Finding another leader

Mawson’s conception for the AAE took in three Antarctic continental bases (not two, as it turned out). For this he would need another field leader, in addition to himself, Wild (Western Party) and Ainsworth (Macquarie Island).

His first choice for this demanding and crucial role was a 40-year-old mining engineer named Basil Sawyer (unrelated to Arthur, the wireless operator on Macquarie Island). But the New South Wales mines department determined that he could not be spared from his job. He told his employer he would resign, but was pressured into staying.

This left Mawson a field leader short only six weeks before departure. His choice was a curious one — Herbert Dyce Murphy, born into Victorian pastoral wealth, a traveller, adventurer, story-teller, and cross-dresser. Murphy had volunteered for Ernest Shackleton’s 1908 Antarctic expedition as a surveyor, but was turned down for ‘effeminacy’. Mawson turned to Murphy to fill the gap in light of his experiences in remote and cold places, in the Arctic and sub-Antarctic.

Murphy earned a reputation as a raconteur — Mawson wrote of him as ‘our stand-by in small talk, travel, history, literature and what not’.

When the decision was made in during the AAE’s first summer to abandon the third continental base, Murphy was in put charge of stores at Cape Denison. In 1912 he was in charge of the southern supporting party, and of winter quarters during Mawson’s absence.