Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Mawson's Hut, from the Australian Antarctic Division website.

Arkaroola, and particularly the connection with Sir Douglas Mawson, got me thinking again about the trip to Antarctica. I hadn't been able to get any further than our arrival - at the South Shetland Islands. All I could manage would have been more and more pictures of penguins and icebergs. It was too big and I was too small. Nothing has changed.

Last night there was a just-past-full moon, and the air was still and cold. In a warm bedroom, doona and dogs, I read a chapter from Mawson's The Home of the Blizzard.

He was trying to get back to the hut with a cut down sled and sail, blistered feet held together by string, and frost bitten toes, hands and nose. He was alone. Belgrave Ninnis had dissappeared to his death down a crevice and Xavier Mertz, whom he had been pulling behind on the sled, was now dead. This was Mawson's second fall down a crevice.

"There, exhausted, weak and chilled, hanging freely in space and slowly turning round as the rope twisted one way and the other, I felt that I had done my utmost and failed, that I had no more strength to try again and that all was over except the passing. Below was a black chasm; it would be but the work of a moment to slip from the harness, then all the pain and toil would be over. It was a rare situation - a chance to quit small things for great - to pass from the petty exploration of a planet to the contemplation of vaster worlds beyond. But there was all eternity for the last and, at its longest, the present would be but short. I felt better for the thought."

He extracted himself, struggling up the rope, and emerged feet first then collapsed into unconsciousness. When he awoke he spent three hours erecting the tent, where

"Between each movement, almost, I had to rest. Then reclining in luxury in the sleeping-bag I ate a little food and thought matters over. It was a time when the mood of the Persian philosopher appealed to me:

Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday
Why fret about them if To-day be sweet? "

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