The Home of the Blizzard

The Home of the Blizzard

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The Home of the Blizzard,
An Australian Hero's Classic Tale
of Antarctic Discovery and Adventure.

Douglas Mawson

The Home of the Blizzard was first published in 1915 by Mawson in London as a two-volume set. It has seen many reprints since. The first seven chapters of this classic work he wrote during his second year in Antarctica. The 1930 abridged one-volume edition became a best seller and his signed copies sold for $3000 in the 1990s. Most of the photographs in the book were taken by Frank Hurly who later achieved fame while a member of the Sir Ernest Shackleton Endurance expedition.

The Home of the Blizzard is not only a story of discovery, endurance and adventure; it is also one of pioneering deeds, great courage, heart stopping rescues and perseverance. It is Mawson’s own detailed account of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition’s preparations and departure from Hobart in late 1911 until the collection of the remaining party by the Aurora during early 1914.

It describes the expedition’s life and adventures on Antarctica, its scientific endeavours, the difficulties of travel, establishment of the first radio communications and Mawson’s epic sledge journey of 1912-1913, which resulted in the deaths of his companions Ninnes and Mertz. The book also describes their daily subsistence on the icy continent. A story of their years spent in sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds.

The idea of exploring Antarctica took shape in 1910. A plan was submitted to the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science in Sydney in January 1911. They approved it and granted funds of £1000. More money came from the South Australian Government, £5000, New South Wales, £7000, Victoria £5000, the Commonwealth with the same amount and £2000 from the British Government.

Among donations from individuals was £1000 each from Robert Barr Smith and William A. Horn, both of South Australia. Among the tons of equipment and foodstuffs were donations from many individuals and companies. H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco gave an assortment of oceanographic gear. The hut erected in Adelie Land, the expeditioners’ home for three years, was presented by the timber merchants of Sydney. Cigarettes, cigars and tobacco came from the British American Tobacco Co., while matches were supplied by Bryant & May. Salt was donated by the Castle Salt Co. who had works in South Australia and mineral water from Schweppes.

The chief object of the Expedition was to investigate, as far as possible, the stretch of prospective but practically unknown Antarctic coast extending almost 2000 miles in an east and west direction. In a very short time Mawson was able to secure a suitable vessel, the Aurora in England, sledges from Norway, mountaineering equipment from Switzerland and dogs from Greenland. Last but not least he was able to get a party of nearly forty members together in time to leave Hobart on 2 December 1911.

Among them were South Australians PE Correll, AJ Hodgeman, AL Kennedy, CT Madigan and MA Moyes. All were between 19 and 26 years old. Mawson himself was only 30. Eleven days after arriving at Adelie the main hut was completed. With temperatures well below freezing, high velocity winds, accompanied by dense volumes of drifting snow it was not a bad effort.

They soon found out that the climate was little more than one continuous blizzard all year around. ‘In thick drifts, one’s face became rapidly packed with snow, which by the warmth of the skin and breath, was converted into a mask of ice’ wrote Mawson. This, he continued, adhered firmly to the helmet and to the beard and face; though not particularly comfortable, it was actually a protection against the wind. Mawson also noticed the abrasive effects produced by the impact of the snow particles, which were astonishing. Pillars of ice were cut through in a few days, ropes were frayed, wood etched and metal polished. They had discovered an ‘accursed country, the home of the blizzard’.

Unfortunately that was not all. They had to navigate crevasses during the incessant snowdrifts or try to get out of them, dig out the dogs and sledges from under the snow in the morning and at times eat seal or dog meat and penguins to survive. Penguin eggs were actually a favourite, especially the omelettes prepared by Mertz.

Of the epic sledge trip across many of the hidden crevasses Mawson later wrote ‘December 14, 1912, There was no sound from behind except a faint whine from one of the dogs. When I looked back, Ninnes was gone. A lot of equipment and food on his sledge had also disappeared. A few weeks later, on 7 January 1913 while sleeping in their tent, with Mertz in a very poor condition, he wrote afterwards in his diary; After a couple of hours, having felt no movement, I stretched out my arm and found that my comrade was stiff in death.

Mawson was now on his own, unable to join up with other members of the party, in very poor condition and in atrocious weather he had to find his way back to the hut and the waiting ship to take them back to Australia. History was repeated once again. Like Burke and Wills who missed their rescue party by seven hours, Mawson missed his by six, having camped the previous night only 5 miles away.

Having missed the boat Mawson and those men who had volunteered to stay behind to search for him, now had to spend a second year in the home of the blizzard. Conditions this time were a little better. Fewer men in the hut, more food, at least for the time being, and more indoor activities. They still had to go outside every day for their many different observations and make short trips for the collection of all kind of specimens.

After finally being picked up a year later, their first touch of civilisation came unexpectedly early on the morning of 21 February 1914. They saw a full-rigged ship on the southern horizon. As her sails were white they at first thought it to be an iceberg. ‘But onward it came with a strong south-wester, overhauled and passed us (Aurora) signalling ‘Archibald Russell, 54 days out from Buenos Ayers, bound for Cape Borda’. It was too magical to believe. Five they later though the lighthouse at Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island was seen and they knew they would be home very soon. That same year Mason married his long-time sweetheart Paquita Delprat and was Knighted for his leadership of and scientific contribution to the AAE.

Douglas Mawson’s matter-of-fact descriptions of unbelievable toil and tribulations make The Home of the Blizzard unforgettable reading. ‘Unputdownable. One of the greatest polar adventure stories you’ll ever read’ wrote Tim Bowden for the 2002 edition.

Review by Nic Klaassen

The Home of the Blizzard by Douglas Mawson includes a glossary and Index.
It is available at $29.95 from
Wakefield Press

Telephone 08 8362 8800

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