Farewell to civilization

It seemed that the whole population of Hobart came out on a fine afternoon on 2 December 1911 to see Aurora finally set sail from Queen’s Wharf. The Tasmanian governor, Sir Harry Barron, and the state’s premier, Sir Elliot Lewis, spoke to an immense crowd thronging the docks. Their messages included cabled good wishes from King George V and Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother.

Mawson farewelled his countrymen with his own speech, telling them that the work and responsibility of the AAE was shared among all its men: ‘I am only one of 31 of the land party … I personally feel that all the men chosen will be successful.’

The Mercury reported that ‘hearty cheers were given by those on shore as the vessel drew away, … answered by the occupants of the Aurora, while there was much waving of hats and handkerchiefs. Cameras were busy in all directions, and the cinematographs were not idle, so that the memory of the departure of the first Australasian Antarctic Expedition from Hobart should not be lost as long as pictorial records can preserve it’.

At 4pm, engines were started and Aurora moved away from Queen’s Wharf. Out in the Derwent estuary dynamite and cartridges were taken on board, HMS Fantome provided a send-off, and 38 dogs were delivered from the Taroona quarantine station via a ketch, ‘passed over the side and secured at intervals on top of the deck cargo’, as Mawson recorded. The expedition had begun.

Six days after Aurora’s departure, Toroa followed, carrying remaining expedition members and surplus cargo. The departures were staggered to allow Aurora time to locate a suitable site for the Macquarie Island base.