Blizzard and Fire: A Year at Mawson, Antarctica.

This book concerns the ANARE trip to Mawson in 1959. A somehwat odd book in that it is an epistolary account of a year at an Australian base by letters to a variety of friends and relatives, interspersed with a series of newsletters ostensibly for a public audience. He does tell some exciting stories as the base commander, but his references to reading are more utiitarian than inspirational, for example the use of The Australian Pilot to find repair facilities in various places (p. 24). A discussion of Plato and death is more speculative and a rarity for this book (p. 135). However, there are some quietly meditative passages that make the book valuable and are reproduced here even though unrelated to Antarctic reading.

p. 47: We have much to do, both in the base and in the field. The childhood sense of time—immensely long days and endless months which are too interesting to be boring—is, I think about to descend on our party of twenty-three men.

p. 62-63: The intervening times will be eclipsed, whose stuff is with me now: great, slow halyards of it passing through an antarctic night where ordinary time does not exist. Here is always the time of watching, the time of waiting, the time of contemplation, the time of the little-child, time that has not been impoverished by being thought valuable.

p. 73: I sometimes find myself thinking of inside [snow] drifts as female. Their curves are voluptuous, like those of breasts and thighs; those of open drifts are taut, or chiselled stone rather than of moulded flesh.

p. 157-58, a further possibly obsessive excursus on female breasts: Then, by special request a film, Hobson’s Choice, was screened in the recreation room…under the watchful eye of Anita Ekbert, supreme amongst the pin-ups in this year of grace.

The contemporary fashion of emphasizing the breasts of beautiful women, though generally acceptable to Eros, sometimes offends Athene. I suppose it is all a matter of proportion. It is the motherhood of Raeburn’s or Romney’s frank matrons that is stressed, their fulfilment rather than there unspecified promise. Today’s taste seems much healthier, however, than the curious cult of a few years ago—consequent upon which the present reaction was inevitable—of suppressing of all the mammary character of women’s bodies…. Doubtless we should all return, from time to time, to the liberty, dignity, and equality of human nakedness.

In the end, I think, some of the men were not quite sure what they were celebrating, but were delighted to be doing so, and the evening was completed with tales sliding along the usual grooves of brief encounters, great expectations, maiden virtue, and original sin. The world, starting and ending with Mawson, is put right, but always by means far outside our control. Casanova swops tales with Mandeville, and Cellini with Cyrano de Bergerac, but not in so many words.

p. 209, in a blizzard with roaring winds: is there calmness and sunshine anywhere in the world? Five men, achieving a relationship that can never be destroyed.

I’m going back to the pit. Has anyone seen Almayer’s Folly?

No, but you can have Rum Doodle, if you like.