After declining a berth on Robert Scott's Terra Nova expedition, Douglas Mawson forged his own place in the annals of Antarctic exploration history, surviving an epic journey of endurance and bravery in 1912.
The 165-foot Aurora sailed from Hobart in late 1911, bound for Cape Denisen, with Mawson leading the Australasian Expedition to Antarctica, its aim to chart the 3,000km coastline directly south of Australia. Mawson's party travelled east for over a thousand kilometres mapping the coastline – heroic enough, without the subsequent extraordinary struggle for survival.
On 14thDecember 1912, Mawson and two others were crossing a glacier some 500 kilometres east of the main camp. Mertz and Mawson crossed safely; Ninnis fell to his death, plunging through a crevasse, taking with him the party’s rations, six dogs, tent and other essentials. The glacier is now named in his memory. Mertz and Mawson called into the depths for over three hours, held a brief service, then turned back for camp. With only a week’s supplies, Mawson and Mertz were forced to improvise: their tent-frame was fashioned from skis and they were forced to eat their remaining sled dogs. Every scrap of meat was eaten – even the paws, which were stewed.
Mertz did not make it, becoming delirious and perishing on 7thJanuary 1913. Mawson pressed on alone. Blizzards, 300kmh winds, frostbite – nature did its worst, but he persisted, falling down a crevasse on one occasion as he struggled back to camp, nearing starvation, malnourished and braving utterly inhuman conditions. He finally made it, on 1stFebruary, only to see his ship the Auroraon the horizon and heading north. All was not lost however – six men had stayed behind to continue the search for Mawson.
Incredibly, this wasn’t the end of Mawson’s Antarctic adventure – he stayed on for another year, ice conditions preventing the Aurorafrom returning for the remaining party. In February 1914, Mawson was finally able to return to Australia. About the return he wrote "The welcome home, the voices of innumerable strangers – the hand-grips of many friends – it chokes me – it cannot be uttered!"
An extraordinary survivor and a fitting portrait for Australia’s first 100-dollar note.