A promising start

Cape Denison’s weather on 9 January 1912 was sunny and still — ‘perfect, vibrant with summer and life’ was how Mawson described it. Signs were good for the 18 men of the Cape Denison party and their willing helpers as they faced the prospect of unloading for the first time on an Antarctic shore. It didn't seem to matter too much that shallow, ice-free water forced Davis to anchor the ship some distance offshore and use boats to ferry cargo ashore (hence ‘Boat Harbour’).

The first stage was the reconnoitre — making sure the place had no hidden demons. A suitable site for the hut was found close to the harbour — not too far from the water’s edge, sheltered from the south by a large rock, close to the plateau ice for sledging. Mawson reported ‘many’ Weddell seals close at hand, and penguins breeding on neighbouring ridges — a source of food for both man and dog. And it offered promising prospects for scientific investigation.

‘So it came about that the Main Base was finally settled at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay,’ reported Mawson with satisfaction. (Concerning which, Davis noted in his diary: ‘The big bay we are in has been called Commonwealth Bay. It is a good name and will probably please them in Australia.’) The shore party arrived back at the ship at 8pm. Aurora’s motor launch was immediately launched, with both the launch and a towed whaleboat loaded to the gunnels with foodstuffs headed for shore, while the ship went off in search for a suitable anchorage.