Life and work at Cape Denison

The AAE was first and foremost a scientific enterprise — that much was clear to all the men of the Cape Denison party when Aurora headed off to the west on 19 January 1912. They were young men looking for adventure, so their notion of science was tightly bound up with the excitement of geographical discovery – sledging off into the wide white yonder.

Yet the bulk of the party’s field science would be observations at the main base itself — and it was here, in the early months ashore, that the culture of scientific discovery was instilled into the group. It grew in them through the careful, methodical daily routines involved in observing wind and clouds, ice and snow, magnetism and rocks, animals and plants, tides and the stars, using planned and dedicated facilities and equipment.

Between the planned and routine observations were the opportune sightings of unexpected phenomena, such as the chance recording of Antarctic and snow petrels off Cape Denison at odd occasions in June and July 1913 indicating these species’ presence on the coast in the depth of winter, or Mawson’s observation of an illuminated plateau horizon on 29 July — ‘due to phosphorescence, triboluminescence, or electric discharge of driven snow particles’. Each and every man understood that such sightings were not to go unrecorded. They all, every one of them, had a responsibility to science.