Category Archives: Adventurers

Ice Bird – the unsinkable boat

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Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Dr David Lewis, happy on his arrival in Cape Horn, South Africa, March 1974. From BOX 2 B 24446-2. Collection: MAAS

Restoration of the sailing boat that made the first single handed voyage to Antarctica
Dr David Lewis was a courageous sailor, an extra-ordinary navigator and an adventurer with big dreams. He was the first navigator in modern times to cross the Pacific Ocean without using instruments, following a legendary Maori course from Tahiti to New Zealand. In 1972, David undertook another adventure to sail, alone, to Antarctica and circumnavigate the subcontinent. He bought a second hand, steel hulled boat designed by Dick Taylor. It was an 11 metre sailing boat, called Ice Bird and David and some friends hurriedly prepared it for his summer journey. The steel boat had a large amount of lead in the ballast in case the boat capsized. The trip involved sailing through the ‘Roaring Forties’, the ‘Furious Fifties’ and the ‘Screaming Sixties’. He encountered mountainous seas with 35 metre waves, constant gales, hurricanes and freezing temperatures. The boat was not built for such incredible conditions and capsized three times, twice on the way to the Palmer Antarctic Station and once on its way to Cape Town, South Africa. Continue reading

Pumice from Antarctic volcanoes and Sydney beaches

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C4737 Mineral specimen, pumice from the summit of Mount Erebus, collected during Sir Ernest Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition, Antarctica, 1909-1911

C4737 pumice from the summit of Mount Erebus, collected during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition, Antarctica, 1909-1911

Over summer the beaches of Sydney have seen the arrival of a ‘pumice raft’. The high tide line has been marked by a distinctive row of small light weight rocks which floated in on the tide. The phenomenon caused much comment amongst beach goers and gave children an exciting new material for their sandcastles. As usual a search in the Powerhouse Museum collection turned up something interesting; samples of pumice collected in 1908 by the party who made the first ascent of Mount Erebus in Antarctica. The party included Sir Douglas Mawson and Dr T. W. Edgeworth-David and the climb was undertaken during Sir Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition. Continue reading

The undies that almost stopped an Antarctic expedition

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Underpants  worn by James Castrission and Justin Jones during the Crossing the Ice Antarctic expedition. Image courtesy of James Castrission and Justin Jones.

Underpants worn by James Castrission and Justin Jones during the Crossing the Ice Antarctic expedition. Image courtesy of James Castrission and Justin Jones.

These two pairs of undies are part of a large collection of equipment and personal items used by Antarctic adventurers James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonsey) on their ‘Crossing the Ice’ Antarctic expedition to the South Pole, 2011-2012.

You may rightly notice that the pair on the left does not look like your average pair of underpants and it would not be remiss of you to ask what the unusual thing attached to them could possibly be…
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Cas and Jonsey’s Christmas in Antarctica 2011

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Justin Jones with his Christmas present, an extra ration of food, inside their tent during their 'Crossing the Ice' expedition. Fellow expeditioner, James Castrission later wrote, "This was going to be the whitest of white Christmases ever". Image courtesy of Justin Jones and James Castrission.

Justin Jones with his Christmas present, an extra ration of food, inside their tent during their ‘Crossing the Ice’ expedition. Fellow expeditioner, James Castrission later wrote, “This was going to be the whitest of white Christmases ever”. Image courtesy of Justin Jones and James Castrission.

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.

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Afghan camel pack saddle

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Camel pack saddle, Powerhouse Museum collection, purchased 1962, H6926.

Camel pack saddle, Powerhouse Museum collection, purchased 1962, H6926.

With Christmas almost upon us and countless nativity plays and greeting cards featuring wise men and camels, my thoughts turn to a rare and interesting item in the Museum’s collection I researched a number of years ago, a camel pack saddle. It was used by Afghan camel drivers who led hundreds of camel trains throughout inland Australia. By the turn of the twentieth century camel trains provided transport for almost every major inland development project. They carried the poles, wire and rocks for the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line and stations; the sleepers, food, water and supplies for the men building the desert railways to Oodnadatta and Alice Springs as well as the Transcontinental Railway.

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History Week 2012 Threads – what Mawson wore in Antarctica

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It is thought this photograph of an ice-filled face in a Burberry helmet is of the meteorologist, C.T. Madigan, on Dr Douglas Mawson's 1911-1914 Antarctic expedition. Part of the John George Hunter collection of photographs of Antarctica, 1911-1914, courtesy of Flickr.

It is thought this ice-filled face in a Burberry helmet is the meteorologist, C.T. Madigan, on  Mawson’s  expedition.  John George Hunter collection of photographs of Antarctica, 1911-1914, courtesy of Flickr.

In earlier blogs I have written with great enthusiasm about the sledges and food taken on Dr Douglas Mawson’s 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). Now I find myself similarly excited about some of the clothing from this expedition in our collection. Two items are particularly interesting, a windproof helmet and large pair of over trousers. Both were made by the famous London clothing firm, Burberry. In 1911 each member of Mawson’s expedition was fitted out with two Burberry polar outfits at a cost of 100 pounds each member. One suit comprised three pieces: trousers, blouse-jacket and helmet, whilst the other was made of two; the blouse-jacket and helmet being combined.

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Dick Smith’s Variety Club Bash Car

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The 1964 EH Holden driven by Dick Smith on the first Variety Club of NSW Bourke to Burketown Bash in 1985. Gift of Variety, the Children's Charity, 2004. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, 2004/50/1.

The 1964 EH Holden driven by Dick Smith on the first Variety Club of NSW Bourke to Burketown Bash in 1985. Gift of Variety, the Children’s Charity, 2004. Collection of the Powerhouse Museum, 2004/50/1.

Last Sunday the 2012 Variety Club of NSW Bash participants left the inner-Sydney suburb of Balmain for their annual trip. The unusual Australian term, ‘Bashing’ probably short for bush-bashing was used in 1985 by businessman, adventurer and philanthropist, Dick Smith, when he invited a few mates on a drive to the outback. The drive was eventually called the Bourke to Burketown Bash and went from Sydney to Bourke, in far western NSW, and on to Burketown, in Northern QLD. The idea was to relive the fun and adventure of the Redex car trials of the 1950s, popularised by Gelignite Jack Murray, and to raise money for the Variety Club of NSW, a charity which provides goods and service for children with special needs.

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Extreme South, James Castrission and Justin Jones’ Antarctic adventure

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Australian adventurer, Justin Jones, on the record-breaking Antarctic expedition 2011-2012. Photo courtesy of James Castrission and Justin Jones.

Australian adventurer, Justin Jones, on the record-breaking Antarctic expedition 2011-2012. Photo courtesy of James Castrission and Justin Jones.

 We came to probe its mystery, to reduce this land to terms of science, but there is always the indefinable, which holds aloof yet which rivets our souls”…

wrote the Australian geologist and explorer Sir Douglas Mawson of Antarctica, that majestic yet formidable continent located at the southernmost point of our planet, in his 1930 book ‘The Home of the Blizzard’.

My own closest brush with Antarctica thus far was earlier this year. It involved spying minute icebergs from the porthole of a rumbling Boeing 747 as it fought the trade winds, performing a semi circular loop between Sydney and Johannesburg over the Southern Ocean, near the edge of the Antarctic continent. Thus until recently I couldn’t even imagine what it must feel like to experience the mixed sense of wonderment, reverence and foreboding that Mawson, and many travellers to Antarctica since, have expressed of their first hand contact with this majestic and severe frozen continent.
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Celebrating the Australian Aviatrix Lores Bonney

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Lores Bonney and her aircraft, My Little Ship, at Archerfield Aerodrome in 1932 before her round-Australia flight. Collection: Powerhouse Museum.

In celebration of International Women’s Day for 2012 I’d like to highlight the amazing short but inspiring aviation career of Maude (Lores) Bonney (1897-1994), one of Australia’s pioneers. Lores’ passion for flying began after a flight in 1928 with aviation legend, Bert Hinkler, her husband’s cousin. In 1930 she began flying lessons in secret while her husband, Harry Bonney, played golf. When Lores confessed her aviation pursuits, he helped her buy a DH60 Gipsy Moth aircraft which she called affectionately “My Little Ship”. Being a leather manufacturer he had two full-length suede flying suits made for her.

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Centenary of Mawson’s 1911 Antarctic Expedition – Part 2 – The riddle of the sledges

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Australian-made sledge used on the 1911-14 Mawson Expedition, Powerhouse Museum Collection, H8143, Gift of Australian Museum, 1967.

What do Douglas Mawson, aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave, a Sydney car body builder and the Klondike gold rush have in common? They are all part of the riddle of the Museum’s sledges.

In my last post I wrote about the Norwegian sledge in the Museum’s collection used on Mawson’s 1911-14 Australian Antarctic Expedition. According to Mawson’s “The Home of the Blizzard” he not only took 20 Norwegian-made sledges but 17 sledges made in Sydney. The Museum has 3 sledges used on this expedition, one has a manufacturer’s plate indicating it was made by L. Hargan of Norway but the other two are quite different in appearance.

During my research on the sledges I found the documentary evidence on the Australian-made sledges was patchy and inconclusive. Perhaps the sledges themselves could help explain their origins. Sue Gatenby, the Museum’s Conservation Scientist enlisted the help of botanical expert, John Ford, to analyse all the sledges in our collection. In fact we have six, three from Mawson’s expedition and another three said to be from Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated 1912 expedition.

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Botanist, John Ford, taking timber samples from the Museum’s sledges. Photo Powerhouse Museum Collection.

The botanical expert took very tiny samples for later analysis. He verified that Mawson’s Norwegian sledge was hickory, another was also hickory but the third was Corymbia (Eucalyptus) maculata or spotted gum, an Australian hardwood. But who on earth would have made a sledge of Australian gum trees? The very idea of making Antarctic sledges here in sunny Sydney seems as bizarre as an Icelandic manufacturer making surf boards or bikinis.

With his tiny torch, the botanist carefully examined the grain of the sledges. While running his eye along one of the cross pieces he asked “Does the name Worsfold mean anything to you?” Yes! I was so excited! By chance the week before one of our archivists, Jill Chapman, who knew I was researching the sledges, sent me a photocopy of a 1915 letter in the Museum’s Archives from one Alexander Worsfold, a car body builder of King Street, St Peters, an inner Western Sydney suburb. But I wondered at the time how did he fit in? (Trove wasn’t then online.) I should add that the sledges had all been out of the store and thoroughly cleaned and repaired in our conservation labs during the 1980s and photographed several times in the studio yet no-one had ever notice the name Worsfold impressed into the timber.

Alexander Worsfold’s letterhead advised that he was a “wholesale manufacturer of motor and carriage ware, especially wheels and bodies”. This was when motor car bodies were still hand-built of timber. His printed letterhead further confirmed his involvement in supplying several Antarctic explorers as it notes: “Specialities: Designer and Manufacturer of Sleighs, Skis, Toboggans and Antarctic Appliances for Dr Mawson’s Expedition, Captain Scott’s Relief, Professor David’s Magnetic Discovery”. Added in pen at the end of this list is: “Shackleton Expd 1914″.

In 1915 Worsfold had written to the Museum seeking support for his application to help the War effort as he had specific knowledge of Australian timbers. He enlisted in the AIF and went into the 9th Australian Field Ambulance where he designed a portable stretcher which looks remarkably like a sledge. Worsfold was also involved with Lawrence Hargave and his timber cellular box kites.

The timber for Worsfold’s sledges was supplied by Allen Taylor & Co. who had numerous timber mills all over New South Wales. They were also “powellised” or heated to rapidly season and preserve them. At this time there was great interest, and research undertaken, at the Museum regarding the commercial use of Australian timber. But who had knowledge in Sydney at the time to design sledges? It is said to have come from Alfred Charles Samuels who’d been at the Canadian 1896-1901 Klondike gold rush. His nickname was Klondike Dick and he ironically ended up being Mayor of the beachside suburb of Manly.

And how did Mawson find the Australian sledges in Antarctic? In “The Home of the Blizzard” he noted that the ones “built in Sydney, of Australian hard woods, included mountain ash which tended to split and spotted gum which was strong but heavy.” I can tell you that the runners on our Norwegian sledge are considerably worn but the Australian ones showed little wear.

This all goes to show that object research can be a work in progress. We add bits and gradually build up the story.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator