If the mountain won’t come …

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Publication date: 20 June 2014.

Publication date: 20 June 2014.

April 1956

 Still out in the field, this first trip over the plateau lasted from Tuesday 27 March 1956 to Wednesday 4th April. Syd and Bill Bewsher (who was a much more experienced climber) climbed a mountain to get another astrofix. An astrofix is The Fix referred to in the title of Syd’s biography Fixing Antarctica and it might be time to try to explain what it is …

An astrofix “locks” a local feature (say a mountain) in place so that everyone can see where it is with reference to the stars. With an astrofix it begins to be possible to create an accurate map because it allows the “fixed” features to be plotted on the worldwide grid of latitude and longitude.

Before you can make an accurate map, someone has to create the grid upon which the observations will be tied. The first grid of unmapped country is called a ground control. Its coordinates match the real location of features in the landscape. It is not an empty grid because each crossed line on the ground control is one step in the process of filling a map.

Each astrofix allows an area to be fixed on the grid.

 During the exploration of Antarctica, Syd was trying to get an astrofix as close as possible to each degree of latitude and the equivalent distance apart in longitude along the coasts and inland. So he had to be somewhere high to take one …. like up a mountain for example.

Maybe by now you’re regretting that you started reading this, but perhaps I can explain WHAT a big deal an astrofix is if I tell you that in most places of the world, the surveyor required three or four hours to observe just one astrofix but in Antarctica the surveyor and the note taker (the booker) had to climb a mountain (let’s allocate six hours to that) and then try to keep still (in the gales at the top of the mountain) and try to keep their own shivering down to a moderate palsy so they didn’t bump the equipment into a feverish wobble, and then after a few hours they might have a fix. That was in winter. In summer the sun was above the horizon for 24 hours, so only the brightest stars were visible for observation.

After a few more hours of computation, a good outcome would be a fix accurate to about twenty metres. Since 2003, by contrast, it has been possible for positions determined by GPS to be accurate to a subcentimetre.

 Syd Kirkby went to Antarctica to observe astrofixes and that year he completed eighteen. From Lewis Island in the east to Amundsen Bay in the west, almost 5,000 kilometres of crevassed icy terrain lay between them.

Back to Rumdoodle Peak

 

 

 

 

 

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About lynettefinch

Dr Lynette Finch. Once I was a poster designer and illustrator. I ran a small poster business called Mantis Prints, specializing in political posters during the odd days of the Bjelke-Petersen Government in Queensland. I’m told my posters hung on the walls of Rizhsky railway station in Moscow, although I’m not sure about that. They are in the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery, on several on-line websites, and in the following book: Lynne Seear and Julie Ewington, eds. Light II, Contemporary Australian Art 1966-2006, Queensland Art Gallery Publishing, 2007, pp. 110-117. In my next incarnation I was a senior lecturer in history. I published books and articles on urban health and feeding people in modern industrial cities, on the Queensland home front in the second world war and the role and history of war propaganda. Sometimes I wrote about Marxism and its impact around the world as well as intimate oral histories of communists in Australia, their experiences in conservative society, their role as social and political radicals in small towns and cities. Once I went through a death phase and wrote about the role of the Coroners Court in colonial society, about abortion and infanticide in nineteenth century cities, and about the role of gossip in policing. My research took a decidedly happier direction when I was granted an Arts Fellowship to Antarctica in the 2007/08 season, as research for a biography about Antarctic surveyor and explorer Syd Kirkby. I bunkered down in a blizzard in Brooke's hut near Davis station and imagined what it was like for Syd, caught for twelve days in a 150-knot blizzard, high in the plateau beyond Mawson in 1960. Some of my books: Australia’s Frontline: Remembering the 1939-45 War. With the rapid escalation of the Pacific War in 1942, Queenslanders suddenly found themselves perilously close to the frontline, especially those in the far north. The book is based on interviews of men and women who worked their farms in the north, some of them Italians and Germans who were interned as enemy aliens. Nevertheless, the book is essentially a story of courage, of community spirit and neighbourliness, and of the public and private war effort of a community facing crisis and loss. Dark Angel: Propaganda in Modern Warfare. This book traces the origins and development of propaganda and media manipulation from the 1800s to today’s ‘spin’ and ‘false news’. Why have governments at war allocated resources to propaganda leaflets, broadcasts, movies and art during major military conflicts? Read the book. You’ll find the answer. The Classing Gaze: Sexuality, Class and Surveillance. Concepts like sexuality and class share the same moment of birth during the nineteenth century as social inquiry turned to analysis of the workings, population growth, thought patterns, economic systems and internal bodily workings of humans (or Man, to be historically accurate). How did these ideological concepts impact in the real world? A great deal, is the short answer, outlined in this book. Young in a Warm Climate: a history of childhood in Queensland is an edited volume about childhood on the Queensland frontiers, at school, at home, in hospitals and other institutions. Fixing Antarctica: Mapping the Frozen South. In 1956, in the height of the cold war, the biggest wintering expedition that Australia had ever sent to Antarctica set out to map the great frozen landmass of Antarctica, driven by official fears that the Soviet Union meant to take the continent for themselves. The fourteen scientists were chosen from a field of hundreds of applicants. The surveyor, the central character in Fixing Antarctica, was Sydney Kirkby. Over the next twenty years, Syd Kirkby explored and map more unknown regions in the world than any other person in history. Earth, Wind and Fire is essentially twelve generations of my father’s mother’s family but it’s much more than that. It’s kind of Game of Thrones without the dragons. It starts with a kidnapped girl in Shelford, Nottinghamshire in the east midlands of England in 1618 and follows an unbroken chain of recorded births, deaths and marriages which spans four centuries until, six generations later, her descendants flee their farms in Ireland and join the diaspora to Australia. Using family stories, family photographs, published diaries and official documents, it’s the interwoven stories of five families struggling to survive amidst the most tumultuous times in European history. What’s next? I’m wandering into the boggy territory of creative fiction, writing a series of crime stories set on King Island, a beautiful windy island in the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania. I’ve finished the first draft of Book One, The Rock. There will be seven, I think. I’m also writing a stand along novel, called The Key Collector. It’s about a World traveller, Angela who settles in a Tasmanian village near her daughter and grandson where she witnesses a car crash that kills three women. Convinced the collision was an act of murder, she digs into the tragic lives of the victims and is mired in a mystery stretching across three continents and reaching into the second world war.

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