Euphoria amidst the gloom


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.


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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