February 8, 2013

0366 & 0501 AUSTRALIA - Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Posted on 21.10.2012 and completed on 08.02.2013
The summer of 1911-1912 was certainly the most dramatic and perhaps the most tragic of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, due to the race between Amundsen and Scott, concluded in favor of the Norwegian, who reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. The British reached also to the pole, but after more than a month, on 17 January 1912, and he died on the way back. During the same period were conducted another two expeditions to the continent, Second German Antarctic Expedition, led by Wilhelm Filchner, and Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), led by Douglas Mawson.

The only one of them with a substantial scientific program was that of Mawson, even if neither he wasn't lacked of national pride, as he will recognize in The Home of the Blizzard, book published in 1915: "For many reasons, besides the fact that it was the country of my home and Alma Mater, I was desirous that the Expedition should be maintained by Australia. It seemed to me that here was an opportunity to prove that the young men of a young country could rise to those traditions which have made the history of British Polar exploration one of triumphant endeavour as well as of tragic sacrifice. And so I was privileged to rally the sons of the younger son."

The team selected for the expedition came primarily from universities in Australia and New Zealand, consisting of 22 Australian residents, 4 New Zealanders, 3 British and one Swiss. They sailed with Aurora, a steam-powered sailing vessel with a length of 165 feet and a displacement of 600 tons, which between 1876 and 1910 took part on the whale and seal hunt in the Arctic waters. The Aurora captain was John King Davis

The Aurora made the journey from Hobart (Tasmania) to Macquarie Island (located at about half-way between New Zealand and Antarctica), Mawson's base of operations, in December 1911. A second vessel, Toroa, followed with supplies and passengers. After establishing the base, they sailed south again, and arrived in Commonwealth Bay, anchoring at a mile off Cape Denison, on January 1912. At Cape Denison, her crew helped to set up the camp (Mawson's Huts), but then departed to Hobart so as not to get trapped in the sea-ice over the winter. The Main Hut were among the first structures erected on the continent and are recognised as Historic monuments by the Antarctic Treaty. Another base was established further to the west. From these base camps the men of the AAE explored for two years the continent's interior.

In the second half of 1912 were undertaken five major journeys from the main base and two from the western base. Mawson himself was part of a three-man sledging team, the Far Eastern Party, with Xavier Mertz, and Lieutenant B. E. S. Ninnis who headed east on November 10, 1912. In December Aurora returned, but at the end of January 1913 the ship had to leave, leaving behind a team of six, including a radio operator, and ample supplies. Mawson, the sole survivor of the three, arrived in time to see the Aurora disappearing over the horizon. Therefore the seven men wintered a second unplanned year in Antarctica. The ship returned to Commonwealth Bay on 12 December 1913 to pick them up.

In the next two years, the vessel helped to set up the supply depots along the route of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Ernest Shackleton, even being trapped in the ice between May 1915 and February 1916. In 1917 it participated to the rescue of the Ross Sea Party, but in this year also the vessel was last seen, when it departed from Newcastle, New South Wales, bound for Iquique, Chile with a cargo of coal. It is supposed that it was a casualty of WWI.

About the stamp

Between 2011 and 2014, Australia Post celebrates the centenary of the AAE, issuing each year a series of five stamps (and five maxicards). All the stamps follows the same design style and feature a combination of images depicting the environment, the men, their work and their lives. The maxicards which I received from Heather (many thanks, my dear friend!) are part of the series issued on September 4, 2012, which has as theme Arrival & Exploration, focusing on the activities of the AAE undertaken in 1912.

• Maxicard 1 - Hauling gear up the face of the Shackleton Shelf at "The Grottoes".
Image: Andrew Watson © Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW
Coastal ice cliff. Image: Charles Lascron © Mitchell Library, SCNSW
• Maxicard 2 - The Southern Supporting Party photographed at the Southern Cross Depot.
Left to right: Hunter, Murphy, & Laseron. Image: Frank Hurley © Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.

This is a post for Sunday Stamps #93, run by Viridian from Viridian’s Postcard Blog. The theme of this week is Ships of all sorts. Click on the button to visit Viridian’s blog and all the other participants.

Australasian Antarctic Expedition - Wikipedia
The Home of the Blizzard, by Douglas Mawson - Internet Archive
Historical timeline of AAE - 100 Years of Australian Antarctic Expedition
Maxicard set - Australia Post

sender 1, 2: Heather Massese (direct swap)
sent from Perth (Western Australia / Australia), on 24.09.2012


  1. Many at least know of the story of Scott and Amundsen. More should know the story of Mawson. Thank you for participating!

    1. I agree with you. That's why I started with this introduction. :)

  2. That's a beautiful maxi card and an interesting story.

  3. I love AAT stamps- and this one with the maxi card is really nice. I have the First Day Cover for the series. Thankyou for the interesting run-down of the history of Antarctic Exploration. Mawson used to feature on the $AUD 100 note. I can't think who does these days!!

    1. I like both the theme and how it is treated. I'll try to get more maxicards from this series.

  4. A truly educational post - I almost forgot to look at the stamps! It would be quite somtethng to have the centenary stamps (2011 -2014)