The Wyart Earp

Images from Wikipedia, attributed to anon, Australian War Memorial

Images from Wikipedia, attributed to anon, Australian War Memorial

If you clicked on the image of the Weekly‘s coverage of the intrepid explorers setting out on the Wyatt Earp in 1947 (in the last post) you might like some background on the little wooden ship.

The American millionaire Lincoln Ellsworth made three expeditions in the 1930s in Wyatt Earp, a Baltic pine herring boat reinforced with an iron hull. His last tour inspired a small article in the Canberra Times on Wednesday, 19 February 1936, repeating his prediction that “the work of mapping and surveying from the air and on the ground” of the Antarctic region “would take 100 years.” Hubert Wilkins, an Australian trans-Arctic pilot (who made the first Antarctic flight on 16 November 1928) was the expedition manager of that trip, and, on the brink of the second world war, he convinced the Australian government to buy (and mothball) Wyatt Earp. By the time it was returned to active duty after the war, it bore the gently wry nickname: The Twerp.

When The Twerp did make its trip back to Antarctica in 1947, Phil Law, was aboard. I interviewed Phil in 2004, and he told me how ANARE came to use the little wooden ship.

PL:  Hubert Wilkins. Sir Hubert Wilkins came to Australia and I met him. He told me he had a lot of equipment left over from Lincoln Ellsworth’s Wyatt Earp expedition to Vestfeldt Hills And he had, when he came back to Australia, Ellsworth so much disliked the Wyatt Earp’s rolling and pitching and discomfort that he gave the whole ship to Sir Hubert Wilkins and said, ‘I never want to see it any more’.

War was just breaking out so Sir Hubert Wilkins sold it to the Australian navy for 10,000 pounds. And he put all the gear on it into a store in Sydney on the assumption that on some date in the future he’d come back and run another Antarctic Expedition.

… Without knowing what was there I said, ‘I’ll give you 300 pounds for it.’

So I arranged for army transport to bring it down to Melbourne and was absolutely astonished at the value of what I got: there were two cinecameras and one ordinary camera; one theodolite; a lot of clothing (gloves, anoraks, underwear); various other objects (binoculars, for example); all sorts of stuff. And I used the clothing, not for any of our expedition winterers (they got the standard equipment) but I put this Wilkins clothing aside for use by summer trippers. So anyone who went down on a voyage only would get Wilkins clothing on loan, which would go back into store again.

And a remarkable thing happened: one of the American observers with us was a famous American expeditioner called Ike Slushback. Ike was in his sixties. He had one eye and a glass eye in the other one.  At parties he would take his glass eye out and put in another one with a Union Jack on it, a horrifying sight, to engage with a bloke with a Union Jack looking out of one eye. Slushback was going down to Mawson on a journey, so we issued him with one of the Lincoln Ellsworthequipment from Hubert Wilkins and Slushback was fitted with something that fitted him and he came back the next morning and he said ‘Hey Phil, have a look at this’. And he rolled back the collar of the anorak George Smith had lent him. It had Ike Slushback written across it. It was the one that he used when he was with Lincoln Ellsworthin the Antarctic Peninsular, quite an amazing coincidence.

Phil also had a follow up on the 1947 Wyatt Earp trip. Not long after they left Melbourne the little wooden ship developed engine trouble so they had to return to Australia. After all the media attention about the trip they were too embarrassed to pull in at the Melbourne wharf, so they sailed on to Sydney and had the repairs done there quietly, and then they slunk off again to Antarctica. It was a totally inadequate vessel for the trip and they never did make it to the continent, as Phil explained:


PL:    Yes, because, well, personally I’d seen two extreme examples of Antarctica. I went down in 1947-48 on a little ship, the Wyatt Earp, down near where Mawson was in the early part of the century.

I didn’t actually see the continent because we couldn’t get through the pack ice but we had a good look at the Bellini Islands. HMAS_Wyatt_Earp_AWM301755


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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