The people

The staff, in no department can a leader spend time more profitably than in the selection of the men who are to accomplish the work. Even when the expedition has a scientific basis, academic distinction becomes secondary in the choice of men. Fiala, as a result of his Arctic experience, truly says, "Many a man who is a jolly good fellow in congenial surroundings will become impatient, selfish and mean when obliged to sacrifice his comfort, curb his desires and work hard in what seems a losing fight. The first consideration in the choice of men for a polar campaign should be the moral quality. Next should come mental and physical powers."

For polar work the great desideratum is tempered youth. Although one man at the age of fifty may be as strong physically as another at the age of twenty, it is certain that the exceptional man of fifty was also an exceptional man at twenty. On the average, after about thirty years of age, the elasticity of the body to rise to the strain of emergency diminishes, and, when forty years is reached, a man, medically speaking, reaches his acme. After that, degeneration of the fabric of the body slowly and maybe imperceptibly sets in. As the difficulties of exploration in cold regions approximate to the limit of human endurance and often enough exceed it, it is obvious that the above generalisations must receive due weight.

But though age and with it the whole question of physical fitness must ever receive primary regard, yet these alone in no wise fit a man for such an undertaking. The qualifications of mental ability, acquaintance with the work and sound moral quality have to be essentially borne in mind. The man of fifty might then be placed on a higher plane than his younger companion.

With regard to alcohol and tobacco, it may be maintained on theoretical grounds that a man is better without them, but, on the other hand, his behaviour in respect to such habits is often an index to his self-control.

Perfection is attained when every man individually works with the determination to sacrifice all personal predispositions to the welfare of the whole.

Ours proved to be a very happy selection. The majority of the men chosen as members of the land parties were young graduates of the Commonwealth and New Zealand Universities, and almost all were representative of Australasia. Among the exceptions was Mr. Frank Wild, who was appointed leader of one of the Antarctic parties. Wild had distinguished himself in the South on two previous occasions, and now is in the unique position of being, as it were, the oldest resident of Antarctica. Our sojourn together at Cape Royds with Shackleton had acquainted me with Wild’s high merits as an explorer and leader.

Lieutenant B. E. S. Ninnis of the Royal Fusiliers, Dr. X. Mertz, an expert ski-runner and mountaineer, and Mr. F. H. Bickerton in charge of the air-tractor sledge, were appointed in London. Reference has already been made to Captain Davis: to him were left all arrangements regarding the ship’s complement.

– Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard, Vol 1

This page was last modified on July 2, 2014.