Monthly Archives: August 2014

Euphoria amidst the gloom

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IA31270August 1956

Previously at Mawson base Antarctica:

August is a difficult month for expeditioners in Antarctica. The long dark winter has created a deep lethargy but the first rays of sun appear over the horizon, and the mood swings each day are quite observable in the diaries. As Syd pushed ahead with plans for The Southern Journey into the unexplored country behind the Prince Charles Mountains, lethargy and depression amongst the winterers affected everyone.  For inspiration, Syd Kirkby was reading the books of the men he hoped to emulate. It worked, except that one day he was as enthusiastic as one of the new pups and the next he was down in the depths of gloom:

Straight from the diary:

Summer is returning rapidly, the sun is now above the horizon for about five hours a day and for another two or so we have that beautiful Antarctic dawn and twilight. It is odd that nothing has ever been written about the beauty of the scenery, it is hard and cold but the grandness of the scale and the utter virginity of it gives it an appeal that no pretty, pretty scenery can rival. All the personal diaries of past men speak of it yet it is never printed. Probably it would not sell, what goes down best ands becomes the Antarctic are the misfortunes, Scott, Shackelton, Ninnis, Mertz, Hoseason, Forbes, Taylor, Jelbart. Even Amundsen, the greatest ever, except maybe Shackelton is not read because he did not perish and was a success. That is the 0330 auroral obs done, outside it is beautiful, clear and calm with no moon so that the sky is a glossy black with the artificial looking stars pasted onto it and cold which makes one gasp as soon as he steps out and instantly clears a sleepy stuffy head. Oh hell, I’m off again, if anyone ever reads this diary they will swear I am bush happy.

The next day he was in deep despair: 

We are having a bit of bother finalising the party for the southern journey. There are only two who will be really free at the time and unfortunately they are not really suitable. I would just as soon have only the basic three along but the decree says it must be six. I feel that with the three of us and three weasels we are completely self contained and could extend our range considerably, also we each have a job to do and are professionals rather than amateurs. By that I do not mean that amateurs are no good but where conditions are a little uncomfortable for an extended time the professional has a background and an aim, both very powerful spurs, and God knows we will need spurs after two or three months of it. My trouble is that I am so keen to do a solid job that I would not be happy short of a party of Peters.

Pups

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pup 2Previously at Mawson base Antarctica:

August is a difficult month for expeditioners in Antarctica. From mid-June, the stations are blighted by gloom but the lowest emotional and physiological ebb is in August for, by then, it has been dark and cold for far too long. Syd was pushing ahead with plans for The Southern Journey into the unexplored country behind the Prince Charles Mountains, but lethargy and depression amongst the winterers affected everyone’s interest in putting the preparatory plans into action.

I don’t know what is wrong with the party that just came back. Peter has not been up for two days. Lin and Pat are both decidedly off form and I feel as though I have been beaten till I feel heavy and slow. Jim is the best of the lot of us, at 43 he is marvellous, it would appear that there may be something in this business of an older man standing cold better than the young, though I know that while I keep going I can go as well as any here and better than most, but when I stop I feel really washed out.

The arrival of three litters of pups provided a tonic, and the chubby little strangers were constantly visited and pampered:

Have just been to let Dinah go for a walk. It is rather pleasing outside. Light falling snow with the temperature up to -22°F and the wind down to 18 mph … the pups are going like little champions. Their eyes are now well and truly open and ‘the Palooka’ can walk with the rest.

A cable from Joy about the wedding date was “a bit of a nuisance, don’t quite know what to do,” and news that the Beaver was damaged from constant overloaded takeoffs meant that reconnaissance was on hold. No chance then of assisted expeditions, so they would have to set off from Mawson. “It looks now as though our next move will be onto the plateau with dogs, it will be pretty bitter, and possibly worse still windy, though if we were to sit in base and wait for warm weather we would get nothing done.”

 

The Ambush

Low spirits

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38Previously at Mawson base Antarctica:

August is a difficult month for expeditioners in Antarctica. From mid-June, the stations are blighted by gloom but the lowest emotional and physiological ebb is in August for, by then, it has been dark and cold for far too long.

 

Mawson had been occupied continuously since 1954 and already there were inherited wisdoms about what could and could not be achieved. The ‘rules’ irritated the young surveyor who railed against them in his diary:  “You can’t travel in winter, after mid-April and before mid-August; it can’t be done.” Says who? Anyway the year is t oo short to do a decent amount of work unless we do use this time. Love to all.

By then, the sun was peeping above the horizon for five hours a day, creating beautiful Antarctic dawns and twilights but providing little succour for the disconsolate expeditioners. Mawson Station was in low spirits.

The whole camp was trying to gear up for the major expedition of the year, a Southern journey back over the terrain explored by Bob Dovers who found but could not cross the Prince Charles Mountains. The following year in 1955, the winter party returned to the PCM, had a look around but could not cross. Syd was determined to cross and push onwards, exploring the inland behind the Prince Charles Mountains.

The first Saturday in August Doug flew Syd and Peter on a reconnaissance flight to “last year’s furthest south and skirted the ranges east and south from there looking for a route for the major journey.”

There was enough light to reveal a horrifying jumble of crevassing, founded ice and névé covering the entire northwest end of the range. It was a prepossessing sight. Soon they would be travelling over that terrain on the southern journey, having to descend from the northern and western extremities of the range down an extremely steep drop, from two thousand to sixty metres, over thirty kilometres.

 

The girl who warms ‘the hearts’ where the weather is cold.

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The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Friday 23 December 191 August 1956.

Along with Mrs Mac’s whizzers, the wintering men received a weekly, thirty-minute communication via Radio Australia. Solar flares and ionospheric disturbances ruined the reception most of the year but, on occasions, the bubbly voice of Jocelyn Terry, the ‘Calling Antarctica’ announcer did manage to cut through the funnel of silence.

On the first day of August, a radio broadcast came through clearly: ‘Heard Jocelyn today five square, the best yet. She is a disturbing sounding lass”.

But then any ‘lass’ was a bit disturbing to the young men at Mawson and Jocelyn knew it. She often sent saucy messages and sometimes conspired to embarrass the men in the cold by sending excruciating song choices and discordant messages from home. In fact the Girl Friday had a code of her own.

She was a poster girl of the pole, just on the basis of her voice, although the returning expeditioners did often get the wonderful pleasure of meeting her in person when they returned.

Introduced each Friday as ‘The girl who warms the hearts where the weather is cold’, Girl Friday’s dulcet tones sparked uneasy journal entries. It wasn’t just Sydney Kirkby, boy explorer of the pole, who found her voice disturbing.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Friday 23 December 19