After the mid-winter party.


Men on seaiceAfter the celebrations of mid-winter there can be a psychological nose-dive in the Antarctic teams.

So much energy and preparation has been expended and then the wonderful event is over, the hangovers are celebrated and forgotten and then what? There are months ahead of them and it’s dark. The wintering expeditioners are not even half way through their time in the frozen land, so what is to be done to keep themselves upbeat?

On Friday 29th June 1956 it was Syd’s turn to be nightwatchman again. He always loved it, watching over the night fires as the expeditioners slept. It was time to have a bath, that rare luxury afforded only to the keeper of the night fires. Listening to music, visiting the dogs, and watching the wild auroral sky always filled Syd’s diaries with lovely prose.

That night he wrote his diary at four o’clock in the morning.


Night watch.

 0400 and God I am tired. It has clouded over so I have no aurora to keep me awake. Am sitting in the mess with the old ‘Rhumba Band’ going twenty five to the dozen and playing ‘Porgy and Bess’.

He and Peter Crohn had started planning a dark winter trip on the sea ice. Sea ice is a very treachoruous highway that can crack open in a strong wind and there had been much dark muttering about the trip from some of the party. But Syd and Peter much preferred to be out in the field doing something, rather than waiting in the dark dongas.

The big trip, the Southern Journey, back across a mountain range that Bob Dovers had discovered, but not crossed in 1954 was also high on his list of things to plan. That night as night watchman he returned to the Southern Journey:

 We had another yarn tonight about the big trip, we have managed to tie Doug in to take the motor in to there and give us a jump dump at last year’s furthest south.

 (translation: They’d convinced the pilot Doug Leckie to use the plane to drop off supplies but, because it was beyond the range of the plane, the supply trips would involve dropping of fuel first and returning to the station, then refilling the plane, loading more barrels of fuel, flying to the last depot, refuelling with some of the fuel they’d left there, flying on to the edge of that fuel, dropping off the new barrels, refuelling, returning to the last drop-off, refuelling etc)

Contact with the Russians at Mirrny was always worth a mention in the diary. The aussie winterers in their tiny primitive base and the Russians, in their massive well funded station had become great admirers of each other:

had a cable from Sumarov, the Russian surveyor wishing me ‘hearty congratulations on the approach of the season of spring’. Peter got a similar one from the geologist, a very flowery old job, makes it sound as though Peter is personally responsible for the passage of mid-winter.

Inevitably, the long dark days took their toll, even on the cheerful young surveyor:

 I wish the sun would hurry up and come back, we are all pretty lethargic. It is odd, we all have work to do inside and have very little need to go outside yet it is a real battle each morning to get up and force ourselves to work, maybe it is the animal instinct telling us to hibernate.



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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