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Radio telegram from Douglas Mawson to Professor Edgeworth David

This radio telegram was sent by Douglas Mawson to his friend Professor Edgeworth David on 3 March 1913. Mawson returned from a gruelling sledge expedition that claimed the lives of his two companions, struggling through blizzards back to base camp alone on the brink of death only hours after the Aurora had left. In this radiogram, he describes the struggle he faced and the extreme conditions he had experienced. He had hauled himself out of crevasses, slaughtered his dog team to survive, and trekked uncharted expanses of Antarctica.

Educational value

  • The radio telegram sent on 3 March 1913 to Professor Edgeworth David forms part of the record of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) in 1911–14, led by Australian geologist Douglas Mawson (1882–1958). The expedition was dedicated to scientific exploration. It is regarded as the greatest polar scientific expedition of the time because of the detailed observations made in magnetism, geology, biology and meteorology.
  • The Main Base of the AAE was established in January 1912 at Cape Denison on the Adélie Land coast at 142° E. One year later the Aurora returned to Cape Denison bringing equipment that allowed the radio station at the Main Base to be completed. With the Antarctic radio station fully operational, Mawson sent the first radio message from Antarctica to the Australian mainland on 24 February 1913. All radio communications used Morse code.
  • Weather conditions in Antarctica are extremely challenging, with constantly high winds making even simple chores epic. When sledging parties were sent out in the summer of 1912, Mawson had planned for them to be back by 15 January 1913 at the latest. From the Main Base, the Eastern parties charted the coastline almost as far as 160° E and claimed King George V Land. The Southern Party reached within one day's travel of the south magnetic pole, before turning back due to bad weather.
  • The Aurora returned to Cape Denison to collect the Main Party of the AAE on 13 January 1913. The sledging party led by Douglas Mawson had not returned by 15 January. Captain Davis delayed the departure of the Aurora, putting it at risk of being trapped in ice. On 7 February 1913, the Aurora finally left. Hours after its departure Mawson reached the Main Base alone; waiting for him was a rescue party led by Cecil Madigan.
  • In February 1914 Mawson and his rescue party were collected by the Aurora and brought back to Australia. Six months later World War I began. It would be more than 15 years until another Australian expedition would go to Antarctica, and more than 30 until all of the scientific reports of the AAE were published.

Learning content partnership

This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

© Education Services Australia Ltd and National Archives of Australia, 2007-10

National Digital Learning Resource Network