Twelve Came Back.

An account of an Australian expedition (1952-53) to Heard Island between Kerguélen Islands and the Antarctic continent, in which two of fourteen members died (one frozen, another drowned). A rather pedestrian account but there are a few interesting passages:

p. 130: Wednesday followed Tuesday’s pattern: it snowed all day so we remained indoors resting and re-reading the dog-eared selection of Reader’s Digests until we could recite certain jokes by heart.

p. 148: In July the first edition of The Heard Island Times appeared—edited by Jim Carr. Owing to the lack of a printing machine only five copies were produced; this being the maximum number of carbons that the wireless-room could accommodate at one time. All articles were by the editor himself, and even the letters from correspondents flowed from the same pen.

Next day the editorial office was flooded by answers from genuine “angry correspondents” and in view of this, the editor decided to bring out issue number two, between wireless “skeds”. Not a soul was left undisturbed by the editor’s vigorous writings. For the most part it was innocent fun until someone misinterpreted an innocent remark in a letter to the editor (author unknown) and magnified it into a sinister accusation. Starting as a joke, the situation became tense, and the expeditioner to whom the letter referred, daily became more upset.

Carr disclaimed all knowledge, and said the offending letter had been dropped into the special contribution box by a person or persons unknown…. The editor was openly accused, and we almost had a riot before the real culprit owned up: it turned out to be the best friend of the wronged party! So the whole incident was laughed off.

The newspaper, however, died a sudden death with issue number three which devoted its single page to “home-truths”. Carr slipped back into the obscurity of his world of routine “skeds”. It was a pity, because the newspaper had shown such great promise of relieving the winter gloom at Base Camp.

p. 155: Records were played constantly during meals. We drank our breakfast fruit juice to Handel’s Water Music. We had lunch with Lucia di Lammermoor and afternoon tea to Graham Bell’s original Australian jazz band. At dinner it was often Stravinsky’s Four Norwegian Moods that helped the stew down.
Over coffee Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Rhyme made us retrospective: my own thoughts drifted back to England, July and the “Proms”, the Albert Hall on a sultry summer’s evening—the perspiring penguin-attired orchestra—the effusive teenagers… I too had been one….
We boasted of a piano in the mess hut, but none of us could play a note.

p. 157: Our library was well used. [Les] Gibbney, at the end of our stay, claimed to have read every fiction book and said he had started again. Before coming south I had naturally thought that I should be able to catch up with my reading during the long winter nights. It was not until August, however, that I found time to read other than the necessary technical works, for example the Royal Geographical Society’s Hints to Travellers. But towards the end of winter, when the weather prevented outdoor activity, I managed to wade through some contemporary best-sellers—mostly escapist literature: Cruel Sea, Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Festival at Fairbridge. Often reading until 4 a.m., I finally caught up with A Brave New World, Good Companions and King Cotton, but that was the sum total of my pleasure reading for the year.

p. 157: The outside world seemed far away. At first we regularly gathered in the radio shack at night to listen to the A.B.C. or the B.B.C. overseas news broadcasts. Soon, however, the attendance dropped, and finally the broadcasts went unheard; no one was any longer interested in the sordid happenings of the outside world—except maybe the announcement that Sedgeman had won Wimbledon for Australia. We led a complete existence on Heard Island; life was too real and vital to take seriously the commonplace utterings of politicians.

p. 160: For most of us the dormitory huts were purely functional…, But for Teyssier with no work-room other than the kitchen, it was his study too. With odd pieces of timber he built a collapsible reading table; when his day’s work was over he retired to his monumental study of the Encyclopaedia Britannica…. Across the room where Borland, Ingall and I slept, chaos reigned: a shambles of clothes, books and worn-out footwear—a rag-and-bone man’s paradise.