Lessons from the Arctic: How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole

Roald Amundsen with his dog and ship Fram in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Polenear his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

Roald Amundsen with his dog Pan and ship Fram near his home at Svartskog, Norway in the days before leaving for the secret expedition to attempt the South Pole near his home at Svartskog, Norway. Image: Photographer Anders Beer Wilse, June 1910, courtesy Fram Museum.

‘Race to the Pole – Captain Scott successful’ claimed The Age’s headline writer on 8 March 1912, the day after Norwegian adventurer Captain Roald Amundsen slipped quietly into Hobart in his polar ship Fram. The headline was in hindsight tragically way off the mark but it was not a deliberate ‘alternative fact’ of its day splashed across the established masthead. It was more an excited assumption based on expectation in the former British colonies of Australia and a misreading of Amundsen’s Nordic reserve on his arrival there after 16 months in Antarctica in his well-publicised contest with British naval Captain Robert Falcon Scott.

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The man who lived underwater

What do you say to someone who has lived underwater?

Or has propelled himself through the Greek islands in a human-powered submarine, visited Antarctica and even holds a Guinness World Record for the most electricity generated by pedalling underwater?

Strangely enough meeting underwater pioneer Lloyd Godson led to one of the most interesting and fascinating conversations of my life.

Lloyd Godson

Image courtesy Lloyd Godson

Lloyd Godson

Image courtesy Lloyd Godson

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The sport of turtle riding and ‘the Greatest Liar on Earth’

Louis de Rougemont died a long way from Australia, the place that made his name. He died a long way from Switzerland, the place in which he was born. In fact when he died, penniless and forgotten in London in June 1921, Louis de Rougemont was no longer his name at all. It was just a name that had once been famous.

It was also a name that came to be synonymous with a very strange and short-lived sport; turtle riding:

'De Rougemont's Lie', Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

‘De Rougemont’s Lie’, Western Mail, Thursday 12 March 1931, page 19

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Alone on the wide, wide sea : The voyage of the SPRAY

Mine was not the sort of life to make one long to coil up ones ropes on land, the customs and ways of which I had almost forgotten… I was born in the breezes, and I had studied the sea…

(Joshua Slocum Sailing Alone Around the World, page 4)

In the midwinter of 1892, a sailor by the name of Joshua Slocum arrived in the seaside town of Fairhaven, New Bedford, to view a ship. Heading away from the water, he set out to a nearby field where, propped up and under a cover of canvas, was an antiquated sloop called Spray. Continue reading

Shaping the unknown land to the South

Carte des Indes Orientale

‘Carte des Indes Orientale’, maker Pierre Du Val, 1677. #00000919 ANMM Collection

Maps are fantastic storytellers. At first glance they provide a collection of scientific data, information to be read like a coded book, a tool for guidance. However as they evolve into historical items and beyond their practical use, maps offer additional and unique dimensions to historical narratives.

Before coming to the Australian National Maritime Museum I worked in the Research Centre at the Australian War Memorial and came across many WW1 military trench maps. The inter-connectedness of these maps with operational records opened up the literal records to a more visual history – where was that cemetery, now destroyed but briefly mentioned by coordinates within the records? Continue reading