News from home

And then there was the wireless. Whatever Mawson had envisaged as its part in the AAE, he could not have foreseen the impact, for good or ill, that it would have on their lives through 1913.

Mawson wrote of the small group’s confidence in looking forward to ‘communication with the outside world at an early date’. Bickerton said in a letter home before the ship’s departure that ‘you may get a message from me before receiving this’, adding that the wireless, with a repaired mast and a new operator, was ‘the great thing’

The men’s longing for the world beyond promised to be met by wireless communication with others — albeit in the abbreviated, staccato language of morse code and with the inevitable frustrations and technical malfunctions. Importantly, it seemed to be working reasonably reliably. McLean wrote in early March that it was ‘quite like a morning paper to hear the contents [of overnight wireless messages] at breakfast time’.

While its performance in 1913 was a great improvement on the previous year, it remained a hit-and-miss affair, depending on the coincidence of right weather and fault-free apparatus. It performed fitfully through much of the winter, but in August communication with Macquarie Island was restored. McLean recorded that ‘we are secretly exultant at having won the battle with the elements … we enter upon what seems a new era — returning spring and news from Australia.’

See 'Press News' radio messages from Cape Denison, 1 April 1913 [PDF]. © Mawson Collection, South Australian Museum