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Video Clip Synopsis:
In 1912, Mawson’s expedition arrived in the Antarctic. Little did they realise it was the windiest place on the globe.

2min 10sec

Mawson’s Expedition to the Antarctic is an excerpt from the film Antarctic Pioneers (30mins), produced in 1962.

Antarctic Pioneers: One of Australia’s most famous photographers and explorers, Frank Hurley, narrates this absorbing film on the history of Australia’s first expeditions to the Antarctic continent between 1911 and 1954. It includes remarkable, original footage of the expedition on the tall ship Aurora in 1911, the Campbell expedition in 1947 and the Law expedition in 1954.

Much of this film was made by Hurley when he accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson and an Australian party to the Antarctic in 1912, and on later expeditions. The program traces the history of the Australian expeditions between 1911 and 1914 and the establishment of Mawson Station. A rare film which reveals the true hardship and courage of these early pioneers.

Antarctic Pioneers was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit with the co-operation of The Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 9-10
Theme: Environment & Work

Key Concepts

Environment; Sustainability; Global citizenship; Heroes; Change over time

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Place and space – Environmental impacts
NSW:History Stage 5, Topic 3B, Topic 7A
Geography Stage 5, 5A4
NT:Environment 5.2, 5+.2
Qld:9/10 Civics – Place and space 5.2, 6.1
9/10 Geography
– Time, continuity and change D6.4
– Place and space 6.2, 6.3
– Systems, resources and power 5.4
9/10 History – Systems, resources and power 5.1
SA:Time, continuity and change 5.3
Place, space and environment 5.5
Social systems 5.10
Tas:World Futures – Creating sustainable futures. Standard 5
Vic:History 6.2
Geography 6.1, 6.3, 6.4, 6.5 ext
Economy and society 6.5 ext
WA:Place and space

Context / Background Information

There are 26 nations that claim parts of Antarctica as their territory. Australia is the largest, claiming 42 per cent of the total area.

In 1911 Douglas Mawson led the first Australian expedition to Antarctica, with the intention of exploring and mapping the Antarctic coastline closest to Australia.

Having sailed through 1500 kilometres of pack ice to Antarctica on the ship Aurora, they established their base, and in the spring of 1912 Mawson set out on an expedition with Swiss scientist Dr. Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis. The men were on foot, and their provision-loaded sleds were pulled by Greenland huskies.

Following the coastline, Mawson's party travelled east for over a thousand kilometres. Conditions worsened, making the going difficult. Then, after five weeks, tragedy struck. Ninnis and the sled carrying most of their food fell into a deep crevasse.

Mawson and Mertz were forced to turn back. The food soon ran out, and they were forced to eat the remaining huskies one by one. Unaware of the dangers of the toxic levels of vitamin A in the dogs’ livers, both men soon became sick. Mertz died, but Mawson forced himself to keep going, overcoming extreme privation and danger till, bloody and emaciated, he finally made it back to the safety of expedition headquarters.

His epic trek was described as the greatest story of lone survival in polar exploration. When he returned to Adelaide, he was knighted for his contribution to our scientific understanding of Antarctica.

While the 1911 expedition was the most significant one in terms of heroism, the 1929-31 expeditions were more important politically. These were state-sponsored expeditions designed to establish Australia's interest in and occupation of the area. It was during these that Mawson proclaimed British possession of the continent and surrounding areas between 45 and 160 degrees east. This proclamation was the basis for the Australian Government's gazetting of Australian Antarctic Territory in 1933.

In this video clip we see some of the 1911-12 footage shot by Australian photographer, Frank Hurley who was on the Aurora expedition.

Discussion Pointers

  1. What is the overall image of the Antarctic environment that you get from the video clip?
  2. Consider why you have that impression or image — is it because of the narration? Or the visual images? Or the sound effects in the video clip? Or some other reason?
  3. Attitudes and values are things that the society agrees with, or thinks are important. See if you can identify any attitudes and values in this video clip. For example, you might decide that an attitude or value in this video clip is that we need to conquer the environment. See if you can identify any others.
  4. One of the values of many people today is a belief in ecological sustainability. That means having as little impact as possible on an environment. Do you think the pioneer scientists of this video clip shared that value? Look at such aspects as the use of animals, attitudes to wildlife, use of technology to help you work out an answer.
  5. The video clip was originally made as a film in 1962 from 1912 footage. Do you think a modern video about the environment would focus on the same images, or might it reflect different attitudes and values? Explain your reasons.
  6. The filmmakers have created their video clip to pass on certain messages. What do you think these are? For example, is there a message in the film about human endeavour? Or about nature? Or about our relationship to the environment?
  7. A key value underpinning Australian actions in Antarctica today is sustainability. Look at the way the pioneers in the video clip behave. Can you identify any actions or behaviour that would be considered unacceptable today? Discuss why such changes might have occurred over time.
  8. The pioneer scientists in this video clip lived in a small and isolated community in Antarctica. What sort of qualities would these people have needed? What rights and responsibilities might have been the most important ones for them?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Identify an environmental issue facing Antarctica today. For example, it might be the impact of tourism. Prepare a briefing paper for a meeting to discuss the issue. The briefing paper will need to include background information, a summary of the issues, statements on possible solutions.
  2. There are many international treaties in force in Antarctica. Examine one of these and Australia’s role in implementing it.
  3. Research an Australian scientific base in Antarctica. Prepare a set of management criteria for the base that will promote ecological sustainability of the area.

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 7-8, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, English Year 9-10