Hobart is a charming town, friendly, historical, easy to get around. It is the capital city of Australia’s island state, Tasmania. That makes it the most southern Australian city, right down on the edge of the Southern Ocean. I was there for four days with my delightful Mum and it was rather chilly! But while the air was cold, it was so fresh, as though no one had breathed it before!
The snow on Mt Wellington is nothing for those of you who live in snowy environments. For me it was a joy to look up at the mount and see the dusting of snow on top.
We had a lovely time, my Mum and I. Let me tell you about my Antarctic adventures.
Hobart is home of the Australian Antarctic Division, and I was delighted to find lots about the Antarctic and Macquarie Island. I have a fascination for these extreme areas.
Like many, I have read, in the warmth and comfort of my armchair, about Shackleton and Scott and Mawson.
Mawson is one of the great polar explorers. This extract from his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography gives the bare outline of his incredible survival on one expedition.
Mawson took charge of the Far Eastern expedition, which included B. E. S. Ninnis and X. Mertz, but was to become the most extraordinary epic of lone survival. When 310 miles (499 km) out, Ninnis, with sledge and dog team, broke through the lid of a large crevasse and disappeared. With seriously depleted provisions Mawson and Mertz began their return, progressively using their dogs to supplement their food supply. It was not known then that the dogs’ livers were very rich in Vitamin A and potentially toxic. After twenty-five days on the return journey, and the combined effects of hard physical exertion and starvation, this toxicity may have hastened Mertz’s death. Mawson, himself seriously debilitated, discarded everything that was not essential for survival, except his geological specimens and records of the journey. Using a pocket saw, he cut his sledge in half and dragged it unaided the last 100 miles (161 km), taking another thirty days to reach Main Base. As he approached he saw the Aurora on the horizon; she had come and gone. A small party had waited to search for him; they remained for another year.
Mawson was instrumental in building a hut at Cape Denison, know as Mawson’s hut. It is still down there, being blasted and eroded by the constant winds. A replica has been built on the Hobart waterfront.
The photo below is a close up of the roof. The hatch in the roof was often used as an entrance when the hut became snowbound.
I was quite excited to see the (replica) darkroom that Frank Hurley used. Hurley was the photographer on Shackleton’s voyage, and has produced some of the most iconic images from that heroic age of polar exploration.
Meet Moby and Welf. They were the last huskies to be on the Australian base. Pretty good taxidermy job.
The Australian Antarctic division is also responsible for Macquarie Island, a sub-antarctic island, isolated out in the Southern Ocean. Imagine how the wind rattles and roars around it. The Tasmanian Botanic Gardens have a building designed to showcase plants from the island. Outside the plaque reads
The westerlies that batter Macquarie Island sweep almost uninhibited around the globe — apart from the scatter of subantarctic islands no land breaks the great expanse of the Southern Ocean.
The climate of this island is severe, but varies little. The temperature hovers around 4 degrees above and below zero summer and winter. It rains 320 days a year, with snow in any season. Low cloud, mist and fog are almost constant, with an average of only two and a half hours of sun each day. In such conditions subantarctic plants thrive.
It was chilly in the little house, but the plants were certainly thriving. There were vents that blew cold, misty air.
The fabulous Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery had an absorbing section on the Antarctic and subantarctic islands. Macquarie Island is unique as it is formed, not by glaciation, but by the tectonic plates pushing the oceanic rocks to the surface. It is listed as a World Heritage Area and an international Biosphere Reserve.
Feral animals, brought by sealers, had been a real problem on the island. Over the last few years there was an intense programme to eradicate them. First there were baits, then tracker dogs were used to sniff out the last of the rabbits and rats. These dogs and their handlers roamed the Island, hunting down the remaining pests. Now it is believed that the Island is free of feral animals and the vegetation and wildlife is showing good signs of recovery. It is a great story and you can read it in more depth here.
And imagine my delight when I opened a draw and found herbarium specimens of plants from Macquarie!
I have since found out that there is an artist programme in Antarctica. I wonder if I should apply…….