking in the shared ships
galley on the poop deck. In heavy
following seas waves would roll over the stern of the ship and
over the door combing and into the galley which was often
ankle or more deep in a soup of food scraps, tins, packaging,
potato peelings, fat and sea water. A
place for seriously strong stomachs only.
To the huge credit of our "babbling brooks", and their
slushy offsiders, I recall only rarely having to subsist on
and pups, Wilkes 1961
Photo by Bill Burch
Mukluk was a real Wilkes
American bitch. She had been born at Wilkes during the
first year of US operations there in 1957, and grew to be a
most loved - in both the dog and human sense of the word -
character on the station. By 1961, our chief dog
handler, Ray Torckler had deemed we had enough dogs, so when
Mukluk became especially frisky, Ray issued strict
instructions about keeping her well downwind of other dogs,
particularly Oscar. Now I have no idea how it was
arranged, but it turned out there was a spectacular mating
between these two right in front of the main entrance, and we
all gathered around to cheer Oscar on; not that he needed it.
Ray tried in vain to pull them apart and was bitten for his
Sometime later, the inevitable
outcome can be seen in the photo. Ray had asked our OIC,
Nev Smethurst, if she could whelp and suckle the pups inside
the station, and Nev agreed on the one condition that any
droppings were immediately cleaned up. Ray then
leaned on us in the Science group to make some space
available, which we duly did -being the soft hearted dog
lovers we were - and as you can see, Mukluk made herself very
Now a strange phenomenon
inhabited Wilkes, known as "The Phantom", and his signature
was the skull and cross bones. All manner of
dastardly deeds or 'happenings' occurred around the base that
bore the Phantom motif. During Mukluk's post natal
confinement, a very realistic pile of dogs sh*t appeared in
the corridor right outside Nev's office. Nev
summonsed Ray and dressed him down for letting this happen,
and Ray went to get it cleaned up. It was only
when he tried to move it did he discover it was in reality
plaster of Paris stained with brown ink. On the
underside was the ominous skull and cross bones!
PS I have begun a feature page
on the dogs at Wilkes in our Wilkes
history website. Only Mukluk as a pup is
shown at present. Would anyone with a Wilkes dog
story, or who knows anything of the breeding lines of our
dogs, please send it to me at
so I may add
it to the site.
Neptune Crash, Wilkes 1961
Tip of the tail plane
evident in 1996 Photo by Darryn Schneider.
November 9th, 2011 marks 50 years since an overnight refuelling
stop at Wilkes for a US Navy Neptune aircraft on its way back to
McMurdo from the Russian station at Mirny, turned to
tragedy. It crashed on take-off. The five men
who had been seated around the supplementary long range fuel tank
in the belly of the plane were incinerated; but remarkably, the
four cockpit crew walked from the burning wreck and
I first wrote the story of that fatal visit in "Aurora", June 1996
(volume 15 number 4 "The All American Boy") after hearing a more
recent Wilkes veteran recounting an inaccurate version to a friend
at a Midwinter Dinner. Clearly the oral history
had not been well transmitted. It saddened me also
then to realise that the wreckage was rapidly disappearing under
the accumulating snow on the plateau, and that before long there
would be no visible evidence to stimulate thoughts and reflection
in future expeditioners. That point had also been
noted by Darren Schneider when he and a small party from Casey
visited the crash site late in 1996. Only the tip of
the tailplane was protruding from the snow.
The ultimate solution was to have a bronze plaque cast, recording
the tragedy, and to have it mounted on the hilltop overlooking
Wilkes beside the graves of Hartley Robinson and Reg Sullivan,
Australians who had died in accidents in 1959 and 1968
respectively. An ex-US Navy fellow from Operation
Deep-Freeze at McMurdo, Billy-Ace Baker, had contacted me for a
copy of my story about the crash to go on his website.
He was also an active member of the Old Antarctic Explorers
Association (OAEA) based in the USA, and became the liaison person
to bring a memorial plaque to reality.
It has been a long drawn out process, but fulfilment of this
project is almost complete. The OAEA has generously
sponsored production of the plaque here in Australia with a $1000
donation, with minor supplementary costs borne by members of the
Wilkes 1961 party.
Thanks to the
logistic support of the Antarctic Division through Rob Wooding and
Robb Clifton the finished plaque is in Kingston awaiting shipment
to Casey. If all goes well, Dave Buller and his team
at Casey will build a stone cairn ready to take the plaque this
summer season. Originally it was hoped the plaque
could be in place for a small dedication ceremony on November 9
this year to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the disaster,
but that seems unlikely now unless there is an early C-130 flight
in from McMurdo.
Our '61 crew will be holding a 50th reunion in Hobart late
October, during which we hope to have our own little ceremony
around the plaque before it goes South. There's a good
chance we will be joined for the occasion, by the original
Co-Pilot, Ernest Hand, who is planning to fly out from the
US. His presence will give a special poignancy to the
The Wilkes history website has the full story: http://sites.google.com/site/wilkesstationhistory/home/years/1961/bluebird
Postscript to the original story, "The All American Boy".
His name was William W (Bill) Chastain, and he was in fact 23
years old, married to Shelby. A brief eulogy was
written up by his cousin, Guy Wright in the San Francisco News
Chronicle of November 10, and entitled "An Affectionate Farewell
To a Young Explorer".
The Mawson Band, Mawson 1963
'Scruffy' Shennan, Assistant Diesel Mechanic Mawson 1963
photo features the Mawson "band" that was formed by March
1963. The members are Bob White on drum, Keith "Blue"
McDonald on bongo, Ted "Magoo" McGrath on chest fiddle and
Bill Taylor "Billy T" on lagerphone. The band usually
appeared on Saturday nights and other "ding" nights (and not
always in tune). One of the band members recorded that
the band sounded "like nothing on earth"!
1, Mawson 1963
Photo by Ray McMahon
I can share some light on the 1963 VW. In Oct 1962 while I was indoctrinating myself at
ANARE HO in 187 Collins Street, I read that there were a couple
of water cooled engine vehicles at Mawson ie the Ferguson
tractor and a flat topped Bedford truck. I reckoned if they were
being used successfully around the station then why wouldn't an
air cooled VW be suitable for some "around the station"
functions. So I picked up the
phone and rang the marketing office of VW Australia at Clayton,
I spoke with a "cadet" marketing person by the name of Graham
Massingham. I asked him if VW would be cooperative and loan me a
VW to take to Mawson for the year. It so happened that VW HO in
Wolfsburg Germany, had recently told VW Australia to embark on a
marketing plan to advertise the VW Beetle for winter conditions
in Australia !!! That is how I got a new off the production line
Beetle, a load of spares , a couple of cameras and film to take
movies and stills during the changeover for advertising back in
OZ. This vehicle was of NO expense to ANARE. The name plate was titled "ANTARCTICA 1" ( please note
the style of the letter 1).
I brought ANTARCTICA 1 back with me on
the Nella Dan in Feb 1964, we were off loaded in Hobart and the
Nella Dan carried onto Perth where the VW was off loaded there.
The VW was subsequently brought over to Melbourne where it went
on a publicity campaign as the Antarctic VW before it was
re-liveried as the BP Rally car, there was no mechanical changes
made to the VW for its 1964 Round Australia rally bash.
I was still aware of the activities of
VW-Australia in 1964 when they handed "ANTARCTICA
I" over to the BP Rally organisation. You will note
that it was still wearing the "ANTARCTICA 1" plate above the
Rego Plate HZB 624. That was the
last I heard of the VW and the name plates. I have not heard any
feasible story of the fate of the plates, I was led to believe
that the VW suffered from the BP Rally and just disappeared.
In 2003 I was approached by a couple
of VW enthusiasts and subsequently assisted them in their
efforts to build a replica of ANTARCTICA 1. This 1962 VW
was built to be an excellent replica of the original in all
aspects with the exception of the name plate. ( please note the
style of the letter 1 ). I also know that there were
more name plates manufactured than the 2 which were
attached to the replica. The 2003
replica was taken to Germany to be displayed at an
auto show...it was ultimately purchased by a German VW
collector and remains in Germany.
in BP livery 1964. Photo by Ray McMahon.
replica numberplate. Photo by
replica 2003. Photo by Ray
in Biscoe Hut, Mawson 1966
Ron Murray & Bill Cartledge, Mawson 1966
I am sure the location was in Biscoe where they had a corner set
aside where it could be temperature controlled for the production
of the 'perfect brew'. As I was tee-total at the time I was not
personally involved but beer drinkers got a ration which from
memory was two cans a week which was usually kept for Sunday
dinner or for the monthly themed party's. So Monday to Saturday it
was homers as you say.
All those involved contributed, I think it was 10
shillings each to purchase enough ingredients before departure to
make enough brew for the year.
Regarding a 'fort knox' I really hadn't thought about
it but I guess it would have been kept somewhere pretty safe,
although I can't really imagine anyone being game enough to rob
the nest-egg although I do remember that the actual 'testing' of
the brew was a very popular activity.
John Le Quiniat (Quinert)
Blizzard in the old garage workshop in 66.
The snow is just like talcom powder as the
humidity is so low. This allows it to penetrate any
crack or even keyholes,enough to give you this result!.The dog
is alive and one of the huskie pups from the litter of
Jennie?.In the background is myself. By the way the vehicle was
know as a Snow Track.
Boat Launch, Macquarie Island
Photo by Ken (Scruffy)
picture of a boat being launched is the launch of
Mike Chapman's dinghy that he built at
Macquarie. The "No boating" sign was put up
by one of the expeditioners! Mike ("Chippy")
rowed about 20 feet out to sea to test the
Football Match, Macquarie
Photo by Ken (Scruffy)
football match took place on Midwinter's
Day. The bearded figure in a floral skirt
and beard is Peter Ormay, the next person in the
hat is Brian "Red" Ryder, the fellow on the right
in pink shorty pyjamas is Richard "Dicko" Schmidt.
Bay Hut, Macquarie Island 1967
Photo by Ken (Scruffy)
picture at Bauer Bay shows a group of expeditioners who took down
supplies to Bauer Bay (including 44 gallon drum of fuel) on
the Gnat because "Nella Dan" was unable to land any supplies at
Bauer Bay that year due to heavy seas. We don't know the
identity of the fellow bending over the Gnat. Standing in
the middle with a peaked cap is Peter Ormay, then John Evans
("Doc"), Richard Schmidt ("Dicko") and unidentified man on the
extreme right (can't decide between two of the blokes there that
year). Scruffy says it was extremely difficult to get the
Gnat up onto the Plateau, let alone the 44 of fuel! I notice
that two of the fellows are armed, but of course they for catching
bunnies for dinner.
The unidentified man on the extreme right may be Ray Gully.
For further pictures on the Gnat see gallery 1972 section.
cake, Macquarie Island 1967
Photo by Ken (Scruffy)
This photo is of the cake produced for Midwinter.
The Macquarie '67 cook was repatriated to Australia for health
reasons and the party was without a cook from about April. The
other expeditioners took it in turns to act as cook.
This rather impressive cake was
produced by Alf Svensson, a met observer. It graced the
table during the lunch celebrations and was enjoyed by
all. Alf was actually a very good cook - chocolate eclairs
was another of his specialties!
Photo by Mark
VW 4¼ Forbes Glacier, Mawson 1967
How did the VW get
there...In our day official vehicles were not allowed on the sea
ice. There had been some earlier misadventures I believe!
So after a bit of "Definitely not, wink, wink ..." from the late
Frank Smith, I purchased a wrecked VW, and with the help of my
brother-in-law panel beater repaired it. I then left it on
number 9 wharf near where Nella Dan was
loading. Lo and behold, it turned up at
Mawson. Security was definitely a different ball
game in those days. The
choice of a VW was just a co-incidence. I had
originally thought to "take" an old 1926 Dodge that I owned.
The VW's use was
purely recreational. It made over a dozen trips to Auster
Rookery, numerous trips up the plateau to Fischer and David
Range (Rumdoodle), and got first place in the "Mawson Grand Prix
de Midwinter". That's another good yarn ...a handicap race
where 4¼ was handicapped 18 minutes - 3 minutes more
than the time marathon man Ray Sharrock had taken to complete
the 2 mile course.
4¼? After VWs called Antarctica 1 & 2 there was no
way was mine going to be 3, hence 4¼.
I'm looking for
another photo where we were welding some angle iron bracket
modifications on to the front end, which regularly broke
loose thumping over tide cracks and sasstrugi.
I note the "ease of
starting" quoted in the Advertisements.
It does not say anything about using a 12 volt battery on a 6
volt starter-motor for starting...
4¼ Forbes Glacier, Mawson 1967
VW 4¼ with Syd
Little (electrician) in the background. Photo by Mark Forecast.
These photos were
taken in June or July 'ish on sea ice off Forbes Glacier, about
12 miles west of Mawson.
The VW broke through
the sea ice off Forbes Glacier (almost where the
Emperor shot was taken). Ian Thomas and I were returning
to Mawson after reconnoitring a "safe" route to Taylor Rookery
around the Jelbart Glacier Tongue. Jelbart is about 45
miles west from Mawson and about 15 miles short of our objective
-the Taylor Emperor Rookery.
It was September the
19th, perhaps a little late in the season. The sea
ice was rafted up for several miles out to sea in front of the
Jelbart Glacier which itself extended about 5 miles out into the
sea ice. It was impossible to cross and too dangerous to go
around, so we turned back toward Mawson with a little time up
We decided to stop at
Forbes for some more "intrepid" photos. Just as we
stopped, the back of the VW broke through the ice, and on
opening the doors to get out she started to sink. Ice
sheared on driver side blocking the door from opening. Luckily we both got out the passenger
side, me between the roof and top of door as
4¼ disappeared into about 40 fathoms. A
big chunk of ice broke off the "Ice Cliff" and the sea ice went
up and down like a trampoline. (Addendum: I had taken some
canvass and "lift the dot" studs with me to Mawson intending to
make an escape roof hatch - just never got around to it).
Of course all
this was unofficial and off the record. Statute
of limitations etc. now allows us to tell all.
David Cowan emerging.
Photo by Ron McLean, Radio-Tech and 'official photographer
The (email) item featuring modern OH&S style of
ice swimming caught my attention. You've got to get
out quickly so I liked the ladder, and I was impressed by
the the rubber matting for protection of one's feet.
In the risky "old days", as in my case during December 1969, I
accompanied two other expeditioners, Paul Watts and Alan
Mcneill, for a short swim at the ice edge off Davis base. We
had to choose a spot that permitted natural, safe with quick
access and egress and we stood on a towel to protect our feet
whilst drying-off and hastily returning to our welcome, warm
Not being too excited about the prospect of sharing the water
with leapord seals we waited until a group of Adelie penguins swum
by before I plucked up the nerve to plunge in first. I
was about to dive in when the ice edge crumbled under my weight
and I slid rather unceremoniously into the icy water, which was OK
for me, but the penguins immediately jumped out and scurried
to a safe distance away from the ice edge. I believe it
likely that the penguins took me for a leopard seal and
As thoughtful as we were in choosing the swimming spot, we
did not notice that the top layer of the ice was undermined,
which collapsed as I endeavoured to clamber out, returning me
to the water for a second dunking. The other swimmers followed in
quick sucession, neatly diving, swimming
and performing perfect exits, with Alan's swan-dive
being recorded (incorrectly) by Tim Bowden in his book 'Silence
Calling', page 219, as "an intrepid/lunatic ANARE
expeditioner diving into sub-zero waters for a midwinter swim at
Mawson 1961". Tim was made aware of this and was most apologetic.
Of course the sun is not there during midwinter, and we picked a
typical "Riviera of the South" sunny day for our cool swimming.
McNeill diving in. Photo by David Cowan.
McNeill clambering out post swim. Photo by
Above is a photo of
me diving into the sea from the sea ice off Davis in 1969 (on 13
December - with the melt well underway). Note the few
penguins looking on. I can tell you it was cold - I was out
in a flash (see second photo). Both photos taken by
Dave Cowan (Met Observer). The sea edge was about half a
kilometer from the base. Dave, Paul Watts (Diesel Mechanic)
and I were the only people silly enough to try this stunt.
There were no other observers. Thinking back now, I'm so
grateful that the photos worked because there was not going to be
a repeat performance. No digital photography in 1969 for
checking on success. No back up photographers. Dave
also planned to dive in (for a photo) but the edge of the snow
crumbled and he fell in. That was enough time in the water
for him, and I fully agreed. We timed Paul - he was in for
13 seconds. We were too cold to get a photo of him.
Alan McNeill, Auroral Physicist
Weighing dogs, Mawson 1969
Photo by Ian Allison.
Resupply (unloading) Mawson
Photo by Ian Allison
Aircraft at Gwamm, Mawson 1969
Photo By Ken Withers
The aircraft was a Lisunov
Li-2, a license-built version of the DC3. It had arrived in December 1968
to lay a fuel dump. Back then Mawson was regularly used as a
refuelling/ rest stop between the 2 Russian Antarctic bases
Mirny and Molodyezhnaya. When leaving and taxiing down the
Rumdoodle airstrip runway a strong gust of wind caught the
plane and blew it into a crevasse, damaging the landing gear.
(Other reports suggest the starboard wing and propeller were
damaged... is any reader able to clarify this?) The Russian
crew were collected the following day by 2 planes which flew
out from Molodyezhnaya but the plane remained.
The photographer Ian Allison
arrived at Mawson on 15 January via Amery Ice Shelf. He
reports that the plane 'was securely tied down by the tail and
two wing tips by a party from Mawson at the beginning of
February 1969. We had several blizzes early in the year,
which the aircraft survived, but on 8-9 April we had a major
blow with gusts to 123 knots which destroyed it.
Basically, it tried to fly; the fuselage broke into two near
the tail, and the body of the aircraft flipped onto its back,
rotating about the wing tie downs. I think all the
deadmen and tie downs initially remained in place, although it
may later have been moved downwind.
Over the next decade or so
various bits (instruments, etc.) were surreptitiously
souvenired by ANAREs. More openly, one of the propellers
was engraved and presented to senior helicopter pilot Vic
Barkell after the 1974/75 (I think) SPCM summer. The
aircraft was completely destroyed in 1981 by Czechoslovakian
dieso George Hedanek who drove a D5 through it because he
The VW in the photo is
"Antarctica 2", although you can't see the numberplate because
of the bridging timbers lashed to the rear bumper.' (See
further advertisements featuring the VWs at Mawson here.)
Bedford Truck, Mawson 1969
Photo by Bill Cowell
Snow Run, Mawson 1969
Photo by Ian Allison
Yacht, Davis 1969
Ice Yacht with Lou
Bela, Met tech (in orange) and Dr Des Parker, OIC. Photo by
part of the wintering team at Davis base in 1969. During that
time I built an ice yacht out of available materials, with the
exception of the sail, which had been donated by one of the Port
Phillip bay yacht clubs.
Once the sea ice had frozen and the wind had removed the snow
layer to expose a smooth icy surface, the yacht was brought out
and it performed very well. It could be sailed solo, but was
safer two-up, because there was less risk of capsizing.
On one occasion, in a following wind, we failed to see an
up-coming tide crack. The front runner stuck in the crack
causing the boom (made of steel pipe) to swing violently
around, collecting me on the side of the head. I was knocked
unconsious and Peter Jackson, my sailing partner, carried me
several hundred metres to the base where I got medical assistance
from Dr Des Parker. The extent of my injuries was a perforated ear
drum, which took several weeks recovery.
The ice yacht was modified to extend the mast foot by a further
300mm, giving safe head-room beneath the swinging boom. Sailing
continued right up till the ice surface became too mushy,
providing plenty of exhiliration for all those who liked to
As for the furtherest south, Davis is a full degree further south
than Mawson. So is this a new record for southern-most ice
Attached is a photo of two ice sailors enjoying a sail in the sea
ice in front of Davis station. It is interesting to compare the
base layout in 1969 compared to modern day.
Regards, David Cowan
Photo by Ian Allison
'...The dog food consisted
predominantly of 'pemmican'. In one sense the pemmican blocks
were like 'designer' meals consisting of meat, fat, liver,
grains and vitamins. The dogs were usually fed a 450 gram 'base'
block on the station and a 600 gram 'field' block which had a
higher content of fat when on trips. This was supplemented with
kitchen food scraps, a small amount of butter and margarine,
expired canned products and limited quantities of expired meat
and offal. Seals were also killed for meat (about 30-50 /year)
until 1985. Needless to say the killing of seals was not viewed
with enthusiasm but was seen at the time a necessary act to
ensure adequate nutrition and supplies of meat for the dogs.
Phil Chapman (1958) wrote into
the feedback line with this account:
One of my jobs at Mawson was
hunting (or, rather, slaughtering) seals, for meat to feed the
dogs, and occasionally ourselves... We usually took a dogsled
when we went hunting out on the sea ice. We needed transport for
the meat because an adult Weddell seal weighs 500 kg or more.
The first problem was getting
the dogs to cooperate. We had brought some fresh dogs down with
us, and it took a while to get a pecking order established.
Until then, any attempt to harness them led to a most impressive
dogfight, with maybe ten big strong huskies, especially the
males, in one squirming pile, trying to enthusiastically to kill
each other...After the dogs had worked off their surplus energy
in the fight, they could be persuaded to line up and start
pulling. Riding the sled down the slope and out across the
sea-ice was very exhilarating, great sport.
Seal hunting itself was no kind
of sport at all. We could see them a long way off, basking on
the ice beside a tide crack, typically in groups of six or so.
As I am sure you have found out, Antarctic seals, unlike those
in the Arctic, have not learned that humans are dangerous.
Leaving the dogs a hundred yards away (they tended to go ape if
we brought them closer), we would just walk up to the seals.
They might raise their heads and look at us with those big brown
beautiful eyes, but they never tried to escape. So I would just
pick one and shoot it in the head at a range of about six
The other seals would jump at
the shot, but they still just lay there. So we could shoot
another, if we needed that much meat. This was an awful, bloody,
brutal business. We had to butcher the dead seal quite quickly,
before it froze, but of course we made quite sure it was dead,
shooting it again if necessary... We would gut the animal and
cut it up, using knives and an axe. Then we would bring up the
dog team, working hard to control their enthusiasm, and load the
sled with big cross-sectional chunks... I killed maybe a dozen
seals in total, and it completely changed my attitude to
hunting. I have not hunted any animal since (except fish;
somehow I do not mind killing fish)...'
Excerpt from 'Ingrid on Ice'.
for links to a story of the huskies at Mawson. The Wilkes
History website also has a story on the dogs at Wilkes
Ian Allison also wrote:
The sealing story you have is
pretty much as I remember it - nothing at all glamorous.
The hides were simply disposed into the ocean because Australian
quarantine did not allow them in if tanned.
And as for the
motorcycle in the distance by the sled... It was a 500cc Triumph,
owned by Bill Cowell who has bought it, as was the tradition, from
a 1968 wintering expeditioner. He had ridden up to join the