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Video clip synopsis – This clip explains the outline of Mawson’s quest and Jarvis’ emulation of it.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 2min 52sec
Tags - Antarctica, discovery, exploration, explorers, Mawson, Mertz, see all tags


Mawson's Quest

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About the Video Clip


Mawson’s Quest is an excerpt from the documentary Mawson – Life and Death in Antarctica produced in 2007.

Mawson – Life and Death in Antarctica
The Douglas Mawson Antarctic Expedition of 1912 is one of the most amazing feats of endurance of all time. Although his two companions perished, Douglas Mawson survived, but how? In a bold historical experiment, adventurer Tim Jarvis retraces the gruelling experience, with similar meagre rations, primitive clothing and equipment to uncover what happened to Mawson physically—and mentally—as a man hanging on the precipice of life and death.

A Film Australia Making History Production in association with Orana Films. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Channel 4.

Images in the clip courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Curriculum Focus


Historical knowledge and understanding.
Historical reasoning and interpretation.

Background Information


The Douglas Mawson Antarctic Expedition of 1912 is one of the most amazing feats of physical and mental endurance of all time. After a horrific journey across hundreds of kilometres of frozen wasteland, during which his two companions perished, the world was amazed to hear that Douglas Mawson had survived. Some questioned how it was possible, and the media of the day reported that he’d considered eating the body of his dead comrade, Xavier Mertz.

Mawson was later knighted and became a hero, but the question of how he lived when others died has tantalised scientists, historians and explorers ever since.

Now, Australian adventurer Tim Jarvis retraces Mawson’s gruelling experience to find an answer. Having been almost killed during his own solo trek to the South Pole in 1999, he confronts the deadly ice again—as Mawson did, with similar meagre rations and primitive clothing and equipment.

It’s a bold and unprecedented historical experiment that will provide clues to what happened to Mawson physically— and mentally—as a man hanging on the precipice of life and death. Combining the drama of Jarvis’s contemporary adventure with chilling dramatic reconstructions, expert commentary and stunning footage from the original expedition photographed by Frank Hurley, this is an extraordinary story of human survival.

Classroom Activities


Knowing the past

  1. Who were two of the key players who accompanied Mawson on this expedition?
  2. What was the name of the ship which led the expedition?
  3. What was the name given to the location where the expedition team first established camp?

Understanding more

  1. Working in pairs, create a profile of one of the explorers on the expedition.
    1. Each pair must refer to three sources of information.
    2. When you have finished creating your profile present it to the class.
    3. Compare and contrast the information that was presented on your explorer.
    4. Were there similarities or differences?
    5. How can you account for such similarities or differences?
  2. Jarvis notes the extreme conditions under which Mawson travelled and reflects, during the clip, that he tried to imagine what Mawson must have felt like.
    1. As a class, discuss the idea of “living in another’s shoes’.
    2. Can we ever really do this?
    3. What helps us to understand a person’s experience?
    4. Why is it important to try and do this?

Interpreting the past
The clip uses Mawson’s words from his journal to narrate the film:

“For a polar campaign, it is the vigor, the dash, the recuperative power of youth that is so necessary to cope with the extreme discomforts which approximate to the limits of human endurance and which so often enough exceed it. “

  1. From this account, what, according Mawson is essential for a person to have to cope in such extreme conditions?
  2. Why?
  3. What does this extract tell us about Mawson as a person? Why do you think that?
  4. Coupled with archival footage, why do you think that the director has constructed this segment in this way? What effect does it have upon the audience?
  5. What are the strengths and limitations of using documentaries like this one when investigating the past?

Further Resources


Australian Dictionary of Biography Online – Mawson, Sir Douglas