Foreword

The Home of the Blizzard by Sir Douglas Mawson (1915)

Foreword

Nor on thee yet
Shall burst the future, as successive zones
Of several wonder open on some spirit
Flying secure and glad from heaven to heaven.
– Browning

The aim of geographical exploration has, in these days, interfused with the passion for truth. If now the ultimate bounds of knowledge have broadened to the infinite, the spirit of the man of science has quickened to a deeper fervour. Amid the finished ingenuities of the laboratory he has knitted a spiritual entente with the moral philosopher, viewing:

The narrow creeds of right and wrong, which fade
Before the unmeasured thirst for good.

Science and exploration have never been at variance; rather, the desire for the pure elements of natural revelation lay at the source of that unquenchable power – the ‘love of adventure’.

Of whatever nationality the explorer was always emboldened by that impulse, and, if there ever be a future of decadence, it will live again in his ungovernable heritage.

Eric the Red; Francis Drake – the same ardour was kindled at the heart of either. It is a far cry from the latter, a born marauder, to the modern scientific explorer. Still Drake was a hero of many parts, and though a religious bigot in present acceptation, was one of the enlightened of his age. A man who moved an equal in a court of Elizabethan manners was not untouched by the glorious ideals of the Renaissance.

Yet it was the unswerving will of a Columbus, a Vasco da Gama or a Magellan which created the devotion to geographical discovery, per se, and made practicable the concept of a spherical earth. The world was opened in imaginative entirety, and it now remained for the geographer to fill in the details brought home by the navigator.

It was long before Thule the wondrous ice–land of the north yielded her first secrets, and longer ere the Terra Australis of Finne was laid bare to the prying eyes of science.

Early Arctic navigation opened the bounds of the unknown in a haphazard and fortuitous fashion. Sealers and whalers in the hope of rich booty ventured far afield, and, ranging among the mysterious floes or riding out fierce gales off an ice–girt coast, brought back strange tales to a curious world. Crudely embellished, contradictory, yet alluring they were; but the demand for truth came surely to the rescue. Thus, it was often the whaler who forsook his trade to explore for mere exploration’s sake. Baffin was one of those who opened the gates to the north.

Then, too, the commercial spirit of the generations who sought a Northwest Passage was responsible for the incursions of many adventurers into the new world of the ice.

Strangely enough, the south was first attacked in the true scientific spirit by Captain Cook and later by Bellingshausen. Sealing and whaling ventures followed in their train.

At last the era had come for the expedition, planned, administered, equipped and carried out with a definite objective. It is characteristic of the race of men that the first design should have centred on the pole – the top of the earth, the focus of longitude, the magic goal, to reach which no physical sacrifice was too great. The heroism of Parry is a type of that adamant persistence which has made the history of the conquest of the poles a volume in which disaster and death have played a large part. It followed on years of polar experience, it resulted from an exact knowledge of geographical and climatic conditions, a fearless anticipation, expert information on the details of transport – and the fortune of the brave – that Peary and Amundsen had their reward in the present generation.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the pioneers of new land there were passing the scientific workers born in the early nineteenth century. Sir James Clark Ross is an epitome of that expansive enthusiasm which was the keynote of the life of Charles Darwin. The classic ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ (1831–36) was a triumph of patient rigorous investigation conducted in many lands outside the polar circles.

The methods of Darwin were developed in the Challenger Expedition (1872) which worked even to the confines of the southern ice. And the torch of the pure flame of science was handed on. It was the same consuming ardour which took Nansen across the plateau of Greenland, which made him resolutely propound the theory of the northern ice–drift, to maintain it in the face of opposition and ridicule and to plan an expedition down to the minutest detail in conformity therewith. The close of the century saw science no longer the mere appendage but the actual basis of exploratory endeavour.

Disinterested research and unselfish specialization are the phrases born to meet the intellectual demands of the new century.

The modern polar expedition goes forth with finished appliances, with experts in every department – sailors, artisans, soldiers and students in medley; supremely, with men who seek risk and privation – the glory of the dauntless past.

ALM [Dr Archibald L McLean]

This version of Home of the Blizzard has been edited and published by the Australian Antarctic Division.