A food depot established by the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) led by the legendary Sir Douglas Mawson, has been discovered nearly 100 years later by a small team of explorers led by Greg Mortimer, founder of Aurora Expeditions.
The cache is at Madigan Nunatak (Nunatak is the Antarctic term for a rocky peak surrounded by ice), named after Cecil Madigan, a geologist with Mawson’s AAE who established the food store in case of emergency for sledging parties.
Found this week, it is 70 kms east-south east of Cape Denison which was the AAE’s base for two years and which is now being conserved by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation which currently has a team of eight working on Mawson’s Huts for the next four weeks.
Mortimer, the managing director of Aurora Expeditions and a member of the first Australian team to climb Mt Everest., flew by helicopter from his ship the Marina Svetaeva, which is carrying 100 passengers on an Antarctic cruise to Mawson’s Huts. On board is a grand-daughter of Madigan, Julia Butler.
Attempts to find Madigan Nunatak in the 1980’s failed with ice covering the rocky peak and only a long bamboo pole protruding from the cache sighted in 1985.
“I have been trying to get to Madigan Nunatak for years” said Mortimer from onboard the Marina Svetaeva. “This year we were in the right place at the right time.”
“It was a tiny ridge in the white expanse of the polar plateau about 2400 feet above sea level. We observed a cairn surmounted by a tin consistent in shape and construction with kerosene tins associated with the AAE” he said. “The tin contains at least three calico bags held in place by a rock. One contains white powder, probably flour and the other a brown substance, possibly pemmican (a food mix favoured by the AAE on sledging parties).
The long bamboo pole which marked the spot for the AAE still remains but now lies on the rocks.
The Mawson’s Huts Foundation team which was landed by a Marina Svetaeva eight days ago is carrying out an extensive works programme which includes locating the first aircraft ever taken to the Antarctic and fitting out a special laboratory to conserve the thousands of artefacts left inside the hut when the AAE left for home in December 1913.