Sir Douglas Mawson was an English geologist and the pioneer of Australian Antarctic exploration. He was the leader of the Australian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), which set out to chart Antarctica's coastline.
Mawson was born in England in 1882, and moved to Sydney with his family in 1884. After studying mining, engineering and geology, he went on to become a lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide in 1905.
In 1907, Sir Ernest Shackleton invited Mawson to join the British Antarctic Expedition, which aimed to reach the South Magnetic Pole. This was the starting point for Mawson's lifelong association with the Antarctic.
In 1911, Mawson left for England to raise funds for Australia's first Antarctic expedition. With Shackleton's help, he raised the funds he needed and purchased the ship Aurora to take his party to the Antarctic. This expedition was successful, and saw the establishment of a scientific base on Macquarie Island, and a main base on Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica.
But Mawson's Antarctic adventures didn't all go as smoothly as his first. In 1912, he set out on an ill-fated sledging expedition with Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz. Ninnis died when he fell into a deep crevasse in the ice, taking most of the food with him. The lack of food forced Mawson and Mertz to eat their dogs, but Mertz died regardless, leaving Mawson to face the terrifying journey back, alone:
Outside the bowl of chaos as brimming with drift-snow and as I lay in the sleeping-bag beside my dead companion I wondered how, in such conditions, I would manage to break and pitch camp single-handed.
– Sir Douglas Mawson
Mawson, D 2000, The home of the blizzard: a true story of Antarctic survival, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh.
Mawson's heroic expeditions to the Antarctic led to the inclusion of his portrait on the Australian 100 dollar bill.
After recovering, Mawson continued his scientific work in Antarctica until early 1914, collecting so much data that his reports weren't finalised until 1947. His last expedition was in 1929, when he led the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition.
Sir Douglas Mawson died in 1958, but his contribution to Antarctic exploration will never be forgotten. He is remembered as a man with a true commitment to his science, and one of the most outstanding explorers of the 20th century.