Thus began the Australian occupation of Antarctica...

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27 February 2012

Tom Griffiths was on board the Aurora Australis as it sailed south to Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Douglas Mawson’s historic expedition

IN ANTARCTICA, you can’t just select a date, waltz in, and perform a ceremony. You have to submit yourself to the control of the continent, just as Douglas Mawson’s expedition did a hundred years ago. Ice and weather cannot be commanded. Antarctic logistics are ruled by what is called “the A-factor,” the destabilising ingredient in all Antarctic planning. But commemorations are about nothing if not dates; they are about precision in time and place. They book into our crowded calendars an exact moment for reflection. What happens, then, when you plan a historic commemoration in the continent of uncertainty?

Uncertainty and waiting are the warp and weft of Antarctic history. The men of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition spent a lot of time waiting… waiting for the wind to stop so they could work outside or hear themselves think, waiting agonisingly for the Far Eastern sledging party of Mawson, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz to return, waiting for the black speck of their ship, the Aurora, to appear on the horizon to take them home. They were not the first Australians in Antarctica – several including Mawson himself had participated in earlier expeditions – but this was the first Australian expedition and the first of any kind to set foot on the Antarctic continent directly south of Australia…

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Photo: Tom Griffiths

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