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In the middle of May another scare had ripped through the small community at Mawson base. Inside the tiny dongas, six men slept, although it was always someone’s duty to sleep in the cold porch of one of the huts
On Sunday, 13 May, a polar blizzard tore through Mawson. Most of the men elected to stay in bed, but at five in the afternoon, staggering and disoriented, the station oic (officer in charge) burst into the mess hut, yelling for the doctor.
An hour before, Jock, the cook, had struggled out of a deep slumber, realizing that their hut had filled with carbon monoxide. He couldn’t move, but he could wake Bill and Lin. Lin, the diesel mechanic pulled Bill out onto the small porch. There, amongst the mukluks and pee bottles, Bill declared himself in good health and promptly went back to sleep, as his two companions collapsed.
Jock was still inside the hut, conscious but struggling to move. He wriggled to the door and kicked it open before passing back into unconsciousness. Time passed. Bill came to and managed to get his head out into the fresh air, where he lay in the open doorway, gathering enough strength and willpower to clamber to his feet and stagger over to the mess.
By the time their rescuers pushed their way through the gale to the hut, Lin and Jock had been lying helpless for twenty minutes, in light clothes, with snow forming over them.
A hush descended over Mawson that night.
They spoke quietly of their fear that the year in Antarctica would kill some of them: “A couple of us felt before we ever left that this year would kill some of us and now I am more sure than ever. I only hope that if any of us has to go it will be someone who does not leave a wife and kids and also that we go doing our jobs. Most of us are quite prepared to do that but it would be hard to go like that.”
The next day, quiet and still in the thrall of a new awareness about their own humbling mortality, Syd and Peter went back out in the field.
The Australian teams in Antarctica created maps of one half of that enormous continent. Their equipment, especially during the years of greatest expansion of new knowledge from 1956 – 64, were dog teams and sand weasels.
The Russians also pushed the barriers of scientific exploration but their equipment was a little more sophisticated.
Through the first half of May, 1956 the Russian explorers pushed on to the South pole. The convoy stopped 375 kilometres due south of Mirnyy, 2,700 metres above sea level. The sledge-tractor convoy was left in place—to form the foundation—three weeks later on the return trip, for the official inauguration of Pionerskaya research station.
In 1956 the Soviet explorers were unable to reach the geomagnetic pole to establish Vostok research station; the C-80 tractors were inadequate.
In December 1957, a convoy of ten Kharkovchankas (wide caterpillar-tracked monsters equipped with special 520 horsepower, V-12 diesel engines) reached the geomagnetic pole and founded Vostok. They flew out, leaving the Kharkovchankas at Vostok. Photographs taken in 1962 by an Australian six-man traverse expedition from Wilkes base in a snow tractor, show the roofline of the Aussie vehicle level with the top of the track of the Soviet behemoths.
In the second half of May, the Antarctic day was a lantern glowing dimly. The days began with a gentle dawn luminosity for about five hours and ended with a long magenta and orange twilight. Exploration was still possible but it was much harder, so time and light were all the more precious as they were being withdrawn.
May 1956 was the first time any Antarctic team tried to fly the planes in winter. ANARE pioneered the use of aircraft during the Antarctic winter and the pilots flew until the end of May. With the harbour frozen, they had an airstrip.
The planes carried three fuselage-mounted survey cameras—one facing vertically down and two at forty-five degrees to vertical—on each side of the aircraft. Day after day the pilots took the surveyor out into the field, taking photographs which created horizon-to-horizon vision, producing trimetrogon photography, which was extremely valuable in exploration and reconnaissance mapping.
The planes transported research teams into the field and leap-frogged fuel and supply depots along the path of the planned route for the major expedition to the Northern Prince Charles Mountains.
Keeping the craft in the air until the winter made flight impossible helps account for the spectacular advances in knowledge and mapping in Antarctica in 1956.
Award winning playwright, Julia Jarel, took one look at Syd Kirkby’s biography Fixing Antarctica and was inspired to take the epic tale to the stage. Dancing with a Dream – The Story of Syd Kirkby is the result. This full length play will be performed at Hale School with a cast of 40 students on September 23, 24 and 25 in the John Inverarity Music and Drama Centre in 2014.
Dancing With A Dream – The Story of Syd Kirkby tells a tale you will never forget. It is a spectacular story of adventure and daring, of shivering in blizzard ridden tents, teetering precariously on mountain tops and soaring blindly above the snow fields. Yet it is much more than this. It is a story of a father’s love for his son, a young boy’s triumph over almost impossible odds and the wonder of dancing with our dearest dreams, whatever the cost.
Tickets will be available through Hale School box office in late July.
The Biography is definitely reaching completion. Shelly reworked the cover after I received a much higher definition version of the portrait and found a mistake – yes, really, a grammatical error in the back cover blurb. Here is a low resolution version of the high resolution cover.
I also found four new mistakes in the page proofs and it cost $110 to fix, so that’s it, no more mistakes. If you find any when the book is out, they were in there to make sure you were all paying attention.
So I think, advance copies will be available from late June through Amazon. Getting the book into Australian bookshops will take a while as the distributor needs a copy of the book before deciding to distribute for me.
The official launch will be in Perth in September. The next post update will be about an exciting event that will coincide with the launch. Then I’ll do a real post and you can catch up with the gang at Mawson as the days grow short.