A plan gone wrong

The solitary journey of Douglas Mawson across George V Land after the deaths of Ninnis and Mertz has overshadowed another AAE ‘solo story’. This one lacked the physical hardship experienced by Mawson, but it presented psychological challenges that in some ways exceeded those faced by Mawson.

This was the story of Morton Moyes, the Western Party’s weather man. In autumn and spring Moyes had done his share of sledging, but for the main Eastern and Western journeys Moyes was to be a homebody, keeping the Grottoes shipshape while tending to his weather observations.

It was Wild’s practice to keep two men behind at the Grottoes at any one time, and the departure of the Eastern party (Wild, Kennedy and Watson) late in October was to be no exception — Harrisson was to keep Moyes company. But at the last minute Harrisson, whose biological duties had been severely curtailed on the barren ice shelf, prevailed on Wild to allow him to accompany the party as far as the Hippos.

The Hippos was a petrel-nesting island where a food depot and sledge had been left during the previous eastern journey. The arrangement was that on completing his work there, Harrisson would return with the dog team to the Grottoes, leaving Moyes alone for no more than a fortnight.

But it all came unstuck when a dismayed party discovered the food cache and sledge had been scattered to the four winds, with barely a sign of its existence. Harrisson’s dog team and sledge would be needed if the party were to go further. Wild reluctantly decided that Moyes would have to be left alone for the duration of the Eastern and Western sledge journeys. It could be months.