Douglas Mawson

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Sir Douglas Mawson (May 5, 1882-1958) was Australian Antarctic explorer. Born at Bradford, Yorkshire, only he was brought up in Australia, where he was educated at Fort Street High School and the University of Sydney. After taking up an academic career, he was appointed geologist to an expedition to the New Hebrides in 1903, and subsequently became a lecturer at the University of Adelaide.

In 1907, Mawson joined an expedition to Antarctica led by Ernest Shackleton, as a scientific officer, and was one of the first to ascend Mount Erebus and get close to the South magnetic pole.

Having turned down an invitation to join Robert Falcon Scott's last fatal expedition, Mawson led his own party into King George V Land and Adelie Land in 1911. A disastrous turn of luck led to his enduring several weeks alone with minimal supplies, after the loss of his two sledging companions. On one occasion during his return trip to Commonwealth Bay he fell through the lid of a crevasse, saved only by his sledge remaining on the ice above him. Mawson hung alone on the end of his rope, with the abyss below him, and climbed hand over hand to the surface, only to slip and fall back again. The second time he managed to climb out successfully. By the time he eventually returned to his companions, their ship, the Aurora, had left, and Mawson was forced to winter over in Antarctica until early 1914. The book Home of the Blizzard describes his experiences.

On his return, he married Paquita Delprat and was knighted, but the public took little interest in his achievements, being completely taken up with the Scott disaster and the outbreak of World War I. Mawson pursued his academic studies, taking further expeditions abroad, including a joint British, Australian and New Zealand expedition to the Antarctic in 1929-1931. He also spent much of his time researching the geology of the Flinders Ranges, in northern South Australia. He died in 1958 at the age of 76.

He was immortalised by having his image appear from 1984-1996 on the Australian paper one hundred dollar note. Also, Mawson Station (Antarctica), the geology building on the main University of Adelaide campus and a TAFE institute, the Douglas Mawson Institute of Technology, are named after him.

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