Category Archives: Adventurers

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

Centenary of Mawson’s 1911 Antarctic Expedition – Part 1 The Hobart Departure

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Steam yacht ‘Aurora’ leaving Hobart Image:Source unknown

Saturday, December 2, arrived and then began final leave-taking. “God speed” messages were received from far and wide, and intercessory services were held in the cathedrals of Sydney and Hobart… All the staff were united for the space of an hour at luncheon. Then proceeding to the vessel, I had to push my way through the vast crowd assembled at the wharf to give us a parting cheer. At 4 p.m. sharp, the telegraph was rung for the engines, and, with a final expression of good wishes from the Governor and Lady Barron, we glided out into the channel.”- Sir Douglas Mawson “The Home of the Blizzard”

Working on asledge harness on the 'Aurora'. Image: Courtesy State Library of NSW

Working on a sledge harness on the ‘Aurora’. Image: Courtesy State Library of NSW

It’s 100 years today since Dr Douglas Mawson, Australia’s most famous Antarctic explorer and scientist, left Hobart, Tasmania, aboard the steam yacht Aurora bound for Antarctica on the 1911-1914 Australian Antarctic Expedition (AAE).

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H8144, sledge used on the Mawson expedition. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

For years one of my most favourite Museum objects has sat quietly in the our basement store, only seen by a small number of privileged visitors on Basement Tours – one of Mawson’s principal sledges from this expedition even stencilled with his name “Mawson – Adelaide”. (We have three in all!).

Can you imagine what this sledge would have seen if it could speak to us? On 2 December 1911 it was one of the 20 Norwegian-made sledges lashed to the ship’s chart-house, an extension of the bridge, and on the poop deck of the ship crowded with supplies. Mawson had ordered the sledges earlier in the year from L. Hagen & Co. of Christiania (Oslo) a sporting goods manufacturer of skis, ice-skates and rifles, who also supplied various British and Norwegian Antarctic expeditions. It was made of hickory and American ash. A further 17 sledges were made in Sydney but that’s another story for the next post.

This expedition was undertaken during the pioneering years of Australia’s involvement in Antarctica when Mawson’s team undertook mapping and magnetic observations, collected geological specimens and undertook weather notes. Teams of three men with three sledges would go out for weeks fanning out for a distance of up to 300 km from the hut at Cape Denison.

Each of the sledging parties had similar equipment loaded onto the three sledges. The equipment list for these makes fascinating reading today: a Willesden-drill tent; three one-man reindeer-fur sleeping bags; cooking equipment including mugs, spoons, scales, matches and fuel; a repair outfit with spare copper wire, needles and thread to repair the harnesses, tents and clothes; a medical kit with bandages, ophthalmic drugs for treating snow blindness, scissors, forceps, scalpel and surgical needles; photographic equipment with a quarter-plate camera; and surveying equipment including a 3-inch transit theodolite, logarithmic tables, note books, maps, dividers, set squares, prismatic compass and clinometer. Other equipment taken included: binoculars, a hypsometer (for determining altitude), thermometers and specimen labels; “sporting” equipment including a 22-gauge rifle, ammunition, knife, sharpening stone and fishing line; a waterproof clothes bag, reindeer skin boots (finnesko) stuffed with moisture-absorbent sennaegrass (a dry grass from Lappland) and spare clothing; a pick, spades, skis and boots, crampons, harnesses for men and tow ropes. To set up depots they carried a depot flag and bamboo pole, stays, and damp-proof tins to deposit records at depots. A total of six one-gallon (4.55 litre) tins of kerosene fuel, nine weeks’ supply of food for the men, and dried seal meat, blubber and pemmican for the dogs, were also packed. The total weight of the three laden sledges was 1,723 pounds (781 kg).

But the scientific importance of Mawson’s 1911-1914 AAE expedition has been overshadowed by an amazing trek undertaken by Mawson himself. On 10 November 1913 Mawson, accompanied by Dr Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant B. (Belgrave) E.S. Ninnis, left the base at Cape Denison, taking three sledges and sixteen dogs. After thirty-four days of hard travelling they reached a point 315 miles (507 km) inland from the base before heading back. Tragically Ninnis died when he and his sledge, which was carrying most of the food, fell into a deep crevasse. On the long journey back the two men ate the dogs and Mertz died from cold and exhaustion. Mawson struggled on alone, persistently taking his meteorological readings and cutting his sledge in half to reduce its weight. He arrived back at the hut only hours after his ship had left to return to Australia. Mawson remained in Antarctica with the wintering party and returned home in 1914.

Mawson's cut down sledge used on his epic journey. Image:Courtesy National Library of Australia

Mawson’s cut down sledge used on his epic journey. Image:Courtesy National Library of Australia

The AAE expedition is now remembered more for this trek, in which Mawson made a remarkable and unsurpassed solo sledging journey of about 100 miles (161 km), than for its scientific achievements.

If you’d like to see Mawson’s sledge it’s now on display at the Powerhouse Museum’s Discovery Centre at Castle Hill.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator