Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

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.

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D’Urville and his navy of discovery

Astrolabe and Zelee in a gale, in the Antarctic Circle in January 1840. ANMM collection 00032388.

Astrolabe and Zelee in a gale, in the Antarctic Circle in January 1840. ANMM collection 00032388.

It is easy, when reading accounts of early European explorers, to see only the official version they leave behind. The naval reports, detailed charts and an imposing portrait of a confident man in an impressive uniform.

But often, dig just a little deeper and a different man emerges. A man with individual oddities, unsuspected sympathies, personal tragedies and constant worries. Such is the case with the French explorer Durmont d’Urville.

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Ashmore Reef Expedition 2015 – Part One

Voyage out past Mer (Murray) Island. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

Voyage out past Mer (Murray) Island. Photo: Xanthe Rivett, Silentworld Foundation.

Ashmore Reef is a 30 kilometre long, isolated, lagooned coral reef system located more than 950 kilometres north of Cairns, Queensland, some 250 kilometres east of Thursday Island, Torres Strait and 30 kilometres offshore from the extreme northern end of the Great Barrier Reef in the Australian Coral Sea Territory.

The northern section of what is now called Ashmore Reef was first sighted by Captain Ashmore in the brig Hibernia in 1811 and unofficially called Hibernia Reef. The southern section of the reef was named the Claudine and Mary Reef an 1818 and the entire reef system called either Jones Shoal, Ormond’s or Great Ormond’s Reef by 1826. Continue reading

What is it about deep water?

If you’re a swimmer, even though you know you’ll be fine, just the idea of being suspended above something tens, let alone thousands of metres dark and deep can cause that weird tingling combination of excitement and fear.

As part of the USA Gallery program, we’ve been negotiating with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts to bring Deepsea Challenger to the museum. This is the submersible vessel piloted by James Cameron 11kms down to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench. It’s a bit like having the lunar lander from Apollo 11 on display, only in reverse!

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI

DeepSea Challenger at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, photo: A Tarantino WHOI


What makes it extra special is that Deepsea Challenger was built (in secret) in Sydney. Continue reading

Possible discovery of Columbus’s flag ship SANTA MARIA (1492)

1892 replica of Santa Maria photographed in 1904 possibly by Edward H Hart. Source: United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

1892 replica of Santa Maria photographed in 1904 possibly by Edward H Hart.
Source: United States Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons

Many years ago when I was attending primary school we were taught The Columbus Day poem in order to remember the momentous events of 1492. The opening stanzas of the poem went something like:

In fourteen hundred and ninety two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue

He had three ships and left from Spain
He sailed through sunshine and he sailed through rain

These three vessels, sponsored by Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I Queen of Castile and Leon – made up a great voyage of exploration lead by Christopher Columbus – also known Cristofora Colombo in his native Genoa and as Christobal Colon in Spain – who had managed to convince the joint sovereigns of Spain that he had found a short cut to the famous spice islands of the Orient.

These famous ships were, of course, the caravels Pinta and Nina and the larger Galician nao (ship) Santa Maria and with them Columbus discovered, although the Native Americans would have been a bit bemused by the term, not the Orient but in fact the Bahamas, Cuba and Haiti – before returning to Spain with the Pinta and the Nina – the Santa Maria having been wrecked in Caracol Bay, Haiti in on Christmas Day, 1492. Columbus lead several other voyages of discovery to what became known as the Americas and the rest as they say is history. Continue reading

Inspiring Stories: NASA Administrator Bolden coming to ANMM!

Administrator Charles F Bolden Jr, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Photo: NASA, Bill Ingalls

Administrator Charles F Bolden Jr, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Photo: NASA, Bill Ingalls

Next Monday 24 March, the museum will host a talk from the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – Charles F Bolden Jr. Yep, you read correctly, that’s NASA we’re talking about! My answer was “wow”, immediately thinking of the potential this event has to excite and inspire. “When” was my next question? How long do I have to plan and organise a major event? “Two weeks”…“Ok can do, this opportunity is too good to miss!”

So why is Administrator Bolden coming to the museum? He is interested in viewing our HMB Endeavour replica. There is a wooden trunnel located in the great cabin that was on the original HMB Endeavour and then flew on the NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour, (you learn something new every day). There are natural links between the 18th century explorers and the more recent missions out to space, sometimes in more ways than we realise. Continue reading

Eighteen months on a leaky boat

 ‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’

‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’, by Ferdinand Bauer, lent by Natural History Museum, London

There is something intriguing about natural history illustrations. The plants look as though they are sprouting from the page but the animals appear slightly on the edge of reality, with blankly staring eyes and stiffly posed limbs. Perhaps this is because the immobility of plants permit them to be drawn from life whereas animals do not generally allow the painter that luxury unless they are in a more, well, deceased state.

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