Back to the future: The Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 2013-2014

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 has been a long time in the making. I’m used to planning expeditions but this is on a whole different level. I should have seen it coming. There really is no excuse. After all, I’ve been immersed in the writings and plannings of earlier explorers who certainly faced one succession of headaches after another. I optimistically thought this would be somehow different. In an age of instant communication, making arrangements would be so much simpler. Not quite. Thankfully though I’m not reaching for the aspirin on too regular a basis.


We’re following a well travelled path. In 1912, five Antarctic expeditions were in a race to describe an entirely new continent. It was the heyday of science communication. All the teams used the latest technology to enthral a public thirsty for news from this new frontier. Planes, motorised sledges, wireless radio, film and sound recordings were all used to relay new discoveries back to civilisation. The reports filled the pages of newspapers around the world. For one dizzying moment, science and adventure became equal partners; scientific discoveries from the edge of the world were celebrated.

Sir Douglas Mawson c 1916 by Thomson Studios, London
gelatin silver photograph
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Mrs J.Q. McEwin 2000
No group captured this intoxicating sense of discovery and wonderment more than Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Starting out at the unbelievably young age of 28 years, Mawson somehow managed to raise £39,000 in just one year – equivalent to some $20-25 million today. With this support he found and kitted out an entire ship to discover what lay south of Australia. His tales of adventures and discoveries electrified the public at home and inspired generations to follow in his footsteps. 

One hundred years later, friend and colleague Dr Chris Fogwill and I are attempting a similar venture to the one led by Mawson – albeit on a smaller scale.  The new Australasian Antarctic Expedition aims to discover just how much has changed in the south over the past century.  As part of the trip, we are looking to Mawson and his team for inspiration. We hope our journey excites others in the way his adventures inspired us.  

The expedition vessel: the MV Shokalskiy
(many thanks to Ben Maddison for the image)

We have secured an ice-strengthened vessel, and with a large team, will be retracing and measuring the route of Mawson’s expedition over six weeks. Departing at the end of November we will be using the very latest technology to bring the Antarctic with its amazing wildlife, land and seascape to everyone at home. We are really excited about what the technology can deliver. Along with blogging and Twittering on the journey, we will be streaming live film footage using Google+ Hangouts on Air, effectively giving us our very own TV channel so we can share the journey in real time. And for those members of the public who aspire to be scientists on the expedition, berths are for sale. 


Sampling in the Antarctic

The interest and support in the new venture has been fantastic. With the help of Google and support of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, the new Australasian Antarctic Expedition is taking two lucky teachers south as winners of the Australian and New Zealand Doodle 4 Google school competition. For those still interested in taking part, you need to hurry though; registration closes on the 23 August 2013.


Over the next few months I will be writing a blog as preparations continue. I hope it will be entertaining but it certainly keep you up to date with our progress. If you want to learn more about the expedition, including how to book a berth on the voyage south, feel free to visit www.spiritofmawson.com. In the meantime, you can subscribe to +Intrepid Science and @ProfChrisTurney to get regular updates.


I hope you can join us.

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