What do you do with an ailing expeditioner? Why you feed them to the dogs, of course!


ad huskies page jsut pictureTheir first winter dog-sledging trip in 1956 was an eerie mid-July excursion on the perilous sea-ice.

The loss of all the best dogs made the job of training a viable expeditionary dog team almost impossible, but Syd was sure that dog sledging was far from a remnant of quaint antediluvian exploration.

Nils Lied, the Norwegian weather observer and former navy commander, had all previously wintered at Heard Island. Nils, or Vikes as he happily answered to, had extensive knowledge of working with dog teams, a valuable rarity on an ANARE team.

Vikes agreed with Syd about the dogs.  He trained the boisterous descendants of wolves into a team, choosing them from the badly depleted cast of hopefuls. Mac and Butch, litter brothers, were strong toilers and wonderful lead dogs but they were nine years old. Horace, and the legendary Oscar, both of whom lived long lives as grand old men at Mawson, were on Vikes’s team.

Streaky, with one chewed ear and a pirate’s grin, was a hard working, loyal, affectionate rascal with the courage of ten explorers. Sweet-natured, brown-eyed Brownie was all heart but he was a ‘dumb Palooka’. The other dogs could gauge distance and angles but Brownie never could. In obvious crazy pavement crevassing, huskies calculate how much slack trace they need to jump over—but not Brownie.  He would jump with too little trace, or he would pause, calculating for too long, until the sledge overran him and bumped him into the crevasse. Denny, a small bitch, completed the team.

Syd, Peter and Nils decided that their first sledge expedition would leave Mawson on Sunday 15th July, 1956 and would be to a group of islands discovered by Douglas Mawson in 1930, during a British, Australian and New Zealand expedition.

Subsequently named the Douglas Islands, they had never again been sighted.

They set out with the dogs on what should have been a two-day round trip, with some ominous events casting a bit of a pall over their mood.

He was tired and testy:

All round, with a considerable lack of love for my fellow man, God knows why, and the madhouse getting the gear repaired I am probably rather difficult to live with tonight’.

In truth, they were all on edge. Robbie Jacklyn (the cosmic ray physicist) added to the tension by sharing the ‘queer dream’ he had during the night:

He dreamt I perished and was fed to the dogs to keep them alive and going.’imagesHI21MACQ




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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