In 1911, a group of scientists and adventurers set off on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which covered previously unexplored areas of Antarctica. Led by Dr. Douglas Mawson—a geologist, explorer, and academic—the voyage produced a wealth of scientific information and aided in mapping the area.
The journey was meant to chart the 2,000-mile coastline of Antarctica that lay south of Australia and lasted until 1914. From several basecamps, researchers were able to make scientific meteorological observations, while teams on sledging journeys went into previously unexplored areas.
Conditions were perilous, with Mawson himself losing a member of his sledging team—Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis. Ninnis, who was jogging next to the sled, fell through a crevasse on a glacier, never to be seen again. During the same incident, Mawson and his other team member, Xavier Mertz, also lost six of their dogs, most of their rations, and their tent. Both men deteriorated quickly, with Mertz also eventually passing away.
Mawson continued his struggle to return to basecamp alone, passing 30 days and falling into a crevasse himself before finally making it back. Mawson’s book The Home of the Blizzard recounts his harrowing tale, as well as the expedition’s triumphs. Ending in 1914, the work by the intrepid explorers paved the way for later claims formalized in 1936 as the Australian Antarctic Territory.
Thanks to the work of James Francis “Frank” Hurley, official photographer at Cape Denison, as well as other members of the team, we have a rich archive of images that capture the spirit of these intrepid explorers. Not only are the photographs a window into early 20th century exploration, but a look at the Antarctic landscape as it once was.