Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica.

Recounts a summer 2002-03 resupply trip, combining diary entries, with reflections, historical discursions, and thoughtful reporting on the trip. Some reading tidbits:

p. 37: Albatrosses are surface feeders and swoop at any floating scrap, particularly if it is white. Dr. Edward Wilson on Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, Discovery, on examining the stomach of an albatross, found in it ‘an undigested Roman Catholic tract with a portrait of Cardinal Vaughan.’

p. 48-49 reports on reading of meteorologist Morton Moyes on Frank Wild’s western party (Mawson): For ten weeks Moyes was left completely alone with his weather instruments at base camp, feeling ‘like the last leaf of a branch’. Between reading the wind gauge and the snow gauge, he did some other reading: Ernest Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic, the meteorological notes of the British and Scottish expeditions, Thomas Babington Macaulay’s History of England, Robert Browning’s poetry, Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the Harmsworth History of the World, Francis Bacon’s Essays and Archibald Geikie’s Geology. He wrote in his diary: ‘I’d like a good novel for a change, the shops here don’t stock them.’

p. 54: passage on books cited by Robert Cushman Murphy, taken from Logbook for Grace.

p. 59: Grytviken had its own library in 1912 when Murphy visited South Georgia.

p. 119: on Mawson’s return expedition in 1930: “One experienced expeditioner lived with one hand constantly on Mawson’s book of the 1911-14 expedition, The Home of the Blizzard, ‘read to produce the answer to any question at a moment’s notice’. ‘These old explorers die hard’, reflected [Stuart] Campbell. ‘I wonder if we’ll all live in the past like this in the years to come. I hope not.’ Here they were on Earth’s final frontier, already steeped in the past.”

p. 130: during the post WWII jockeying for Antarctic territorial claims, Australia mounted a secret program to claim Heard under Stuart Campbell. “In spite of his tiresome exposure to these rituals on Mawson’s BANZARE voyages, he was unsure of what he should do ‘and looked through books and books and books and a huge volume of External Affairs papers on how to claim land’.”

p. 152-53: Describes Swithinbank at Mirny from Vodka on Ice: In the station library at Novolazarevskaya, there were 15 books by Lenin and a number about him, and books by Friedrich Engels, etc. See Swithenbank for complete quotes.

p. 160: from Griffith’s diary at Casey Station: “I spent some time in the library reading old station logbooks and looking up every now and then and gazing out the window at the ice, taking the historian’s delight in reading archives in situ.”

p. 162ff. chapter on wintering is very good on polar madness and surviving.

p. 176: There is a famous story of the director of the Australian Antarctic Division, Phillip Law, arriving at Macquarie Island in 1950 to relieve a wintering party and finding everyone speaking to one another with theatrical nineteenth-century gentility. The men had survived the winter by repeatedly working through their small film collection, and the group’s favourite was Pride and Prejudice. Once they tired of watching it, they turned down the volume and acted out the voices themselves. This ventriloquism easily tipped over into daily relations, and soon men were bowing and holding doors open for one another, and addressing their colleagues with sweet and elaborate civility. ‘Such affability, such graciousness—you overwhelm me’ they could be heard saying to one another.

p. 176: describes the library at Australia’s Casey Station which had the logbooks of the Station on its open shelves, logs which covered some dicey personnel problems, e.g. ‘D.H.C. WINTERERS A PROBLEM.’

p. 204: describes a study by Brigid Hains who noted the misogynistic books in Mawson’s personal library (Kipling, Service, and Stevenson).

p. 210: retells the story of Jennie Darlington’s book My Antarctic Honeymoon and Finn Ronne’s attempt to suppress it at Ellsworth Station in 1957.

p. 244: By the end of our week at Casey, a small number of us were making regular pilgrimages to the station library. I had been telling some of my companions some of the stories I had found in the logbooks, and so a few joined me so that they could see the old documents. Soon we were finding a little time each day to sit down and pore over the logbooks, reading the best stories out loud to one another. One or two of my companions had not been in a library since school and were surprised to find themselves in one, and they shared my delight at how the past seemed to spill out of the pages.

p. 269-70: Griffith’s lament over the failure of explorers to learn, even from their immediate predecessors of winterovers. Stephen Murray-Smith “was shocked in the 1980s by the poverty of the Australian Antarctic Division’s historical imagination, and by the severity of the annual discontinuity between past and present. … There were no records of the extent of fast ice in the bay, no easy access to information about ground covered by field parties in earlier years, no way even that a plumber could find out the age of a building, no history books or videos available at the stations, little popular knowledge of even the most famous of Antarctic heroes, and the officer-in-charges daily logs of activities and achievements were, for a time, officially discontinued…. At the start of every year, at the breaking of the ice, the accumulation of knowledge began anew, but only for a few months.”

Next paragraph on library at Kerkeulen Islands (Kauffman).

p.339: from Shackleton’s Ross Sea party: “in the hut at Hut Point were found letters from Mackintosh and Joyce, a script from the play, Ticket of Love, which was written and performed during the Discovery expedition, a plywood snow-shoe made from a biscuit case, ten hand-carved chessmen made possibly from a broom handle, two scones found near the blubber stove, and numerous tins of Huntley & Palmers biscuits manufactured in 1901.”

p. 344: Stonington Island has a Mormon text from Ronne’s expedition

The carpenter’s shed at Mawson—the oldest surviving building at the oldest continental base—is a Sistine chapel of Playboy centerfolds. Such public posters are disapproved in modern Antarctica, but not if they constitute heritage.