Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Douglas Mawson led the 1911 to 1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) which established bases at Macquarie Island, Commonwealth Bay and the Shackleton Ice Shelf. The expedition explored extensively along the coast near the bases and claimed this land as British territory.

The expedition built their main base at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, where 18 men spent the winter of 1912 and seven spent the winter of 1913. The huts still stand and are now managed as an historic site by the Australian Antarctic Division.

The teams at all three bases conducted routine scientific and meteorological observations, which were recorded in great detail in the voluminous reports of the expedition (not published until 1922–1942). Coastal and inland sledging journeys enabled the teams to explore previously unknown lands.

The expedition is best known for one of the most harrowing survival stories of all time when three men, Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis set off on a sledging trip from which only Mawson was to return.

During the sledging trip to the east of the base a crevasse swallowed up Ninnis, a team of six dogs, and the sled containing most of their food. The survivors began a brutal journey home, during which they ate the remaining dogs for food. Mertz died during the return, leaving Mawson the only survivor. He cut his sled in half with a pen knife and dragged the sled with geological specimens but very minimal food 160 km back to the base at Cape Denison. He arrived on February 8, 1913, just hours after the recovery party left on the Aurora, He and a party of six volunteers who had stayed behind to search for the missing men remained for an unplanned second year. Mawson documents this harrowing journey in his book, The Home of the Blizzard.

Mawson’s exploration contributed more geographical knowledge of Antarctica than any other explorer of the Heroic Age.

Many of these photos have been reproduced from originals generously supplied by the National Archives of Australia.

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Image gallery

AAE expeditioners on motor launch with Adelie penguin.
AAE expeditioner climbing over snow to enter hut.
Expeditioner with the air tractor.
Three AAE expeditioners with their sledge.
Four AAE expeditioners comprise the eastern sledge party.
AAE expeditioners on ship's deck
Sir Douglas Mawson in 1914 after receiving his knighthood
Building Mawson's huts at Commonwealth Bay
Raising the Flag over Mawson's huts, March 1912.
AAE expeditioners in workshop.
AAE expeditioners attempt to get ice.
This page was last modified on 11 June 2008.