It’s exactly a year to the day since Australian adventurers, James Castrission and Justin Jones, celebrated Christmas in Antarctica during their trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and return. Castrission, Jones and the fellow adventurer, Norwegian, Aleksander Gamme, were the first in history to complete this journey without any form of assistance on the 26th January 2012.
“We were heading to 90 degrees south, a place that had always held a starry-eyed fascination for me – it was the factory of adventure and home to some of the most inhospitable beauty on the planet” wrote Castrission in his recently published book, ‘Extreme South’, which documents the expedition.
In something of a first for the Powerhouse Museum, every item of the state-of-the-art 21st century equipment taken with Justin and James on their Antarctic adventure was donated as a complete package under the Australian Cultural Gifts Program. My position as a Sydney University Master of Museum Studies Intern, at the Museum earlier this year, gave me the opportunity to research and document this collection as it came into the museum; work I have been in the fortunate position to continue as a volunteer under the supervision of Margaret Simpson, Curator of Science & Industry.
As I continue my research and delve deeper into the collection I feel I have been given a unique and privileged insight into the inhospitable conditions the adventurers faced in Antarctica, the torture they put themselves through to complete the expedition and the awe inspiring beauty they experienced along the way. My research has led me to discover the complexities of the state-of-the-art equipment which made it possible for the adventurers to survive in the Antarctic environment where they faced temperatures which reached minus 40°C. This equipment included items such as a tent, designed to withstand the high wind speeds and low temperatures of the polar environment and many smaller, though no less important, items of protective clothing such as their Australian-flag-print ‘Buffs’.
Castrission writes in ‘Extreme South’ that he is a self confessed ‘gear junkie’, getting ‘way too excited’ about the specialised equipment needed for all his outdoor adventurers. The three person tent the adventurers used on their expedition is an example of such specialised equipment and in this case it is easy to understand why Castrission had something to get excited about. The tent, named the VE 25, was designed and made by The North Face Inc. for use in extreme polar and high mountain conditions. It weighs 4.9 kilograms which was considered to be lightweight given that it was designed to withstand wind speeds of over 100 kilometres per hour, temperatures of -51°C and the weight of heavy snow.
Though much smaller, items such as the adventurers ‘Buffs’ were equally as valuable for maintaining the adventurer’s health and wellbeing. A ‘Buff’, for the uninitiated, is a lightweight stretchable item of clothing which is tubular in shape and designed to be pulled over the head to be used as a neck warmer, twisted up to be used as a head band or folded back on itself to be used as a beanie. They were first designed in 1992 by Joan Rojas of Igualada, Spain, for use in active outdoor situations, and according to the company which made them, there are 12 different ways they can be worn around the head and neck.
Buffs such as the ones used by Jones and Castrission weigh 60 grams each and were designed without seams which eliminated splitting or fraying, making them hard wearing. They are constructed of polyester which meant that they were breathable and fast to dry unlike most natural fibres. An unusual characteristic of these Buffs is that they have been impregnated with polygiene AT300, a textile solution made from 100 percent recycled silver sourced from photographic and industrial applications. According to the manufacturers this solution was able to kill 99.9 percent of germs, allowing the garments to stay clean, remain hygienic and reduce odour retention, even with extended use such as that experienced on the expedition.
These items, along with others in the ‘Crossing the Ice’ collection, document outdoor equipment considered to be at the cutting edge of technological innovation. They symbolise the feat of two adventurers who, in the face of highly adverse environmental conditions, successfully completed an expedition which no one had ever achieved before. At the same time, they reflect something of Antarctica as it is today. Antarctica remains one of the most hostile and mysterious environments for humankind, yet it is increasingly one of the most fragile environments on earth. A place which Peter Fitzsimons described in ‘Mawson and the Icemen of the Heroic Age’ was less well known, until the turn of the last century, than the surface of the moon. The beauty of this frozen seventh continent, so vulnerable to the actions of humans, impacted powerfully on the adventurers. Castrission wrote “along with the blood, sweat and tears – a fragment of my soul will always remain in the extreme south”.
Information provided by James Castrission and Justin Jones, March 2012.
James Castrission, ‘Extreme South’ (Australia: Hachette, 2012).
Peter Fitzsimons, ‘Mawson and the Icemen of the Heroic Age’ (Australia: Random House Australia, 2012).
Written by Rebecca Anderson
Master of Museum Studies student, The University of Sydney.
Powerhouse Museum volunteer under the supervision of Margaret Simpson, Curator of Science & Industry.