Rumdoodle Peak


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000443_00063]March – April 4, 1956.   Previously at Mawson Station. Syd Kirkby, Peter Crohn, Bill Bewsher and Toby Cooper went out on their first expedition on the plateau. Syd and Peter climbed a mountain and spent a chilly day taking observations and trying to get an astrofix. (Should have been number three for Syd but visibility was too poor). (What’s an astrofix?)

 He climbed a mountain to take observations that weren’t good enough for an astrofix. Rolls off the keyboard, but here is what he wrote in his own diary about that mountain. It puts some perspective on the extraordinarily difficult job he had creating a map of Antarctica.

 I’ll take you back to Friday March 30th, 1956, which was Good Friday. Syd was still only twenty-one years old remember. Out in the plateau they were sleeping in the weasles because the gales were so strong that it seemed the safest thing to do but even so the little sand vehicles rocked all night and the wind howled in the heavy snow fall. He got up in the morning and “just for for the self discipline I shall have a meatless day, had oatmeal for breakfast and for tea I shall have vegemite and biscuits and chocolate”.

Out the window they could see the mountain that the surveyor had to get up, carrying about 60 pounds (28 kg) of surveying equipment on his back. Bill tried to contact base but the radio couldn’t pick up a signal.

After breakfast Syd “Piled the jigger and survey camera into a rucksack and off we went.”

Syd, Bill and Peter climbed up 1000 feet and dropped the equipment, leaving it there so they could return the next day. The climb to the top was another 1000 feet but they broke it in two: day one get the equipment half way up, day two climb to the equipment and get it to the top. After the drop off, they went on to the top so they could see the climb that awaited them. Syd said “I have never been so clapped out in my life as when we got to the top” and Peter and Bill, who were veteran climbers of 25,000 foot mountains, said it was the most difficult climb they have done.

Syd was not an experienced climber and the second half of the mountain was an S in difficulty (the second hardest rating). In his sleeping bag that night he admitted:

 I am quite honestly scared as all hell when I get onto a vertical pitch or into crack and start wedging up, while I climb I do not think, but before I go I imagine what gusts of wind could do or what would happen if I got stuck or got frost bitten hands or lost a mitt. Still I guess I will get used to it, maybe even blasé about the whole business.

The next day Bill and Syd made it to the top but the surveyor couldn’t get an astrofix. The wind was blowing at 40 knots and the drifting snow made visibility too poor. They made it back to base at eight o’clock that night and by then, Peter and Toby had already got themselves organised to come out looking for Bill and Syd. The two teams met each other outside in the drifting sleet.

Observing at RumDoodle PeakThe next year the mountain was called Rumdoodle Peak. This is the photograph Bill took of Syd trying to get his astrofix at the top.


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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