Adventures in the Colbeck Archipelago and surrounding areas, some history, and a photo re-enactment.

Overview of the trip

Last week saw seven intrepid expeditioners headed west to the Colbeck archipelago and surrounding areas.

Setting off early on Tuesday 11th September on a lovely day, we made excellent time owing to having to cross very few tide cracks and having the majority of the trip on smooth sea ice with little snow build up. Despite only taking 5.5 hours we did stop to ‘smell the sunflowers’ so to speak, checking out several Weddell seals along the way and an interesting moraine iceberg. On arriving at the hut we set about digging our way in (see story and photos on Colbeck hut), setting up and relaxing the rest of the afternoon away.

On Wednesday we headed off for a day exploring the area. First up we headed to the edge of the Taylor Emperor Penguin Colony. This area is an ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area). Permits are required to enter, which we didn’t have for this trip so we were very pleased to see on arrival that the colony was quite close to the northern edge of the ASPA and we could see 90% of it from the sea ice. There were plenty of chicks walking around by themselves, unaccompanied by parents — a first for this season, but soon to be the norm as all the chicks are getting quite big now. After photographing the penguins we headed around Taylor Glacier to Cape Bruce for a re-enactment of Mawson’s Landing in 1931 (see Cape Bruce story and photos). On our way home we stopped to check out some penguins who were using a Weddell seal hole to jump in and have a swim, and much to our considerable surprise we also saw a young female crabeater seal basking in the sun.

Day 3 brought nice clear weather again with no wind, which fitted perfectly with our plan of exploring the hills and lakes around Chapman Ridge. We headed off first to try and locate the remains of a seal and some whale bones, neither of which we could locate, possibly due to the large amount of snow around. We all ventured for a stroll up to Lake Barkell, enjoying the scenery and the cracks and bubbles in the lake. We then headed around Cape Byrd to Lake Reynolds and checked a couple of jade bergs in iceberg alley before heading back to the hut.

Day 4 saw us heading back to station, but first we had unfinished business. A group of three headed out early for a walk along Chapman Ridge. The remainder slept a little longer before getting up to pack all our gear, dig gas bottles out of the snow and ice, scrape off some flaking paint and clean the inside of the hut. It was also time to return the RMIT van to station, so this had to be secured inside, hooked up to the Green Hagg and, with the assistance of the Yellow Hagg, loosened from its icy grip ready to be towed home. The trip home took some time longer than our journey out due to towing the RMIT and to a large tide crack stretching from Oldham Island to Einstoding Island. It took quite a while to find a crossing point and with the aid of some ropes and gear we eventually crossed safely.

All up we had a very enjoyable trip, were blessed with good weather, company and magnificent scenery.


The history of Colbeck Field Hut

Colbeck Field Hut was prefabricated in Melbourne and delivered to Mawson in early 1973. It was assembled and fitted out by the carpenter Bill Cartledge and painted inside by the OIC, Basil Rachinger. It was towed into position at Rum Doodle on 16th August 1973. The hut served many expeditioners at Rum Doodle between 1973 and 1984, when it was returned to the Station for a “refurbish”. It went back to Rum Doodle the same year but was not mounted on its original sledge. Instead it was simply laid on some long timbers on the rocks and guyed down. This apparent oversight almost cost the loss of the hut, which moved from its foundations during early 1986. Rum Doodle is subjected to very strong winds which plummet down the sheer faces of the massif. The hut was returned to Mawson around the middle of the year and replaced by the current hut. The sledge which originally carried the 1973 hut was reclaimed from the encroaching ice at the back of Mawson and was widened by diesel mechanic Scott Penney in 1988. This reconstruction made it a much more rigid and stable platform for a positive guy-down job.

Approval was given in 1987 for a field hut to be sited in the Colbeck archipelago. The archipelago was discovered on 18th February 1931 by the BANZARE under Sir Douglas Mawson and named after WR Colbeck, second officer of the “Discovery”.

In 1988 the hut was towed by Hägglunds down the coast on its widened sledge and installed on an unnamed island in the Colbeck archipelago on 13th July by Dave McCormack, Ed Piket, Mick Whittle, Eric Sworak, John Gill and Graham Robertson.

Colbeck Field Hut is the most distant of the Mawson field huts, being 85km to the west of Mawson and during winter access is only via the sea-ice. The hut is in close proximity to the Taylor Glacier emperor penguin colony, Cape Bruce and Chapman Ridge.

Photos taken in 1997, 2002, 2010, July 2012 and September 2012 show that the hut is progressively becoming buried in the snow, perhaps associated with the reported heavy snow falls in eastern Antarctica over the last few years. If the increased snow falls continue then the future use of the hut is in doubt.

On our trip from 11–14 September 2012 there were seven of us, and although one slept in a tent and two slept in a RMIT caravan, all seven of us ate meals in the hut. It was a tight squeeze but cosy and warm. Camp cook, Chris, served his usual signature dishes of toasted bacon and cheese sandwiches for breakfast, then later pre-dinner drinks and a cheese platter followed by Fray Bentos pies and mash for dinner.

The RMIT caravan was towed back to Mawson and the hut was left clean and tidy for the next group in mid October.



  • The Field Huts of Mawson by Dave McCormack
  • Aurora, March 2005 pp 2–6
  • Colbeck Archipelago Hut Logbook 13th July 1988 to 3rd August 1993, pp 1, 8 and 9

Cape Bruce

Cape Bruce is the northern tip of a small island just west of Taylor Glacier, Mac.Robertson Land, approximately 100km west of Mawson. On 18th February 1931, members of the BANZARE landed at Cape Bruce where they constructed a rock cairn and raised the Union Jack. Mawson named Cape Bruce after Rt. Hon. S M Bruce (later Lord Bruce), Prime Minister of Australia from 1923–1929.

Sir Douglas Mawson read the following Proclamation:

In the name of His Majesty King George the Fifth, King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions across the Seas, Emperor of India.

By Sir Douglas Mawson.

Whereas I have it in command from His Majesty King George the Fifth to assert the sovereign rights of His Majesty over British land discoveries met with in Antarctica, now therefore, I, Sir Douglas Mawson, do hereby proclaim and declare to all men that, from and after the date of these presents the full sovereignty of the Territory which we have discovered and explored extending continuously from Adelie Land, westwards to Mac.Robertson Land being that part of the Antarctic mainland and offlying islands (including amongst others, Drygalski Island, Hordern Island, David Island, Masson Island, Henderson Island, Haswell Islands and an Island in Longitude 103 deg 15 mins East, shown on our charts) situate between meridia 138 deg and 60 deg east of Greenwich and south of Latitude 64 deg as far as the South Pole, vests in His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs, and Successors forever.

Given under my hand at this spot in Mac.Robertson Land on the eighteenth day of February 1931.

Signed: Douglas Mawson (BANZARE).

When Mawson’s ceremony was over it was made doubly correct by the pouring of a little champagne over the cairn and the hoisting of several other flags including an Airforce ensign a NZ flag and an Australian ensign.

The cairn with its copper plaque and Proclamation was rediscovered accidentally on 3rd July 1957 by Flt. Lt D M Johnston (Pilot RAAF), M M Fisher (Surveyor) and M Mellor (Glaciologist) who landed nearby in a Beaver aircraft to study Taylor Glacier. When found, the plaque had become detached by wind and was lying face downwards. It was taken, along with the copper cylinder containing the Proclamation, to Mawson station. The plaque was remounted and subsequently returned to the cairn.

We visited the site on Wednesday 12th September, examined the mounted plaque and read a photocopy of the original Proclamation found within a copper cylinder. Chris hoisted the Scottish flag but I am uncertain whether he was trying to claim territory or just celebrating Andy Murray’s win in the US Tennis Open. We left the champagne until we had returned safely to Colbeck Hut, where we all enjoyed a glass before dinner.

Anders took a photo of our group, consisting of one woman and six men, attempting to simulate the photo taken by J F Hurley of Mawson and his ten men. Hurley’s photo was reproduced on page 234 of B.A.N.Z. Antarctic Research Expedition 1929–1931, Reports — Series A, Volume 1, Geographical Report based on the Mawson Papers by A Grenfell Price, Adelaide 1963.