July 2010


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Douglas Mawson & Scott of the Antarctic

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

When Douglas Mawson turned up at Robert Falcon Scott’s London office in January 1910, Scott assumed that the 27-year-old geology lecturer from Adelaide had come to enlist in his forthcoming expedition to the South Pole. Eight thousand men had already volunteered and Mawson was better qualified than any of them. He’d already explored large chunks of Antarctica, climbed its highest peak and reached Magnetic South.

Scott, by his own admission, had “no predilection for polar exploration”. A naval commander in the peacetime doldrums, his burning desire was to “bring honour to the British Empire” and “defeat the foreigners” who were eyeing the prize. Mawson was “obviously capable and keen on his work”, so Scott offered him a two-year contract, a salary and membership of the small sledging party that would make the final dash.

But Mawson wasn’t looking for a job, and 90° South held no compelling attraction for him. There was no geographic value in a glory hunt and, although it had made him a popular hero, Scott’s previous Antarctic foray had been a bit of a bungle. Mawson’s interests were entirely scientific. He wanted Scott to drop him and a reconnaissance party on a section of uncharted coast to collect specimens, take measurements and undertake observations.

The two men talked for three hours and met again several times over the next fortnight. Mawson dined with Scott and his glamorous sculptor wife, Kathleen. But Scott couldn’t spare the berths on his ship, so he turned Mawson down.

Undeterred, Mawson set about planning his own expedition. Waiting until Scott had sailed for Antarctica, he launched a funding campaign for the “Australasian Antarctic Expedition”, its members drawn largely from Australian and New Zealand universities. In December 1911, he headed for the home of the blizzard. It was two years before he returned.

In that time, he established three bases, saw brave companions perish and hauled himself out of a crevasse, hand over frostbitten hand, during an epic month-long solo trek. The data he collected filled 22 volumes.

Scott, meanwhile, had done his dash. Big on pluck and short on luck, his party walked every step of the way, dragging their sledges and eating the pack ponies as they went. When he finally reached the Pole, Scott found he’d been beaten by one of those bally foreigners, the Norwegian Amundsen. On the way back, he perished, famously.

Mawson explored Antarctica again in 1929–31. He declared the continent 42% British, named part of it after the man who gave us Freddo Frog and died at home in ripe old age, esteemed by colleagues and country.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

U2 performing in the Las Vegas Sphere

Where the feats have no name: ‘U2:UV’ at Sphere

It’s no surprise it took U2 to launch post-stadium rock via a spectacular immersive show within the technical marvel of Las Vegas’s newest venue

Grace Tame running in the 2023 Bruny Island Ultra Marathon

Running out of trouble

How long-distance running changed the life of the former Australian of the Year (and earnt her a record win in an ultramarathon)

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Might as well face it

Lively discussions take place around the country every week on ethical non-monogamy, love addiction and how much sex is too much

In This Issue

Life sentence

'Ilustrado' by Miguel Syjuco, Random House, 306pp; $32.95

‘Ilustrado’ by Miguel Syjuco

Labor Party candidate Maxine McKew with a fan. During the 2007 federal election campaign for the NSW seat of Bennelong at which she defeated the sitting Prime Minister John Howard.  © Samh_78/Flickr

The battle for Bennelong: Round two

'Indelible Ink' by Fiona McGregor, Scribe Publications, 464pp; $32.95

‘Indelible Ink’ by Fiona McGregor

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality