In the summer of 1911, a group of Australian scientists, adventurers and explorers set out to make history by undertaking the first Australian expedition to Antarctica, a three-year journey into the frozen unknown. Under the leadership of Dr. Douglas Mawson, they set sail for Macquarie Island and the virgin parts of Antarctica. Today, we look at what they encountered and recorded on the way not merely as a rare and fascinating glimpse of long-gone world frozen in time, but also as the source of important information that made a major contribution to how contemporary science understands the region and laid the groundwork for claims that in 1936 were formalized as the Australian Antarctic Territory.
These images come from James Francis (Frank) Hurley, the official photographer to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, and other members of the expedition who compensated for their lack of photographic acumen with sheer enthusiasm and visceral curiosity about the novel landscape that unfolded before their eyes.
Perhaps most fascinating — in a bittersweet kind of way — is the duality of human progress found in the stark contrast between these images and contemporary iterations of them: At once a living hallmark of the remarkable advances in photographic technology and a gripping reminder of how quickly we’re losing this precious ecosystem.
For a closer look at this fascinating and tender world, you won’t go wrong with Sara Wheeler’s classic, Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica.