Author: Philip Ayres
Publisher: Melbourne Univ. Publishing
Category: Biography & Autobiography
View: 5411In the heroic age of polar exploration, Sir Douglas Mawson stands in the first rank. His Antarctic expeditions of 1911-14 and 1929-31 resulted in Australia claiming forty per cent of the sixth continent. The sole survivor of an epic 300-mile trek, Mawson was also a scientist of national stature. His image on banknotes and stamps reflects enduring public esteem. Yet until now there has been no comprehensive, objective biography of this tall, quiet figure. Aside from his two great expeditions, we have known remarkably little about him. Sources exist in profusion. People who knew him socially and professionally from as early as the 1920s are still alive. He kept copies of almost all his correspondence, and his papers reveal his most private self, his virtues and flaws, his social and professional circles, and the development and disintegration of his friendships. Most of this material has scarcely been touched over the years. Philip Ayres has now uncovered, from these and many other unpublished sources, a complex and interesting figure. He portrays Mawson the geo-politician with influential friends and rivals who, in 1942, offered his services to Prime Minister Curtin as Ambassador to Washington. In the Antarctic darkness of 1913, he confronted the bewildered delusions of a companion who believed himself to be Jesus Christ. He once took an advanced monoplane to the ends of the earth and forgot to pay for it. During the Great War, he compiled detailed reports on chemical weapons during visits to the vast war factories of England. Ayres also shows us the devoted husband of Paquita; the social Mawson of the Adelaide Club; the scientist within his national and international networks; the geologist who in 1924 failed to get the Sydney Chair; and the litigious Mawson, suing or threatening suit against associates who failed him. The icon both converges and conflicts with the real man. In this long-awaited, most impressive and readable biography, Philip Ayres not only illuminates Douglas Mawson's many achievements but also enables us to know and understand him as a human being. The book's many illustrations include reproductions of exquisite early colour photographs from the Antarctic expedition of 1911-14.