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Frank Hurley: The Man Who Made History (2004)

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clip First documentary education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: PG. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Frank Hurley filmed and photographed one of the first expeditions to the Antarctic in 1913. Mike Gray of the Fox Talbot Museum and Joanna Wright of the Royal Geographical Society comment on the significance of the work.

Curator’s notes

Hurley created some memorable films from his time in Antarctica, bringing a real sense of drama and storytelling to what were some of Australia’s very first commercial documentaries. The footage from the blizzard is still extraordinary.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows silent black-and-white archival footage taken by Frank Hurley during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson and interviews with Mike Gray of the Fox Talbot Museum and Joanna Wright of the Royal Geographical Society. The interviews provide insight into Hurley’s accomplishments as a photographer and filmmaker. The footage has been overlaid with sounds of a blizzard as well as voice-overs of a narrator, parts of the two interviews and of Hurley’s own comments.

Educational value points

  • The clip includes original footage, taken by Frank Hurley, of Mawson’s expedition to Antarctica. The footage is from a documentary first released in Australia in 1917 under the title Endurance and re-released in 1933 as In the Grip of the Polar Ice. The footage was later restored by the British Film Institute in the 1990s under the title Home of the Blizzard (using the title of Mawson’s own account of the expedition). Filmed on the expedition between 1911 and 1912, Home of the Blizzard was one of the earliest documentaries to be produced by an Australian. Filming took place under extreme conditions with gale-force winds and subzero temperatures and reveals the persistence and stamina of the men who participated in the expedition. In 1998, Home of the Blizzard was re-made by Mike Piper, who accompanied and filmed an Antarctic expedition that restored Mawson’s original hut.
  • The Australian photographer and filmmaker Frank Hurley (1885–1962) participated in six expeditions to Antarctica, served as an official photographer during the First and Second World Wars and documented his extensive travel experiences. During his time covering the First World War (1914–18), he worked with photographic manipulation, staging scenes or creating composite photographs by blending elements from different photographs for dramatic effect. His approach attracted significant controversy and has been criticised for diminishing the work’s value as accurate historical record, but also praised for its originality and creativity.
  • Mawson established his camp with 18 other men at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay and named the base 'Home of the Blizzards’. It came to be known as the 'windiest place on Earth’. Mawson’s Hut, Australia’s first scientific base in Antarctica, is now a national heritage building, and ongoing efforts from numerous expedition teams have helped to preserve the historic structure.
  • The subject of Hurley’s original documentary is Sir Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911–14) in which the Australian scientific team, led by Mawson (1882–1958), explored part of Antarctica’s coastline and contributed significantly to scientific and geographic knowledge of Antarctica.
  • During the expedition two men on Mawson’s team, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz, who were exploring east of Cape Denison, died. Ninnis fell into a deep crevasse with a team of huskies and a sledge carrying most of the provisions and Mertz died of vitamin A poisoning after struggling to stave off starvation by eating the livers of the expedition’s huskies.
  • Advances made in the last century in microfibres and plastics that can be used for types of shelter, equipment and clothing, as well as the development of modern transport, have all served to ease the conditions for explorers in polar regions. However, at the time the archival footage was taken, the clothing used on polar expeditions was made from natural fibres, such as wool and cotton, and was heavy and lacked durability. Shoes were made of leather, which got wet and did not provide enough warmth, as well as being unsuited to gripping on the ice. Film cameras were large and heavy and the limited protective technology made both the camera and the film itself vulnerable to the extreme weather conditions.
  • The clip features a team of huskies, which were used to pull sleds until 1991 by Antarctic expeditions. Huskies were first used in Antarctica on the British Antarctic Expedition between 1898 and 1900 and continued to be used on later expeditions. Huskies played a vital role in transporting provisions and could haul up to 90 kg each. In 1991, as part of new environmental protection protocols, all introduced species were banned from Antarctica and the remaining huskies were removed. The removal of Antarctica’s huskies evoked a strong emotional response and they continue to be affectionately remembered for the companionship and loyalty they offered the early explorers.

This clip starts approximately 8 minutes into the documentary.

This clip shows silent black-and-white archival footage taken by Frank Hurley during the Mawson Australasian Antarctic Expedition. It features excepts from his documentary Home of the Blizzard, which is overlaid with narration and Hurley’s own comments.

Narrator In this alien place, Hurley struggled with his heavy camera. Now, before there was even a word for it, he was making one of the first documentaries.

Mike Gray of the Fox Talbot Museum is interviewed.
Mike (voiceover) The results were staggering, and in terms of a narrative, he virtually made it up as he went along. He had to create a story out of the most appalling conditions in which they found themselves.
Actor (reading Hurley’s comments) I am determined to make the blizzard itself a subject for my film. My fingers froze and often I was swept away by fierce gusts or reduced to crawling on all fours. One time I was lifted bodily with my camera and tripod and dumped far away on the rocks.
Mike It showed you a whole range of human experience that nobody had ever seen before.

Joanna Wright of the Royal Geographical Society is interviewed.
Joanna And it was a seminal moment in the history of photography, because no-one had ever, somehow, realised just how powerful images are, and Hurley did that.
Narrator Hurley’s camera transformed their misfortune into a classic struggle between man and nature. His film retold the oldest myth of all – the hero’s journey. It was the story he would tell repeatedly throughout his career as adventurer and showman.

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