Mawson is certainly one of the legendary explorers of the Heroic Age, one who participated in a number of important expeditions, starting with Shackleton’s Nimrod journey. His expeditions were also among those best supplied with books and other reading matter.
Volume I: p. 135. The domestic setting of their Hut: OUR hearth and home was the living Hut and its focus was the stove. Kitchen and stove were indissolubly linked, and beyond their pale was a wilderness of hanging clothes, boots, finnesko, mitts and what not, bounded by tiers of bunks and blankets, more hanging clothes and dim photographs between the frost-rimed cracks of the wooden walls.
One might see as much in the first flicker of the acetylene through a maze of hurrying figures, but as his eyes grew accustomed to the light, the plot would thicken: books orderly and disorderly, on bracketed shelves, cameras great and small in motley confusion, guns and gamophone-horn, serpentine yards of gas-tubing, sewing machines, a micro- scope, rows of pint-mugs, until—thud! he has obstructed a wild-eyed messman staggering into the kitchen with a box of ice.
p. 146: The mania for celebration became so great that reference was frequently made to the almanac. During one featureless interval, the anniversary of the First Lighting of London by Gas was observed with extraordinary éclat.
p. 146-48: Throughout the winter months, work went on steadily even after dinner, and hours of leisure were easy to fill. Some wrote up their diaries, played games, or smoked and yarned; others read, developed photos, or imitated the weary cook and went to bed. The MacKellar Library, so called after the donor, was a boon to all, and the literature of polar exploration was keenly followed and discussed. Taste in literature varied, but among a throng of eighteen, the majority of whom were given to expressing their opinions in no uncertain terms—there were no rigid conventions in Adélie Land—every book had a value in accordance with a common standard.
There was not a dissenting voice to the charm of Lady Betty across the Water [Charles N. Williamson], and the reason for this was a special one. The sudden breath of a world of warmth and colour, richness and vivacity and astute, American freshness amid the somewhat grim attractions of an Antarctic winter was too much for every one. Lady Betty, in the realm of bright images, had a host of devoted admirers. Her influence spread beyond the Hut to the plateau itself. There men went sledging, and to shelter themselves from the rude wind fashioned an ice-cavern, which, on account of its magical hues and rare luster, could be none other than ‘Aladdin’s Cave.’ Lady Betty found her hero in a fairy grotto of the same name.
Lorna Doone [R.D. Blackmore], on the other hand, was liked by many. Still there were those who thought that John Ridd was a fool, a slow, obtuse rustic, and so on, while Lorna was too divine and angelic for this life.
The War of the Carolinas [Meredith Nicholson] took the Hut by storm, but it was a ‘nine days’ wonder’ and left no permanent impression on the thinking community. Mostly, the story was voted delightfully funny, but very foolish and farcical after all. A few exclusive critics predicted for it a future.
Then there was The Trail of ’98 [Robert W. Service]. For power and blunt realism there was nothing like it, but the character of the hero was torn in the shreds of debate. There was general agreement on two points: that the portrayal of the desolate Alaskan wild had a touch of ‘home,’ and that the heroine was a ‘true sport.’
All those who had ever hauled on the main braces, sung the topsail-halliard, chanty, learned the intricate Matty Walker, the bowline-and-a-bite and a crowd of kindred knots, had a warm spot for any yarn by [William Wymark] Jacobs. Night after night the storeman held the audience with the humorous escapes of Ginger Dick, Sam and Peter Russet.
And lastly, there was a more serious, if divided interest in Virginibus Puerisque [Stevenson], Marcus Aurelius, The Unveiling of Lhassa [Edmund Candler]—but the list is rather interminable.
p. 209, presentation without rehearsal of an opera, “The Washerwoman’s Secret,” by Laseron: Part of the Hut was curtained off as a combined green-room and dressing room; the kitchen was the stage; footlights twinkled on the floor; the acetylene limelight beamed down from the rafters, while the audience crowded by a form behind the dining table, making tactless remarks and continually eating chocolate.
p. 260, on the death of Mertz: I read the Burial Service over Xavier this afternoon. As there is little chance of my reaching human aid alive, I greatly regret inability at the moment to set out the detail of coastline met with for three hundred miles travelled and observations of glacier and ice-formations, etc.; the most of which latter are, of course, committed to my head.
p. 312, the chapter on the Eastern Coastal party (by C. T. Madigan) describes a November sledging journey with a party of four: The day passed slowly in our impatience. We took turns at reading [Owen Wister’s] The Virginian, warmed by a primus stove which in a land of plenty we could afford to keep going. Later in the afternoon the smokers found that a match would not strike, and the primus went out. Then the man reading said that he felt unwell and could not see the words. Soon several others commented on feeling ‘queer,’ and two in the sleeping-bags had fallen into a drowsy slumber. On this evidence even the famous Watson would have ‘dropped to it,’ but it was some time before it dawned on us that the oxygen had given out….
p. 315: Our library consisted of An Anthology of Australian Verse, Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Hints to Travellers in two volumes [a publication of the Royal Geographical Society]. McLean spent much of the time reading the Anthology and I started Vanity Fair. The latter beguiled many weary hours in that tent during the journey. I read a good deal aloud and McLean read it afterwards.
p. 337: Every one was tired that night, and our prayer to the Sleep Merchant in the book of Australian verse was for:
Twenty gallons of balmy sleep,
Dreamless, and deep, and mild,
Of the excellent brand you used to keep
When I was a little child.
Volume II: p. 69: For a few hours on the 8th there was a lull and the store of ice was replenished, but the 9th and 10th were again spent indoors, repairing and refitting tents, poles and other sledging gear during the working hours, and reading or playing chess and bridge in the leisure time….
Harrisson carved an excellent set of chessmen, distinguishing the " black " ones by a stain of permanganate of potash. Bridge was the favourite game all through the winter.…
Divine service was held every Sunday, Moyes and I taking it in turn. There was only one hymn book amongst the party, which made it necessary to write out copies of the hymns each week.
p. 74: In addition to recreations like chess, cards and dominoes, a competition was started for each member to write a poem and short article, humorous or otherwise, connected with the Expedition. These were all read by the authors after dinner one evening and caused considerable amusement. One man even preferred to sing his poem. These literary efforts were incorporated in a small publication known as "The Glacier Tongue."
p. 140: At the beginning of April, McLean laid the foundations of The Adelie Blizzard which recorded our life for the next seven months. It was a monthly publication, and contributions were invited from all on every subject but the wind. Anything from light doggerel to heavy blank verse was welcomed, and original articles, letters to the Editor, plays, reviews on books and serial stories were accepted within the limits of our supply of foolscap paper and type-writer ribbons.
It was the first Antarctic publication which could boast a real cable column of news of the day. Extracts from the April number were read after dinner one evening and excited much amusement. An ‘Ode to Tobacco’ was very popular, and seemed to voice the enthusiasm of our small community, while ‘The Evolution of Women’ introduced us to a once-familiar subject…. The Editor was later admitted by wireless to the Journalist’s Association (Sydney).
Many have asked the question, “What did you do to fill in the time during the second year?
The duties of cook and night-watchman came to each man once every week, and meteorological and magnetic observations went on daily. They were able to devote a good deal of time to working up the scientific work accomplished during the sledging journeys. The wireless watches kept two men well occupied, and in spare moments the chief recreation was reading. There was a fine supply of illustrated journals and periodicals which had arrived by the Aurora, and with papers like the Daily Graphic, Illustrated London News, Sphere and Punch, we tried to make up arrears of a year in exile. The ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ was a great boon, being always ‘the last word’ in the settlement of a debated point….
p. 173: There were several cookery books for reference and each week saw the appearance of a new pudding, in each instance prefaced by the boast: This is going to be the best pudding ever turned out on the island! The promise was not always made good.
p. 256: The pack was so loosely disposed, that the ship made a straight course for Commonwealth Bay, steaming up to Cape Denison on the morning of December 14 to find us all eager to renew our claim on the big world up North. There was a twenty-five-knot wind and a small sea when we pulled off in the whale-boat to the ship, but, as if conspiring to give us for once a gala-day, the wind fell off, the bay became blue and placid and the sun beat down in full thawing strength on the boundless ice and snow. The Adelians, if that may be used as a distinctive title, sat on the warm deck and read letters and papers in voracious haste, with snatches of the latest intelligence from the Macquarie Islanders and the ship’s officers. No one could erase that day from the tablets of his memory.