The Ice and the Inland: Mawson, Flynn, and the Myth of the Frontier.

A comparative study of two frontiersmen, Douglas Mawson’s work in Antarctica (mostly 1911-14) and John Flynn, a Presbyterian minister of the Australian Inland Mission. Concentrating on the AAE (1911-14) Hains has gone through many if not all of the diaries of participants, taking special note of their books and reading, more so than any expedition I know of.

p. 11: Both of the expedition’s bases were well stocked with books. They were an essential weapon in the battle against ‘cabin fever’ during the long dark winter. Mawson brought a small library that had been donated by Campbell Mackellar and this was supplemented by the books brought by the men themselves. Some were voracious readers: each month Morton Moyes, the meteorologist of the Western Base, recorded what he read in his diary: eighty-five books between March and December 1912. He was not alone in ploughing through all of the books at his disposal; by January he remarked that ‘Literature is absolutely at zero, if any man mentions a name all the others can fill in the story in detail even to the sentences’. Apart from reading to fill in the long hours in the hut, the expeditioners also read aloud to one another after dinner, and read aloud in their tents to take their minds off the cold and misery of sledging.

There was a variety of science texts and reference books (including much-used encyclopaedias) in the expedition library, but there were also many books for pleasure: the verse of Rudyard Kipling and Robert Service; the Ingoldsby Legends (humorous Victorian ballads of chivalry and adventure); Robert Louis Stevenson; Walter Scott; Charles Dickens; Owen Wister’s The Virginian; Roosevelt’s new book African Game Trails; Alfred Tennyson, Richard Burton in East Africa, and Thomas Macaulay. The only Australian book in the official library was a collection of Australian verse.

Above all there were volumes of polar journeys, both Arctic and Antarctic. These were consulted for their insights into the practical difficulties of polar life, but they were also read as introductions to the spirit of polar exploration. Such books embodied a rich legacy of polar exploration that reached back into the early Victorian stories of the lost Franklin expedition, and continued into the nineteenth century as British, Scandinavian, Canadian and American expeditions pushed closer to the North Pole. By the turn of the century the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration was just beginning, and the Arctic explorers of the mid-nineteenth century had become the elders of the exploration establishment in London, which centered on the Royal Geographical Society. Most famous of all was Clements Markham, former Arctic expeditioner, naval martinet, and patron of Robert Scott. The ‘heroic age’ in Antarctica coincided too with the Arctic journeys of Fridtjof Nansen and the American rivals Robert Peary and Frederick Cook.

p. 12-13, talks of the boyish camaraderie of the young explorers, citing George Henry’s popular stories as well as Peter Pan representing the world of boyhood: Mawson’s men enjoyed reading Mark Twain’s stories in their isolated hut, reveling in the tales of freewheeling boyhood. Perhaps they felt a thrill of kinship with Tom Sawyer and his friends, enjoying such ‘glorious sport to be feasting in that wild free way of the virgin forest of an unexplored and uninhabited island, far from the haunts of men…they said they would never return to civilization’.

p. 14-15, Hains describes the misogynistic tendencies of these isolated young men reflected in some of the books available to them: Kipling, Robert Service, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Virginibus Puerisque and its assault on marriage, yet all these adventures would make men of boys and “cleanse previous ‘unmanliness’.

p. 19-20, on Service’s novel The Trail of ’98 and London’s Call of the Wild as read and absorbed by the Mawson party as examples of frontier manliness and hardships conquered. She links all this to theories of racial superiority of Nordic men over tropical languor.

p. 22-23: The brutality of polar exploration was hardly a secret, and was readily evident in the extensive polar library carried by the AAE. [Hains cites Franklin, Greely, and the Belgica as examples.]

p. 25, Laserone, stuck in his tent, reading The Pickwick Papers, castigated the environment:
God damn this country…held up again…Blowing a hurricane with drift as think as pea-soup, we are getting wetter and wetter…Talk about exploring, all we have seen so far is a few hundred yards of uneven snow surface stretching at a low grade upwards to the South…or else the inside of a small tent.

p. 26—Mawson wrote in his diary in April 1913 that John Close was nominated on a short outing to return to the hut to make lunch: ‘on their return,’ he recalled, they ‘found no lunch and Close reading The Strenuous Life’, Teddy Roosevelt’s manifesto of frontier vitalism.

p. 27, from Archibald McLean’s diary of August 1913: Conversation often flags for want of ideas, and only for our fine collection of books (encyclopaedia etc) I don’t know how we should get on…. But one grows tired of reading and though I am lucky to have such fine companionship there is a limit in some ways to social intercourse.

p. 34. Hains argues that the Mawson party’s reactions to the landscape “was inspired by their literary adventures during the long winter months while waiting for good sledging weather to return in spring.” But she goes on to say those reactions were contradictory between the sublime and the ordinary or monotonous.

p. 62: The cult of hunting was not confined to the British Empire of course. Teddy Roosevelt was the epitome of the New World hunter, and his journeys to Africa, South America, and the American West were all part of the frontier masculinity he sought to represent. His African Game Trails was published in 1910, just a year before the AAE began, and it was included in the expedition’s library, as was his 1901 manifesto, The Strenuous Life.” [Obviously, Antarctic hunting was bound to disappoint, the animals being almost comic and easy to kill. No real manliness there.]

p. 70—Hains suggests that natural history was the bridge between heroic manliness and the scientific emphasis of the AAE.

p. 81 to 169 are on the Australian Inland frontier.

p. 173, Hains sees the perpetuation of myths of the wilderness frontier as myths for white settlers, following some of the racial theories that they espoused. The technical advances in wireless and flight helped keep the ideal of the solitary wilderness alive while making the borders more porous. Eventually tourist travel to these frontiers again fired the imagination about the frontier, bringing travelers both to the frontiers and back to the metropolis. This vision of metropolis and frontier is the legacy of Mawson and Flynn: a nation characterized by ‘a wild precision, a strict disorder’ (p. 176).