South with Mawson

First published in 1947, Laseron’s account of Mawson’s AAE is a gentle and generally optimistic account, even when describing Mawson’s perilous journey.

p. 52-53: Any personal idiosyncrasy was always seized on with great gusto. Thus [John H.] Close was a great reader of Nansen, and quoted him repeatedly. Nansen, under extreme conditions, had acquired a taste for raw seal blubber, so Close perforce had to try it, and pronounced it excellent, though we all noticed he did not tackle it again. From this grew the legend that he had an inordinate appetite, and was capable of devouring seals and penguins alive. As a result he was variously known as ‘Hollow-leg’ or ‘Terror’.

p. 55: I shall never forget the occasion, either, when we found this same [unnamed] member fast asleep with his favourite book, Roosevelt’s Strenuous Life, open on his chest.

p. 62, in a Chapter entitled “Twenty Four Hours in the Hut,” Laseron gives this description of a typical mid-winter evening: It is nine o’clock on a typical evening in midwinter. Outside the hut there is the unending shriek of the blizzard, and inside the air pulsates as the roof bends inwards beneath the pressure of the fiercest gusts. Ears are so attuned, however, that it passes unheeded. The day’s tasks are ended, and all amuse themselves in various ways. At one end of the table Bickerton, Hannam, Hunter and I are engaged in a game of bridge, while Madigan, Murphy and the Doctor look idly on. Further down the table sits Mertz, choosing a record for the gramophone, while Bage, with his favourite old pipe, its stem mended with adhesive tape, offers his advice. Stillwell is reading a book, and Close is writing something in his diary. Lying on his bunk, Whetter has his nose in a medical treatise, and on the other side of the hut Hurley, with facetious remarks, is cutting Correll’s hair, and doing a job that would cause any self-respecting barber to have a fit.

p. 78-79: We often read aloud after dinner, various members taking it in turns. Anything that appealed to one would be submitted to the general opinion, but a few books were read right through. The Trail of ’98 was one, and provoked lengthy discussions on the actions of the main characters. W. W. Jacobs was a strong favourite, and was generally entrusted to Herbert Murphy, to whose style the doings and sayings of the nightwatchman were eminently suitable. We had quite a good library. C. D. Mackellar, one of the London sponsors of the expedition and after whom the island off our base were named, had presented some hundreds of volumes which were divided among the base. These included histories of many other expeditions, north and south, and it was very interesting reading them under comparable conditions.

p. 79: …we formed the ‘Its Society for the Prevention of the Blues’, the ultimate achievement of which was no less than the production of a grand opera. Though this did not take place until the main winter months had passed, it was the culminating point of our activities and well deserves a mention in this chapter. It necessitated also an increase in our cast, and Dad, Correll and the pup, Blizzard, were roped in. Frank Stillwell became the orchestra, and Bickerton acted as the chief dresser, with a self-appointed roving character as the Village Idiot. The opera chosen for the star performance was a new one, which as yet has never been given in any of the world’s great centres. This was The Washerwoman’s Secret (Laseron), a tragedy in five acts, with a complicated and highly dramatic plot. The songs were written by the various members of the cast and memorized. Of course, there could be no rehearsals, so all conversations had, perforce, to be impromptu. [An account of the one performance follows.]