Wyatt Earp moored on the edge of Antarctic pack ice, February 1948. The little wooden ship – with a very unlikely name – pioneered Australia’s expeditions into the Antarctic as part of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE). ANMM Collection ANMS1445.
Remembering the ‘Twerp‘
On 26 December 1947, a small, nondescript wooden-hulled motor vessel set off from Hobart, bound for Antarctica. Its silhouette resembled that of an ageing offshore fishing craft, but its weather deck was packed from stem to stern with supplies and equipment – including a single-engine Vought-Sikorsky Kingfisher floatplane. At the helm was Commander Karl E Oom, an officer in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). He was supported by five naval officers, 22 ratings, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot and air fitter mechanic, and an Australian Department of Information photographer. The complement was rounded out by four civilian scientists who were responsible for conducting a series of experiments, and observing meteorological and other natural phenomena in the Antarctic. Their voyage would be the first to operate under the banner of the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE), a series of post-war initiatives to establish Australian scientific research stations in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic territories of Heard Island and Macquarie Island. ANARE laid the foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Division, and in later years Australia’s polar research ships could trace their lineage back to the little timber craft then making its way towards the world’s southernmost continent: HMAS Wyatt Earp.
With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.
Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.
Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.
‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.