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 eighteen 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.


AAE expeditioners on motor launch with Adelie penguin.

Adélie penguin visitor to motor launch at the ice front.
Left to right: Madigan , Gillies (behind), Hodgeman, Mawson, and Blake.

Photo: Frank Hurley


AAE expeditioner climbing over snow to enter hut.

The nightwatchman returning from his rounds.

Photo: Frank Hurley


Expeditioner with the air tractor.

The Air tractor – the Vickers REP monoplane was damaged in Australia and never flew in Antarctica, however was used minus its mainplanes as a tractor.

Photo: Frank Hurley

Three AAE expeditioners with their sledge.

Southern support party. Left to right J G Hunter, H D Murphy and C Laseron
Photo: Frank Hurley

Four AAE expeditioners comprise the eastern sledge party.

Eastern sledge party.
Photo: A Watson

AAE expeditioners on ship's deck

The Western Base Party. (L to R) C. Harrisson, S. Jones, A. Watson, M. Moyes, G. Dovers, C A Hoadley, Frank Wild, A Kennedy.

Photo: Frank Hurley


Douglas Mawson posing with book.

Douglas Mawson in 1914 after receiving his knighthood.

Photo: Unknown

Building Mawson's huts at Commonwealth Bay

An advanced stage in the construction of the hut at Commonwealth Bay.

Photo: Frank Hurley

Raising the Flag over Mawson's huts, March 1912.

Raising the Flag over the hut March 1912.

Photo: Frank Hurley


AAE expeditioners in workshop.

Busy days in the workshop.

Photo: Frank Hurley


AAE expeditioners attempt to get ice.

1911 Blizz
The efforts of Whetter and Close to get ice at Commonwealth Bay 1912.

Photo: Frank Hurley

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This page was last modified on 11 June 2008.