…it must be remembered that the men whose desires lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality. (Sir Ernest Shackleton)
Recently I have found myself wishing that I lived in a time when little of the world had been explored. Almost every inch of this planet has had man set foot on it and I sincerely doubt that there will be any more discoveries of new land in my life time. Unless of course someone goes deep into the bowels of the earth and finds some kind of hidden world. Now that would be amazing.
Little more than 100 years ago, Antarctica was one of those places that no man had set foot upon. The first man to cross the Antarctic Circle was Captain James Cook in 1773, shortly after the discovery of Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately he never quite made it to land, not having a suitable ship to break through the ice. Following this, many others travelled to the icy region in the hopes of finding solid ground, but it wasn’t until 1840 that land was first sighted by a Frenchman – Commander Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville, however due to large ice cliffs he and his crew were unable to find a suitable landing place and thus did not make it onto solid ground, he was closely followed by an American by the name of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who was the first to establish that it was indeed a large continent and not merely a large block of floating ice. Unfortunately, he too was unable to find a suitable landing place and had to turn back. This finally brings us to Captain James Clark Ross of the British Navy, who in 1841 sailed further around the Antarctic coastline than any of his predecessors and came within 160 miles of the Magnetic South Pole, finding locations that would allow the possibility of landing to further explore the continent.
After many years of tentative exploration, most of the world lost interest in the Antarctic region until the mid 1890’s, and in 1895, a Norwegian by the name of Carsten Egeberg Borchgrevnik, inadvertently became the first man to set foot on Antarctica. And so interest was aroused again and it became the objective of every explorer worth his salt, to lead an expedition to Antarctica and become the first man to reach the South Pole and in doing so, attain fame and glory beyond his wildest dreams. Here begins the real story of Peter FitzSimons‘s biography Mawson: And the Ice Men of the Heroic Age: Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen.
I have never before in my life had a hero, nor known anything about the discovery of Antarctica. But after reading this book I have come away with a hero in Sir Douglas Mawson and I am very eager to learn more about the land south of my own country. This book follows the race between these four men to reach the South Pole – I’ll try not to give too much away, as I don’t want to ruin the adventure for anyone. Mawson himself, was a geologist (and more excitingly and Australian) and while he had no doubt that it would be thrilling to be the first man to reach the pole, he was rather more interested in the science of Antarctica and the way in which it could help in explaining the geology of his own land, Australia. But the race to the pole itself would prove to be one of the greatest adventures in the history of mankind. All men advanced the barriers of science exceedingly and showed what a human being was really capable of, some of them well and truly pushing past the point of when a body should stop working – battling frostbite, cold, starvation and despair.
This is one of the few books I have read, which I have actually read the authors notes at the back of it. Usually the story is enough for me, but this book is filled with so much life and character, that I couldn’t help but to read FitzSimons’ notes at the end. How the book even came about is very interesting. For any Aussies reading this that remembers our old paper $100 note, Sir Douglas was the man on that note – this was the very beginning of it all for FitzSimons.
I don’t know that many of the people of my generation are even aware of the contribution that Sir Douglas made to the world of science and even the contribution he made towards changing the way that Australia as a country was viewed. We were merely colonials before Mawson, in the shadow of Mother England. After Mawson, we were our own country.
RATING – 10 out of 10. I laughed, I cried, I was thrilled and chilled.
WHO SHOULD READ IT – History buffs, adventure lovers and people who love stories of survival against the odds.
WHO YOU’LL LOVE – Well, obviously I am going to say Mawson. But Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen were very admirable also. Two other stand outs for me were Ninnis and Mertz – two very likable young gentlemen.
FAVOURITE QUOTE – there are so many lines in this book I love, but this stood out above all others:
“One of the oft-repeated questions for which I usually had a ready answer…was, ‘Would you like to go to the Antarctic again?’ In the first flush of the welcome home and for many months, during which the keen edge of pleasure under civilized conditions had not entirely worn away, I was inclined to reply with a somewhat emphatic negative. But, once more a man in the world of men, lulled in the easy repose of routine, and performing the ordinary duties of a workaday world, old emotions awakened, the grand sweet days retuned in irresistible glamour, faraway ‘voices’ called…” Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard.