In the Antipodes

Mawson was determined that his expedition would belong to his homeland, Australia, and its antipodean sibling, New Zealand. ‘Australasians’ would thus make up the bulk of his men. As ‘supreme commander’ he had the final say on selections. Needing to focus on fund-raising and purchase of equipment in the final months before departure, this added responsibility put immense pressure on him.

Mawson diverged from the tendency in previous British expeditions to use predominantly amateur naturalists (often doctors or naval officers) to do scientific field work. While he did use non-scientists, generally in supporting roles, in his selections he gave priority to professional scientists.

For the work of devising scientific programs and hiring staff, Mawson relied on an informal personal contact network in Australia and New Zealand, fostered through local organisations. Membership of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science reached into all Australasian universities and major museums. It was from these that the core of the expedition’s staff, men with scientific or technical training, would be drawn. Most of them turned out to be Australian by birth, with a handful of New Zealanders.

With time pressing, Mawson’s process of selecting scientific staff was inevitably a little ad hoc. But where possible he conducted an interview — probably to assess compatibility rather than technical competence, for which he relied on references. Laseron later recalled that Mawson seemed more interested in his bush cooking experiences than his taxidermic skills.