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The Official Film of the Mawson Antarctic Expedition (c.1916)

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clip Setting up camp education content clip 3

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

This piece of documentary footage, taken on Mawson’s Antarctic expedition between 1911 and 1913, shows Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis and Dr Xavier Mertz setting up their tent. Another shot shows them lying in their reindeer sleeping bags for warmth.

Curator’s notes

This clip documents the constant battle with strong head winds and freezing conditions faced by Mawson’s Antarctic expedition party between 1911 and 1913. It also shows the strength of determination the team must have had to endure such circumstances.

Ninnis and Mertz, the two explorers in this clip, later perished during Mawson’s trek to the eastern coastline.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This silent black-and-white clip shows Sir Douglas Mawson, Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis and Dr Xavier Mertz struggling to set up their tent in the icy conditions and strong winds of Antarctica. In one shot dog teams are visible in the background. After the tent is secured, the men climb into their reindeer sleeping bags for warmth and one man lights a pipe. Some of the footage is slightly damaged.

Educational value points

  • This is a scene from a documentary of Sir Douglas Mawson’s 960-km expedition to the South Magnetic Pole in 1911–14.The expedition established three bases, mapped a large part of the Antarctic coast and engaged in scientific research.
  • As well as the Australian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, Mawson (1882–1958) took part in Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1907–09. With two others, Shackleton and Mawson became the first people to reach the South Magnetic Pole in 1909. In 1929–31 Mawson led the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, claiming British possession of part of Antarctica in 1930. Mawson was knighted in 1914 and one of the Antarctic bases, Mawson Station, was named after him.
  • The clip shows the work of cinematographer and photographer Frank Hurley (1885–1962). Appointed by Mawson as the official photographer of the 1911–14 expedition, Hurley later joined several Antarctic expeditions. He began his career in 1905 with a Sydney postcard company. In 1917 he became the Australian Imperial Forces’ first official photographer. The troops, astonished by his apparent disregard for danger, called him 'the mad photographer’. He continued his work as an official photographer in the Second World War, and died in Sydney in 1962.
  • The footage shown was filmed under extreme conditions. The determined and resourceful Hurley often worked in gale-force winds and subzero temperatures that endangered not only himself but his photographic equipment. He brought back powerful images of the expedition, and of Antarctica.
  • The footage reveals the persistence and stamina needed to survive in hostile Antarctic conditions. Even erecting a tent in Antarctica could be fatal. The expedition team (and Hurley behind the camera) display strength of character in battling the elements.
  • Two of the expedition’s team members shown in the clip died during the Expedition. Ninnis fell into a crevasse, taking most of the team’s food with him, and could not be rescued. Mertz died after eating the livers of the sled dogs. The livers contained vitamin A in concentrations fatal for humans.
  • Like most other expeditions of the time, the Australian Antarctic Expedition used huskies. The last dog teams have been removed from Antarctica for environmental reasons and their role is now performed by machines.
  • The team members are shown using reindeer sleeping bags. This is an example of a natural material being used to withstand polar conditions at a time when manufactured fabrics were less efficient in terms of weight, durability and resistance to extreme winds and cold than they are today.

This clip starts approximately 1 hour 5 minutes into the documentary.

In this silent clip, Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, Dr Xavier Mertz and a third man are setting up their tent on the ice. They struggle in the extremely windy conditions but manage to erect it, packing it down with ice. They store their pick and shovel in the ice and enter the tent.

Inside the tent, the men snuggle down into reindeer sleeping bags. One of the men starts smoking a pipe.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

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