Sir Douglas Mawson

Douglas Mawson Mawson and a group of returning 1911-13 expedition members on ship's deck. Mawson is standing at centre front.
Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia

A courageous man of science

Douglas Mawson was born in England and came to Australia as a youngster. He studied mining engineering before embarking on a career in geology.

Although a scientist, Mawson became famous as an Antarctic explorer. He accompanied Shackleton's expedition of 1907-9, and in 1911 he organised and led the Australian Antarctic Expedition.

In 1912 Mawson performed an extraordinary feat of lone survival when, 500 kilometres from base, a companion and most of their provisions were lost in a crevasse. After 25 days Mawson's remaining companion died and the dogs had been eaten, leaving him to trek the remaining 160-kilometre journey, hauling his cut-down sledge. The ordeal lasted 30 more days and demanded great strength of character, courage and endurance. Mawson reached the main base in time to see the supply vessel Aurora departing. He had to wait behind with the base party for another year before being relieved.

Mawson later served during the First World War before resuming a career of scientific discovery and exploration. He subsequently led the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition in 1929-30 and 1930-31. Mawson was knighted in 1914 and died, aged 76, in 1958.