Applause

Madigan (left) and Mawson about to step from the rail of the Aurora onto the customs tender Adelaide
Madigan (left) and Mawson about to step from the rail of the Aurora onto the customs tender Adelaide.
Douglas Mawson on Semaphore Jetty, after his return to Australia from the Antarctic on 26 February 1914Sir Day Bosanquet, Governor of South Australia with Sir Douglas MawsonCartoon of 'Douglas Mawson listening to nice things about himself', drawn by Sir David Low

At the wharf to greet Aurora were dignitaries from the South Australian Geographical Society, along with a large, happy crowd. Davis recalled scenes of jubilation that were so noisy he had to use a megaphone to make himself heard to his crew.

The temperature was high in the eighties and many of the men stood in their shirt sleeves, while the women wore light skirts and blouses, with big wide hats, and carried gaily-coloured parasols. A heaving line flaked through the air and fell upon the forecastle-head. Then the cheering broke out.

Mawson had eyes for another. Putting the hubbub behind him he made for a North Terrace hotel, where he had arranged to meet his fiancée, Paquita Delprat, who had come up from her family home in Melbourne to greet him. ‘Douglas said: “You have had a long time to wait”,’ wrote Paquita, ‘and then everything was all right.’ They spent the rest of the day together.

Then there were the official receptions – two of them – for Mawson and his men, both attended by the Governor-General, Lord Denman, who, as Mawson wrote, had ‘arrived expressly from Melbourne’. After a public reception at the Adelaide Town Hall hosted by the Lord Mayor, A A Simpson, the University of Adelaide put on another. There, Denman read a message of congratulation just received from the King, and Sir Samuel Way caused some hilarity when, in seeking to introduce to Denman Mawson’s fiancée, Paquita Delprat, identified the wrong lady.

For Paquita herself, the events were a delight. Looking over the Press cuttings of those two meetings, she wrote many years later, ‘I can so easily recall the extreme happiness I felt at hearing these things said of Douglas. I have heard them often since – his life was a refutation of the saying that a prophet is never honoured in his own country…’

The applause continued, in the form of speeches, official functions and letters, for many months. Perhaps the compliments most valued by Mawson came from one of his scientific peers in Edinburgh. The Scottish Antarctic pioneer William Bruce, generous to a fault, wrote a letter to Mawson that pre-dated Aurora’s arrival in Adelaide:

It is not too much to say, without any intent to flatter that your expedition has been the most successful of any recent Antarctic expedition. As a scientific man you have trusted your own powers to conduct the expedition entirely on scientific lines… Your personal work has been splendid and you will always be admired for the pluck and ability that you showed in pulling through one of the most terrible journeys ever made by man…

The Antarctic veteran extended his praise to J.K. Davis:

I have had several talks with Captain Davis, and you are to be congratulated in having secured the services of such a capable seaman, who to my mind has carried out most efficiently the important oceanographical investigations that you entrusted to him.

Ernest (by now Sir Ernest) Shackleton – the man who introduced Mawson to the Antarctic – deserves the final say:

Over 2000 miles of hitherto unknown coastline he has now mapped. Long journeys have been made into the interior of the great frozen continent; observations have been taken under immensely hard conditions of great scientific importance… [and] notable significance for the economic world. He is the first man to use wireless installation in the Antarctic… Indeed, science has everything to be grateful for in Dr Mawson’s achievement, and nothing in which to find disappointment.

This page was last modified on August 5, 2015.