Monthly Archives: September 2014

September jitters in the frozen dark land ….


IMG_0766September can be a bit of a loony season in things Antarctican. The teams at base are waiting for longer days even as the gentle rays become to peak over the horizon:

On Thursday 13th September, Syd was night watchman, which was typically a time to relax, have a bath, reflect on future endeavours. But in September he knew the year was slipping by, his great Southern Journey into the inland had not been approved and the planes could not take off…

Kirkby diary:

Thursday 13th Sep Screaming howling bloody blizzard and night watch with it. Sitting here with the wind gently rocking the hut and Dinny’s howling drifting down the wind I feel vaguely uneasy, probably due to not being too sure about the fire alarm system seeing I haven’t checked it for about a week, still it should be O.K. … I see in front of me on the bookshelf “Home of the Blizzard”, “The journal of Captain R.F. Scott 1910 – 12”, ‘The South Pole” and …

          Two days later things had not improved much:

Sun 16th September A black old spell, the plane is out, the weasels are out, the dogs are bloody near dead, Peter has torn a muscle in his leg and I have 31 days field work to do in 57 days – damn near impossible. Had my first blue with Bill yesterday over going out alone, he says it is dangerous … Christ all bloody mighty what the hell does he want, he does a good job so long as nothing goes wrong, we can assume that by leaving our beds, I have to get out.

Two days later …. everything looking good …. Nope!

Tues 18th September Hell I feel impotent. The Auster would not start today so home we still are.

And discussion about the Antarctic project back in Australia? That was nice and calm, right? Next post coming up …


The rays on the horizon.


The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Tuesday 11 September

Syd and the Mawson winterers looked eagerly at the crepuscular rays which were beaming weakly from below the horizon, a little higher each morning, staying a little longer each day.

Back in Australia Phil Law was assembling and training the teams for Macquarie Island and Mawson.

Phil was also busy assembling the team for a pioneer settlement in Prydz Bay for Australia’s second mainland base, Davis Station. The incoming relief team would spent ten days finding the site, behind a pebbly beach fronting the Vestfold Hills, off-loading and building a sleeping hut, community hut, engine hut, store hut, balloon-filling shed, and auroral observatory hut and raising the flag. A party of four men would be left there for the winter while the Kista pressed on to Mawson.

Thinking about a team preparing to replace them gave Syd a severe pain in the stomach for they were still confined to base, waiting for the sun to provide more daylight hours to allow plane reconnaissance and, much more importantly, waiting for Phil to approve their major exploration into the inland. The Southern Journey would be Syd’s great exploratory foray into the unknown in Antarctica but through September he had little success in assembling the team to come with him and Antarctic Division had still not approved it.

800px-Antarctic_Region copy

Fixing Antarctica is in bookshops



Fixing Antarctica is now available in a selection of bookshops. A special thanks to the following bookshops who have already taken stock. More bookshops will be stocking the book in the future but for now, you can walk into the following bookshops and buy a copy (or you can buy the book on Amazon)

Angus & Robertson – Brisbane Brookside Shopping Centre

Rosetta Books – 30 Maple Street, Maleny

Fullers Bookshop  131 Collins St, Hobart

The Hobart Bookshop – 22 Salamanca Square, Battery Point TAS 7004

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000443_00063]







The Theodolites froze

Photo by Richard Ruker. Syd Kirkby using a theodolite in Enderby Land 1960

Photo by Richard Ruker.
Syd Kirkby using a theodolite in Enderby Land 1960

Previously: In the middle of August, Mawson’s OiC (Officer in charge) gave Syd permission to do another short reconnaissance trip out onto sea ice, this time heading west.  Six men were going, this time taking two weasels.

They set off on Thursday 9th August, 1956, and we didn’t hear from Syd again, until Saturday, three days into the journey. He sounded happy enough, but this was sea level surveying. He was to head onto the plateau and up many mountains to carry out his surveying work in Antarctica, but even here, on the sea ice, the problem of frozen equipment and batteries was substantial and slowed his work while he stood in the below freezing winds.

Saturday 11th August

On Saturday we got away by about ten (in the morning) and set sail happily. All went well till we got about twenty miles up and then our troubles started.

We could see … ahead of us … a terrible jumble of pressure ice. .. Decided it was better to push on rather than turn back so we crept gingerly into the midst of it.

It was heart-breaking and weasel-wrecking progress though we were slowly getting nearer to a firm camp. We had a nerve-wracking mile or so while we crept along an open pressure crack as it was the only travellable route.

However dark saw us on the island and getting a brew going so life did not appear too bad despite the rapidly dropping temperature.

By night though, I would have told a very different story.

The temperature had dropped to -67°f   [-55° c]   so work was not a very happy business. I have reduced the observations and they look really nice, I don’t quite know what to do about this business, the results are good but I have to crucify myself to get them.

I had a good deal of strife with the jigger {theodolite] and lighting; one theodolite freezing solid and refusing to move at all. However the other, despite being very stiff, behaved well.

I eventually defeated the cold killing the batteries by getting two lengths of the aerial wire and making long leads so that the batteries could stay in the weasel where they had a cooker going. In bed by twelve and poured a hot milk and honey into myself plus a couple of Ronicobs and slept like a log.


What do you do with a restless surveyor?


 In the second week of August, still fretting over who would be going with him on the Southern Journey, and still waiting for Phil to give permission for that trip to proceed, Bill gave Syd permission to do another short reconnaissance trip out onto sea ice, this time heading west.

Six men were going, this time taking two weasels. I’ve never seen Bill’s diaries but I get the impression he’d have given Syd permission to mount a lunar expedition if it meant getting the restless young surveyor out of everyone’s hair for a while. Just for good measure, Syd was scheduled to take the night watch before he set out.


This is Richard Ruker's photograph of a much later expedition in 1960 but you can see the size of the weasels

This is Richard Ruker’s photograph of a much later expedition in 1960 but you can see the size of the weasels

Tues 7th August 1956

 The day was rather knocked about by last night’s watch. Got up at midday, ate and did a skyline trace for fun and am now drying the negatives. Have crawled into my bed nice and early so that I shall be set for tomorrow. The weasels will have to be loaded and gear checked over for a seaice trip to the west. It is a combination work and filmic trip. … it will be quite pleasant on the sea-ice with weasels to live in.

Weds 8th August 1956

All set for a flying start tomorrow.

Syd Kirby – the play

201406_redfoot_website (2)7.30 September 23 – 25
Presented in the Auditorium, John Inverarity Music and Drama Centre
$25 Standard / $15 Concession

Book now online or call (08) 9347 0173(08) 9347 0173

Syd Kirkby’s story is one you will never forget. It is a spectacular tale of adventure and daring, of shivering in blizzard ridden tents, teetering precariously on mountain tops and soaring blindly above the snow fields. Yet it is much more than this. It is a story of a father’s love for his son, a young boy’s triumph over almost impossible odds and the wonder of dancing with our dearest dreams, whatever the cost.