This sledge was used in the Antarctic on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911-1914 led by the Australian explorer and geologist, Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958). The wooden sledge, hauled by dogs or men, was used to carry camping requirements, food supplies and scientific equipment on sledging journeys for many weeks over the snow and ice.
Mawson established Australia's first base for scientific and geographic discovery in Antarctica and his work was instrumental in Australia later laying claim to 42 percent of the continent as Australian territory. The AAE explored about 4000 miles (6437 km) in Adelie Land, King George V Land and Queen Mary Land. They made extensive meteorological observations from three bases including Macquarie Island and radioed them back to Melbourne as well as undertaking biological, geological and marine surveys and research. Their chief purpose differed from previous Antarctic expeditions led by Scott and Shackleton which had been based on discovery rather than exploration.
On 10 November 1913 Mawson, accompanied by Dr Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant B. (Belgrave) E.S. Ninnis, left the Cape Denison base taking three sledges and sixteen dogs. After thirty-four days of hard travelling they reached a point 315 miles (507 km) inland from the base before heading back. Tragically Ninnis was killed when he and his sledge, which was carrying most of the food, fell into a deep crevasse. On the long journey back the dogs had to be eaten and Mertz died from cold and exhaustion. Mawson struggled on alone, persistently taking his meteorological readings, and cutting his sledge in half to reduce its weight. He arrived back at base only hours after his ship the "Aurora" had left to return to Australia. Mawson remained in Antarctica with the wintering party and returned in 1914. The AAE expedition is now remembered more for this trek, in which Mawson made a remarkable and unsurpassed solo sledging journey of about 100 miles (161 km), than its scientific achievements.
This sledge is one of three in the Museum's collection from Mawson's 1911-1914 expedition. As a group they are typical of the three sledges used by Mawson on this epic journey with Mertz and Ninnis. They are a tangible and historic reminder of Australia's pioneering years in Antarctic exploration and research in the heroic era.
"Antarctica: Discovery and Exploration, 1587-1922", Exhibition Catalogue, State Library of New South Wales, 1983.
Ayres, Philip, "Mawson A Life", Melbourne University Press, Carlton, VIC, 2003.
Correspondence from Australian Museum archives.
Correspondence from Powerhouse Museum Archives.
Laseron, Charles Francis, "South With Mawson", Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1957.
Mawson, Sir Douglas, "The Home of the Blizzard : The Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914", fac. edn. Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 1996.
Wheeler, Barbara & Linda Young, 'Antarctica in museum: the Mawson collections in Australia' in "Polar Record 36 (198): 193-200 (2000).
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry