Tuesday, August 30, 2011

SMH: In Memory of Mawson

On parade ... the MV Orion approaches the Antarctic continent.
On parade ... the MV Orion approaches the Antarctic continent.
Photo: Louise Southerden
A century after the explorer embarked on his expedition, Louise Southerden steps ashore on Australia's Antarctica.

You've spent days crossing the Southern Ocean from New Zealand, found your way through pack ice, seen your first house-sized berg. Now, here it is: the Antarctic continent, a wall of ice with a sloping brow, filling the southern horizon.

Nothing prepares you for that first glimpse of this alien land and the simple vastness of it. The South Pole is still, incredibly, 2630 kilometres further south, across all that ice, some of it four kilometres thick. All you can do is stand and stare.

Then, out of the whiteness, a rocky point appears: Cape Denison, on Commonwealth Bay. This is one of the few places in east Antarctica, due south of Australia, where the largest ice sheet on the planet kneels down to meet the sea, allowing you to step ashore. It's also where a timber hut built by Douglas Mawson and his men in January 1912 still stands.

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