Home alone

The Antarctic party returned to Aurora to continue their journey south in a series of whaleboat trips, the last of which carried both sheep, put ashore to feed, and some sledge dogs, ashore for exercise. Besides choppy seas and currents, the rowers had to keep dogs and sheep apart. Charles Laseron recorded the brisk goodbyes: ‘ … we waved farewell to the little group just visible on the beach, and at once turned southwards on the next stage of our journey.’

The Macquarie group’s living quarters (or ‘the Shack’, as the hut was later to be called) remained to be built. The five men who were to make up the island party — leader George Ainsworth, wireless operators Arthur Sawyer and Charles Sandell, geologist-cartographer Leslie Blake and biologist Harold Hamilton — set to work assembling their island home.

In Hobart, Alfred Hodgeman (of the Cape Denison party) had prepared a plan of the hut, and timbers had been cut to measure before departure. The location was carefully chosen: at the base of Wireless Hill, sheltered from the violent westerly gales by Wireless Hill to the north, Hut Hill to the east and a rock monolith to the west.

The building was tiny — six metres by four metres, with headroom varying from 2.9 metres to 2.3 metres — but proved itself able to resist the elements. For all that, as it turned out, everyone but Ainsworth spent less time ‘at home’ than elsewhere, on Wireless Hill or out in the field.

The hut was internally subdivided to include a darkroom/laboratory space and a cubicle for Ainsworth, while the other men had beds or bunks along the walls. A cooking range was the only source of heat. Small extensions on two sides were a storeroom and a specimen room, A tank (scavenged from the wrecked ship Clyde lying on the beach nearby) was used to collect water from the roof.

By 30December, seven days after Aurora finally cleared the island — ‘the Shack’ was sufficiently complete for its occupiers to move in. They expected a stay of a year at most, but it was to be nearly double that time before Aurora finally took them off their island home.