The Great White Silence (2012)

Scott Hamilton, ed. brief 44/45 – Oceania (May 2012)

The Great White Silence

[Douglas Mawson: The Home of the Blizzard (1915)]


We decided to camp for the night. Some hours later I woke up to hear a blizzard blowing outside, and to find Filippo fumbling amongst some gear at the head-end of the tent. From inside my bag I called out to inquire if there was anything wrong, and received a reply that he was looking for the primus-pricker. Then he slipped back into his sleeping-bag, and all became quiet, except for the snow beating against the tent … Revolving the incident in my mind, and dimly wondering what use he could have for a primus-pricker in the middle of the night, I again fell asleep … On inquiry I found that Filippo knew nothing of his midnight escapade. It was a touch of somnambulism.

The snow beating against the tent. Soft flakes piling up into hard, sculpted drifts, blown into aerodynamic contours – sastrugi. Snow is so soft and deep. And slushy-wet and burning-cold and diamond-hard. Snow is like sleep.
The day is stink of men and food and foul air, dogs barking, fingers pricked by needles which slip from the hands. It is the itch of an unwashed body, the rub of harness. It is longing for a hard steel hut, and desire for the wind to stop. Stop just once, just once long enough for us to stand clear and see – see that ethereal stillness so few feet above our heads – the silence of those infinite spaces.

In 1991, recently returned from studying abroad, I got my first real Academic job: tutoring in the English Department at Massey University, Palmerston North. Since a huge pile of boxes, containing all the books I’d acquired in four years in the UK, had just arrived at my parents’ house in Auckland, a large number of decisions had to be made in a very short time.

Above all, it was necessary to find somewhere to live in a hurry. I think it was that sense of ill-defined panic that made me choose to rent a small brick house on the outskirts of the town, a good half hour from the university, and not much closer to the town square. What’s more, the landlady (an ex-university bureaucrat) insisted that we start paying rent right away, even though we wouldn’t be moving in for another fortnight or so.

We had to have somewhere to live, though – and it least it was reasonably spacious.

One interesting aspect of the house, I discovered over the next few months, was a small collection of books secreted in a hall-cupboard. The landlady’s uncle had lived there for many years, she told us, and had clearly had an intense interest in the Polar regions, particularly books about the (so-called) “heroic age of Antarctic exploration” (roughly from the Belgica expedition of 1897 to Shackleton’s abortive Transantarctic crossing in 1914).

Some of the books had probably been picked up second-hand, but the majority appeared to have been bought as they came out: large expedition reports by the likes of Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton. I spent a great deal of time leafing through then and examining them, and eventually (when we were leaving, a year or so later), arranged to buy a few of them from our landlady at what I hope was a reasonable price.

It was there I first found out about Douglas Mawson.

Tod und Verklärung
(for Jackie-Anne)

Sir Douglas Mawson, the Australian explorer, was in Adélie Land between 1912 and 1914. It is probably the most inhospitable region of Antarctica (he called his account of the expedition The Home of the Blizzard). The idea was that he should survey one side of the continent, while Ernest Shackleton travelled to meet him from the other. However, Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was crushed in the ice, so the crossing was never attempted.

Snow is so soft and deep
– Douglas Mawson, the Antarctic, 22nd January 1913

A terrible catastrophe happened soon after taking latitude ... I looked behind & saw no sign of Ninnis & his team. I stopped & wondered, then bethought myself of the crevasse ... Came back, called & sounded for an hour. Read the Burial Service
– 14th December 1912

Ninnis dead
24 miles back,
Xavier as well – buried in his bag.

Meanwhile, in Germany,
orchestras attack
the prick of Richard Strauss.

Rilke burrows deep
in drifts of office files
(ashamed of hymning war).

Futile to despair ­–
discord in the hut
as Whetter takes a rear ...

Whetter was sick last night, diarrhoea. He sleeps all day today though stating that he would get up and get ice this afternoon. Whetter is not fit for a polar expedition
– 11th June 1912

It’s strange to read this poem I wrote about him and his expedition at the time. I think what really sparked my interest was the fact that I actually had enough money to buy new books, after almost a decade of penury as a student, and one of the first ones that caught my eye, in the city bookshop, was a large, illustrated paperback edition of Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries, edited by Fred & Eleanor Jacka, and published in Australia.

These diaries put the rather tidied-up version of the story I’d already read in Mawson’s two-volume official expedition account The Home of the Blizzard into stark relief. I could hardly believe that he had continued to scribble these rough notes as he literally defied death on his homeward trek after the loss of his two companions Ninnis and Mertz.

The title “Tod und Verklärung” [Death and Transfiguration] denotes a (perhaps rather tendentious) attempt to conflate this story with Richard Strauss’s turn-of-the-century symphonic tone poem, which I used to listen to over and over again at the time (we had two Strauss CDs: one of the Four Last Songs, and the other of Death and Transfiguration, and they seemed to be on permanent rotation in our little stereo boom-box).

Strangely enough, most of the information in my introduction to the poem is quite incorrect. It’s true that there had been some discussion in London between Mawson and Shackleton,, already planning his Imperial Transantarctic expedition (which would end so disastrously two years later, when his ship was caught and crushed by the Ross Sea pack ice). Mawson, however, would not consent to adapt his plans to Shackleton’s, so that idea of the two explorers arranging to meet half way is fallacious.

Whetter, too, the man who was “not fit for a polar expedition,” seen here “taking a rear” (i.e. visiting the ice-bound lavatory), was someone I found out a good deal more about years later. He ended up (as one of my students discovered) as a kind of hermit, suspected of signalling Japanese submarines because of his isolation from the rest of the little Northland community he lived in.[1]

The convention at that time, before the First World War, was never to include malicious comments about other members of the party in accounts of polar expeditions, so it’s possible that Dr Leslie Whetter never knew of Mawson’s adverse opinion of him. He died, it seems, still very proud of his status as a pioneering Antarctic explorer.

May God Help us.
– Mawson, 14th December 1912

No light from the Hut, it is difficult to tell when one is on top of it. Outside one is in touch with the sternest of Nature – one might be a lone soul standing in Precambrian times or on Mars – all is desolation and hard in the durest
– 9th April 1912

The landscape makes one think of Greece
(Mawson himself contributes a few lines):
sun-beaten cyclamen, unceasing
wind on coastal pines.

Here darkness, gales, a desert
without dunes – sastrugi,
bitter care, crevasses,
Ninnis and his dog-team.

The bursting sun of Wagner –
what to dramatise?
This lunar quiet, blind echoes
in a maze ... huts over the next rise?

It’s hard to say what drew me so vividly to Mawson at that time in my life. It doesn’t sound as if he was a particularly nice man. He lacked the magnetic personality of a Shackleton, or even the oily charm of a Captain Scott.

Their adventures had fascinated me for years. The first time I read Roland Huntford’s epoch-making dual biography of Scott and Amundsen (adapted for television in the mid 1980s as The Last Place on Earth), I knew I had to know more about them, about that whole era of doomed adventuring, man-hauled sledges, ponies, dog-teams, pemmican and hoosh.

There was something Manichaean about it: larger-than-life personalities in stark relief, in black and white, against a backdrop of absolute inhumanity. Heroes and villains: Scott and Amundsen. But then it turned out Scott had been the villain, Amundsen the hero all along … Scott and Shackleton ditto …

It will be generally admitted that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man
– E. M. Forster, Howards End (London, 1910)

11.30 pm: … Will the hangar stick it? Will the screens stand the strain? It is indeed difficult to understand how air can flow so swiftly
– 17th May 1912

Let’s not blame Strauss – this landscape of the Moon
was not dreamed up by Ludendorff or Haig.
The wind cuts wires, wears down the planet’s skin.

Making a “beautiful noise” is not so easy
– the screech of amateurs offends the air.
(how can it move so fast ... relentlessly?)

Some day the guns will be silenced; not so the howl
of the “perpetual anticyclone” of Adélie ...
King George’s land – acceptance with a scowl.

The new land east of the Mertz glacier we have received his Majesty’s gracious permission to name King George V. land
– 1914

I guess the problem with my poem was that, while I had a fascination with the subject of Antarctica: the white, untrodden page of the plateau; the problematic (yet voluminous) literature of the golden age, I had (as yet) no theory of the place.

I’d never been there, obviously: and neither have I been invited to visit since (just as well, considering some of the banalities which have been perpetrated by that “Artists in Antarctica” scheme). Like so many others, I liked to read about it, but I didn’t know what it meant.

Somehow the poem’s equations with similarly inimical World War One trench landscapes, or with Strauss’s Four Last Songs, written on the brink of death, seemed too pious and touching for the grim realities of the place. What was missing, I finally realized, was sex.

Very soft shifting snow, or else I would have done better
– Mawson, 22nd January 1913

You see, my love, this disk of polished steel
and Mawson’s Antarctic Notes
aren’t far apart.
amongst those here at Commonwealth Bay are a number of the very type of men who have made Great Britain what she is, and Europe what she is, and will, I venture to think, – make Heaven out of Hell
– 3rd May 1912

Too late, now, for revision –
Four Last Songs composed
on the abyss.

What do you see when face to face …
with nothing? Who’s to say
except our pal?
The tent is closing in by weight of snow and is about coffin size now
– 25th January 1913

So let’s just listen ­– something there that’s
notes of a man
refusing to lie down
in the soft snow.

Trust in Providence and my crampons
– 3rd February 1913

Both sexually and socially the polar explorer must make up his mind to be starved. To what extent can hard work, or what may be called dramatic imagination, provide a substitute? Compare our thoughts on the march; our food dreams at night; the primitive way in which the loss of a crumb of biscuit may give a lasting sense of grievance. Night after night I bought big buns and chocolate at a stall on the island platform at Hatfield station, but always woke before I got a mouthful to my lips; some companions who were not so highly strung were more fortunate, and ate their phantom meals.
– Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World (1922): p.596.

Cherry-Garrard’s book is franker and less “official” in its tone than virtually any other memoir from that period. It’s interesting, though, how quickly he heads off the subject of sex and moves onto food – in a rather disconcertingly sensual way, though. You don’t have to be a Freudian to read that reference to “big buns and chocolate” with a certain amount of suspicion.

Where, after all, are the women in all these tales of heroic derring-do? Ursula Le Guin tried to write them in, a long time later, in her 1982 story called “Sur,” about an expedition to the South Pole by a group of South American women in 1909, two years before Amundsen and Scott. There’s a certain defiance in that, but it’s hard to see it as addressing the central issue of sensory deprivation referred to above by Cherry-Garrard.

The strange, rather romanticised longings of these early Antarctic travellers come up in the visions and dreams they report, from time to time, in their otherwise prosaic diaries and sledging journals. Mawson specifically addressed his own journal notes to his far-off fiancée, Paquita Delprat, in Australia. It’s hard to believe, though, that at least some of the men wouldn’t have developed pashes on one another, like fags and prefects at an English Public School (or seamen in the Royal Navy, for that matter – what was that old crack about “Rum, sodomy and the lash”?)

Captain Scott in particular clearly had a fetish for strong, lower-class seamen – hence his (otherwise inexplicable) choice of Seaman Evans for the South Polar party; hence, too, his preference for toadies and sycophants to truth-tellers on his doomed expedition.

When I started to write a story about Antarctica, then, I knew from the beginning that the atmosphere of it would be strongly homoerotic, though the point would be to infuse it with longing for any type of human contact in this “desert inaccessible / Under the shade of melancholy” … snowdrifts.

That discovery was the germ of my novel Nights with Giordano Bruno, published by Alan Brunton’s Bumper Books in late 2000: a text made up of a series of interlocking stories set in extreme environments, one of which was this set of “Scenes from an Antarctic Journal.”

The Heart of the Snow

No-one was guilty of an elaborate toilet, water being a scarce commodity. There were adherents of the snow-wash theory, but these belonged to an earlier and warmer epoch of our history … Laurence tried an early morning bath which was the last voluntary dip attempted by anyone.

Their bodies look so white as they rub them down with snow. The faces, hands, rough, brown with weather, work – wrinkled as mummies; but their limbs are pure and smooth as alabaster. There is a little party of four or five who run out every week or so into the wind to cleanse their limbs with cold fingers of snow. Since my immersion in the bay, I have felt no temptation to join them.
It was necessary, of course – the packing case had to be recovered, and you cannot ask a man to do what you will not do yourself. I stripped off all my clothes (God knows that was hard enough in itself), and trod gingerly down to the shore. Then plunged in, as fast as I could.
The water burned like liquid fire. It was so cold I was almost beyond feeling – layers and layers of compression and pain. I had thought that I would be numb in an instant, but there is a numbing pain within the numbness, and a greater pain, an agony of the larger organs, within that. I was at full stretch to reach that wretched case, cursing as hard as I could to keep my brain alive, language the enemy of ice. Oh, and when I put my head under I thought it would explode, blood rushing to every corner of the skin to buoy it up against this unheard-of enemy. I reached the slippery bottom – a moment’s panic before I grasped the case (which I had located already with my feet), then a mighty pull up to the waiting hands above. Some of them seized hold of me and pulled me up. And then I was being rubbed down with rough towels, and brandy in the mouth, and I was putting my clothes on as fast as I ever have, faster than with that whore in Melbourne, faster than on the morning I woke up too late for my biology final.
It was the wrong packing case, of course.
Afterwards, my teeth rattled so that I thought they would never stop, that they would ricochet out of my head and keep chattering along the ground. My head felt swollen to bursting point, and ached for hours afterwards, while my breathing was as compacted as on a high mountain peak – Erebus, with the Prof. After that, every time I scratched myself and dreamed of a hot bath and clean towels, I thought of the slimy waters of the bay – that anti-creation of the cold – and contented myself with my warm bag.
Their limbs are so white, though, as they frolic and horseplay in the snow. Laurence is prancing about like a schoolboy – he practically is a schoolboy; a clean-limbed lad fresh out from England. The older Swiss, Filippo, tries to match him, such Alpine intensity in his determination to be merry and sportive. Can’t they see that it is too cold for that? They don’t seem to care, shrunken pricks bouncing around between their legs as they swing their arms to and fro, embracing the wind as a lover.
Funny, really, these pashes that grow up down here – as at a girl’s boarding school. Those two are friends beyond all expectation. One young, impetuous, the other gnarled and worldly wise. What do they find to talk about? Once I overheard Laurence trying out his Italian on the older man– something about la tua mano è gelida – and the other laughing that deep, troll-like guffaw of his, half-swallowed in the throat, a kind of ghostly chuckle echoing from caverns below. A crevasse laugh. Laurence was ashamed and took some time to come round after that. I notice these things, must do, for the good of the expedition.
I think that these should be the two who come with me on the inland run. The main reason is the fact that they know the dogs so much better than anyone else, having come out with them on the outward voyage, but it is also because there is something fascinating in their absorption with each other – a kind of strength which I think will buoy us up when we reach the plateau.

I knew, of course, that my hero could not be Mawson.

Roland Huntford’s rather mild (in retrospect) set of criticisms of Captain Scott: i.e. that he was a capricious and inefficient leader (by comparison with Shackleton, at any rate) and pretty ignorant about Polar travel (by contrast with those thoroughly professional Norwegians, Nansen and Amundsen), had been greeted with howls of execration a few years earlier.

Any suggestion that Mawson was gay, or that any of the men of any of these expeditions indulged in sexual antics or even allowed themselves to fantasise about it excessively was, I knew well, a recipe for disaster. Antarctica retains this curious reputation for being “clean” (its alleged emptiness being, in that respect, probably as delusive a fata morgana as Melville’s “whiteness of the whale.”).

My hero, then, though he shares many of Mawson’s experiences and ideas, is emphatically not the sainted Sir Douglas Mawson. Nor are my “Laurence” and “Filippo” to be confused with the real Ninnis and Mertz of the 1912 expedition.

As usual the food ration was reduced. This caused us to have more than ordinarily vivid dreams. I happened to be awake one night when Laurence was sledging in imagination, vociferously shouting, “Hike, hike,” to the dogs.

Last night I had the strangest dream so far. The last crevasse Laurence fell into was the deepest to date. He was roped to the sledge, but it took us quite some time to get him up onto the surface, and by then he was chilled to the bone. Even out in the wind on the lip of the precipice we were better off – constant activity does that for you. Down there, though, he suffered that death of the extremities that comes from inanition.
We put up the tent and stripped him off, and Filippo climbed into his bag with him. The two bodies were as close as lovers, and all of a sudden I felt jealous. I wanted to be in there with him, holding his white limbs close; the Swiss seemed to me to be an interloper. Of course I said nothing. What was there to say? There is no beastliness between the two of them, I feel sure of that – else they would be more guarded, less open in their affection. The beastliness is all in my head.
I lay awake for some time, listening to the wind, which is unusual for me, for any of us. Normally we are asleep as soon as the bags become truly warm. I lay there, as I say, and after a time I thought I heard a voice outside the tent. I looked over at the other two, but they were fast asleep in each other’s arms.
I could not distinguish words, but it sounded like a woman’s voice. Still in my bag, I crawled over to the flap. We lace it very firm, so it took me a little time to get the knots disentangled. I looked out – it was light, but I could see nothing: just the whistling arrows of wind polishing the snow-scales
The next thing, I was outside the tent. The voice was no longer audible, but I was walking through the drifts, somehow unaffected by the wind. By now I knew it was a dream, but my curiosity had begun to grow; I felt there was something to discover there about our expedition. Something of the greatest importance. I looked down to see that I was dressed only in trousers and shirt, but I felt no cold. I was as free and natural as on a summer’s day at home.
On and on I walked in the bright slanted sunlight, the visibility better than I have ever seen it on this godforsaken stretch of coast, until I saw a black mark appear in the distance. Shackleton, I thought. He’s made it at last. I could almost see the Boss in front of me, but then the mist blew in and I was cut off from view.
I stopped, for I know how futile it is to walk in the fog, and saw without surprise that there were little flowers around my feet, little yellow flowers; and there was a naked girl lying among them. It was she, again, of course – but now the long red scar was gone, replaced by unblemished skin.
“Do you know me?” she asked, and it was the voice I had been hearing, the voice which had summoned me from the tent. “Yes, I know you,” I replied; and at that moment it was true. I knew who she was, and what she was doing there, though I seem to have forgotten it again now. “Come and join me,” she said, and I was kissing her, kissing her beautiful red lips, pale with cold, holding her lissom body in my arms. I was fucking her, fucking her long and hard – not like in Melbourne, but with a perfection of pleasure.
And then I realised it was Laurence I was holding so hard, whose smooth young boy’s body I was caressing, whose lips were fixed to mine. It seemed perfect to me. For that moment I was an animal, not a man: we were two seals, swimming in the translucent cathedral of the ice; we were terns, spiralling above the ice-floes. I drove in and out of him as the girl’s voice kept whispering in my ear, “This is the Heart of the Snow; this is the home you have been seeking.”
And I was back again.
It didn’t seem like a dream, but real. When I woke up back in my bag, I was convinced that I had been outside, and in fact got up to check that the ties were really closed. The other two were sleeping just as I had left them, and there were no voices.
Such visions are natural enough. We never speak of it, but quite often during the day I am sure that there is someone else with us, usually the girl, but sometimes a more shadowy figure. I had not been consciously thinking of Shackleton, but of course he is always more or less in my mind.
As for the transformation of the girl into young Laurence, I think it would be wrong to place too much stock in it. So far from women, it is natural that I should feel strange. The same has happened with me on the sporting field before, but it means no more than that – rough comradeship, mutual esteem and affection. I refuse to see it as more than that.

The point of my novel as a whole was to contrast the vivid fantasy worlds of my protagonist – self-identified with the Renaissance scientific (or was it black magical?) martyr Giordano Bruno – and set (respectively) on a space station in the outer solar system, a raft in the mid-Atlantic, an archaeological dig in the Jordanian desert, and an Antarctic expedition, with the strangeness of his actual surroundings in late 1990s Auckland.

As Nights with Giordano Bruno becomes more of an historical record of that time and place, I can feel a certain levelling-out taking place: what seemed, then, almost excessively eccentric in my description of the sheer weirdness of the city has become more everyday and acceptable. The other parts of the narrative retain their ability to startle and shock, though, I suspect.

The book was arranged as a series of pages, out of sequence, so that the continuation of any particular story would have to be hunted for (though I have to confess that there are certain gaps in the continuity). This did have the effect of forcing readers to admit their desire to know what happened next, though I think you can see – when they’re extracted like this and laid side by side – that the various sections of “Scenes from an Antarctic Journal” rely mostly on allusion and suggestiveness to give their sense of a doomed and hopeless journey towards death (a prevailing fantasy of – especially – English travellers on the great ice continent).[2]

The other main ingredient in the story was an Inuit folktale which I read (I think) in one of the many anthologies of such stories in the Rangitoto College school library. It was called “The Heart of the Snow”, and told of a young warrior’s chance discovery of a magical country inside the snowstorm, with sunlit fields and a beautiful maiden who calls to him by name. I’ve never been able to find the story again, but my memory of it remains vivid. It became, in fact, one of the dominant motifs of the book.

Dark Depths

As there is little chance of my reaching human aid alive I greatly regret my inability to set out the coast line as surveyed for the 300 miles we travelled and the notes on glaciers and ice formations, etc.

It is strange to wake in the arms of a dead man. A girl, yes, though even there one tosses and turns so as to connect with the other only at a flank, a leg, a touch. And not dead, no. Just that deadness of not wanting to touch again, that early morning shame.
Here, though, Filippo was wholly pressed against me, his mouth lolling open to show me the stub of his tongue. He was not yet stiff, and even his body still had some warmth in it – warmth robbed, I fear, from my own scant store.
I began to pull myself slowly from the bag, afraid to hurry, afraid that once I let the full strength of my revulsion show, I would tear the precious fabric to shreds. He stank like shit, like some animal, but I had to pull myself from him as delicately as a lover, afraid to wake the beloved as you start on the journey away.
Once before this, in the long days retreating from the crevasse, I had had to clean him, when he filled his trousers inadvertently, and this time, too, I could not let him go down into the cold ice unwashed. He was a brute, but, in the end, a loved and loving brute.
The bag I turned inside out before I strapped it onto the sledge. I could not imagine using it again, but knew that by nightfall I would crawl into it with the gratitude of a slave excused a beating. His own bag I used for grave-shroud, and – while I could not dig deep enough for my satisfaction – I laid him in the eternal ice with sorrow. There he will lie, unchanged, his mouth half-open (I could not close it) to show his few good teeth, that insinuating, caressing tongue silenced for good. There he will lie, more imperishable than Pharaoh, as the years turn and the centuries gather over his head, and his memories, his memories of that village Laura, her cruel ways, and that one fleet glimpse of a furry slit attenuate and perish in the cold.
I said none of that above his body, though. No, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. I read from the Bible, from the Song of Songs.
How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince’s daughter! The joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.
Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor; thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.

Oh, God! How beautiful were the white feet of Laurence, that son of London-town …
Hysterical. I am becoming hysterical. I can see the two of them to either side, poor rejected Filippo, and that svelte young Laurence. They are anxious to depart, and I am delaying them. They help me attach the sail – poles, ropes, steel runners – for easy sledging with the wind, for all the dogs have been eaten (and wept over) long since.
Thy breasts are like two huskies that are twins; thy eyes like two black noses.

The virgin of the snows is a whore, a whore. I fucked her back in Melbourne. Is that why she comes back now to tease me and lead me on? The two boys have disappeared again, but no doubt are somewhere back there in the snowy distance. She alone runs on before me, her long red scar again visible, circling and circling her slender waist, the curl of ribs below her pretty clavicles, twin buttocks like jewels, cut-glass goblets full of liquor.
Will she have me again? Her furs, her masks are gone. I follow her through the ivory snows, my horn of plenty, of desire; follow her false dreams of satiety, of heaps of wheat caught up in the raw wind, till they turn back to blizzard, mere dull hoosh.
If it were not for … the maps, the expedition? No, for my two comrades, the red scar, the miracle of the ice, my black – toes? No, for those two cold graves, breasts like two young seals that are twins, I could not go on. If it were not for … the sails, the dogs (all eaten), my porridge of salty tears, snow-bathing boys, skidding to darkness, I should be quite lost. If they did not aid me, I should lie down and die.
If you do not help me, I shall become the ice.

What else? I’m not sure that I’ve really succeeded in accounting for my continuing taste for books about Antarctica. For a while I felt that writing Giordano Bruno had inoculated me against a return to that particular fantasy landscape, but now the yen has come back back stronger than ever. I did enjoy reading Bill Manhire’s 2004 anthology The Wide White Page: Writers Imagine Antarctica, and I do see a lot in that idea of the great southern continent as – almost literally – a tabula rasa for the imagination.

Poe, Lovecraft, Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson and even, more recently, our own Craig Harrison (Days of Starlight, 1988) have written memorably strange fictions set in those forbidding expanses. Why it continues to fascinate all of us after all these years I don’t really know. In the end, I suppose, like the young warrior in the story, my desire to stay is stronger than my longing to understand.

Antarctic Mini-Bibliography:

[I’ve marked with an asterisk those bought by me in Palmerston North in 1991]

  1. Roald Amundsen (1872-1928)
  2. Richard E. Byrd (1888-1957)
  3. Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959)
  4. Edmund Hillary (1919-2008)
  5. Frank Hurley (1885-1962)
  6. David Lewis (1917-2002)
  7. Douglas Mawson (1882-1958)
  8. Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912)
  9. Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)
  10. Frank Worsley (1872-1943)
  11. Miscellaneous

    Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (1872-1928)

  1. *Amundsen, Roald. My Life as an Explorer. London: William Heinemann, 1927.

  2. Huntford, Roland. Scott and Amundsen. 1979. A Weidenfeld Paperback. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993.

  3. Huntford, Roland, ed. The Amundsen Photographs. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1987.

  4. Rear Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, Jr. (1888-1957)

  5. Byrd, Admiral Richard E. Alone. 1938. Queen Anne Press. London: Macdonald & Co., 1987.

  6. Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959)

  7. Cherry-Garrard, Apsley. The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913. 1922. Foreword by George Seaver. 1965. Introduction by Paul Theroux. Picador Travel Classics. London: Pan Macmillan Ltd., 1994.

  8. Sir Edmund Percival Hillary (1919-2008)

  9. Hillary, Edmund, & Vivian Fuchs. The Crossing of Antarctica: the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1955-58. 1958. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960.

  10. James Francic [Frank] Hurley (1885-1962)

  11. * Hurley, Frank. Argonauts of the South: Being a Narrative of Voyagings and Polar Seas and Adventures in the Antarctic with Sir Douglas Mawson and Sir Ernest Shackleton. The Knickerbocker Press. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925.

  12. Antarctic Eyewitness: Charles F. Laseron’s South with Mawson & Frank Hurley’s Shackleton’s Argonauts. 1947 & 1948. Introduction by Tim Bowden. 1999. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 2000.

  13. David Henry Lewis (1917-2002)

  14. Lewis, David. Ice Bird: The First Single-Handed Voyage to Antarctica. 1975. Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1977.

  15. Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958)

  16. * Mawson, Sir Douglas. The Home of the Blizzard: The Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. 2 vols. London: William Heinemann, 1915.

  17. Mawson, Douglas. The Home of the Blizzard: The Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. 1915. Abridged Popular Edition, 1930. Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 1996.

  18. * Mawson, Douglas. Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries. Ed. Fred Jacka & Eleanor Jacka. 1988. North Sydney: Susan Haynes / Allen & Unwin, 1991.

  19. Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912)

  20. * Scott, Captain Robert F. The Voyage of the ‘Discovery’. 1905. Cheap Edition. London: John Murray, 1929.

  21. Scott, Captain Robert F. Scott’s Last Expedition. 2 vols. Ed. Leonard Huxley. Preface by Clements R. Markham. Macmillan’s Empire Library. London: Macmillan & Co., 1913.

  22. * Evans, Admiral Sir Edward R. G. R. South with Scott. With 31 Photographs by Herbert Ponting. London: Collins, n.d.

  23. Huntford, Roland. The Last Place on Earth. 1979. Rev. ed. 1983. London: Pan Books, 1985.

  24. * Ponting, Herbert G. The Great White South, or With Scott in the Antarctic: Being an Account of Experiences with Captain Scott’s South Pole Expedition and of the Nature Life of the Antarctic. Introduction by Lady Scott. 1921. London: Duckworth & Co, 1924.

  25. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922)

  26. * Shackleton, Sir Ernest. The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909. 1909. Popular Edition. London: William Heinemann, 1910.

  27. * Shackleton, Sir Ernest. South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition. 1919. London: William Heinemann, 1921.

  28. Shackleton, Sir Ernest. South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917. 1919. Ed. Peter King. London: Century Ltd., 1991.

  29. Huntford, Roland. Shackleton. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1985.

  30. * Joyce, Ernest E. Mills. The South Polar Trail: The Log of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Introduction by Hugh Robert Mill. London: Duckworth, 1929.

  31. * Marr, Scout, of the Quest Expedition. Into the Frozen South. 1923. London: Cassell & Co., 1923.

  32. Tyler-Lewis, Kelly. The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.

  33. Frank Arthur Worsley (1872-1943)

  34. * Worsley, F. A. Shackleton's Boat Journey. The Nautilus Library, 19. 1931. London: Philip Allan & Co. n.d.

  35. Worsley, F. A. Shackleton's Boat Journey. Narrative Introduction by Sir Edmund Hillary. New York: W. W. Norton, 1977.

  36. Miscellaneous

  37. Harrison, Craig. Days of Starlight. 1988. Auckland: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988.

  38. Kirwan, L. P. A History of Polar Exploration. 1959. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962.

  39. Manhire, Bill, ed. The Wide White Page: Writers Imagine Antarctica. Wellington: Victoria University Press, 2004.

  40. Spufford, Francis. I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination. London: Faber, 1996.

  41. Trewby, Mary, ed. Antarctica: An Encyclopaedia from Abbott Ice Shelf to Zooplankton. Firefly Books. Auckland : David Bateman Ltd., 2002.


1. For further information, see Kelly Schischka, “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dr Leslie Whetter, Mr. Weta, The Man Who Went to Antarctica and the German Spy on The Hill.” Where Will Massey Take You? Life Writing 2. Ed. Jack Ross. (Albany: Massey University, 2005): 118-25.

2. Chronicled in (among others) Francis Spufford’s excellent book I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (London: Faber, 1996).


brief 44 / 45 – Oceania (2012): 56-76.

[6364 wds].

brief 44/45 (2012)

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