This black-and-white image, developed from a lantern slide, shows the Aurora, a ship owned by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, anchored at the edge of the Shackleton Ice Shelf off the Queen Mary Land coast in eastern Antarctica. A group of emperor penguins is in the foreground. The lantern slide is attributed to Frank Hurley, the expedition's official photographer, and was taken in February 1913 when the Aurora returned to pick the team up.
- This image forms part of the visual record of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911–14) led by Australian geologist Douglas Mawson (1882–1958). The expedition was dedicated to scientific exploration and Mawson recruited a young team of scientists mostly from Australia and New Zealand. It is regarded as one of the greatest of all polar scientific expeditions because of the detailed observations made in magnetism, geology, biology and meteorology.
- Fundamental to Antarctic exploration at this time was the availability of a suitable ship, usually one with a strong wooden hull, a reinforced bow and a reliable steam engine. The Aurora, seen here, was a typical example. Classified as a steam yacht, the Aurora measured 50.3 x 9.3 x 5.7 metres and weighed 386 tonnes. Originally built as a sealer for the Dundee fleet and launched in 1876, the ship was bought by Mawson and refitted for the expedition in 1910.
- The photograph was taken at Western Base – one of three bases originally planned by Mawson – on the edge of the Shackleton Ice Shelf at Queen Mary Land, about 2000 kilometres away from the main base. Eight members of the expedition were stationed there. The team carried out valuable scientific work and charted large areas of the coastline. The Aurora landed the team in early 1912 and picked them up again on 23 February 1913, so Hurley must have taken the image on one of those visits.
- This image is an example of the striking outdoor work of Australian photographer and adventurer James Francis ('Frank') Hurley (1885–1962). From ordinary beginnings as a postcard photographer, Hurley gained his reputation as a groundbreaking photographer and film-maker from his participation as official photographer in this expedition. He went on to gain even more fame as official photographer for Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition in 1914.
- The iceshelf seen in the image is part of the large Shackleton Ice Shelf, which was explored and named by the expedition. It projects seaward about 140 kilometres and forms one boundary of a stretch of eastern Antarctic coast, which was discovered by the expedition and named Queen Mary Land. This area, also known as Queen Mary Coast, stretches from Cape Filchner to Cape Hordern.
- The emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) in the foreground are the world's largest penguin species, standing about 115 centimetres tall. They can live to more than 40 years old. Emperor penguins breed during the Antarctic winter in colonies or rookeries scattered around the continent. Rookeries range in size from a few hundred to more than 20,000 pairs. Members of the expedition at Western Base discovered two rookeries of emperor penguins during their stay.