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Mawson's Expedition to the Antarctic

Video clip synopsis – In 1912, Mawson's expedition arrived in the Antarctic. Little did they realise it was the windiest place on the globe.
Year of production - 1912
Duration - 2min 10sec
Tags - Australian History, environment, global citizenship, sustainability, see all tags


Mawson's Expedition to the Antarctic

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About the Video Clip


Mawson’s Expedition to the Antarctic is an excerpt from the film Antarctic Pioneers (30mins), produced in 1962.

Antarctic Pioneers: One of Australia’s most famous photographers and explorers, Frank Hurley, narrates this absorbing film on the history of Australia’s first expeditions to the Antarctic continent between 1911 and 1954. It includes remarkable, original footage of the expedition on the tall ship Aurora in 1911, the Campbell expedition in 1947 and the Law expedition in 1954.

Much of this film was made by Hurley when he accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson and an Australian party to the Antarctic in 1912, and on later expeditions. The program traces the history of the Australian expeditions between 1911 and 1914 and the establishment of Mawson Station. A rare film which reveals the true hardship and courage of these early pioneers.

Antarctic Pioneers was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit with the co-operation of The Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition.

Curriculum Focus


At Level 5, students demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the characteristics of the regions of Australia and those surrounding it: Asia, the Pacific and Antarctica. They explain, using examples, how the interaction of physical processes and human activities create variations within the regions. They use evidence and appropriate geographical language to explain contrasts within smaller regions surrounding Australia. Students describe differences in culture, living conditions and outlook, including attitudes to environmental issues, in these regions. They demonstrate understanding of environmental issues based on inquiry and propose ways of ensuring the sustainability of resources.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


There are 26 nations that claim parts of Antarctica as their territory. Australia is the largest, claiming 42 per cent of the total area.

In 1911 Douglas Mawson led the first Australian expedition to Antarctica. His aim was to map and explore the coastal area of Antarctica closest to Australia. Mawson selected his team and in the ship Aurora they sailed through 1500 kilometres of pack ice to the Antarctic coast.

In spring 1912, several parties of explorers set out on foot from their camp.
Mawson led the team comprising Swiss scientist Dr Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis. A team of greenland huskies pulled their sleds.

Mawson’s party travelled east for over a thousand kilometres mapping the coastline, collecting geological samples and discovering huge glaciers.

Fighting appalling weather and poor light, the trio had to drag themselves and their supplies around crevasses and slippery, ice-covered rock. Five weeks into the journey Ninnis disappeared down a deep crevasse along with a team of dogs and the sled carrying most of their food. Mawson and Mertz had to turn back and, in order to survive, they were forced to shoot and eat the remaining huskies.

Mertz became sick and increasingly weak from the toxic levels of vitamin A in the dogs’ livers, and he too died. Mawson was near death – his feet were bloody, his skin was falling away and he had lost a lot of weight.

Classroom Activities

    1. What is the overall image of the Antarctic environment that you get from the video clip?
    2. Consider why you have that impression or image—is it because of the narration? Or the visual images? Or the sound effects in the video clip? Or some other reason?
    1. Attitudes and values are things that the society agrees with, or thinks are important. See if you can identify any attitudes and values in this video clip. For example, you might decide that an attitude or value in this video clip is that we need to conquer the environment. See if you can identify any others.
    2. One of the values of many people today is a belief in ecological sustainability. That means having as little impact as possible on an environment. Do you think the pioneer scientists of this video clip shared that value? Look at such aspects as the use of animals, attitudes to wildlife, use of technology to help you work out an answer.
    1. The video clip was originally made as a film in 1962 from 1912 footage. Do you think a contemporary video about the environment would focus on the same images, or might it reflect different attitudes and values? Explain your reasons.
    2. The filmmakers have created their video clip to pass on certain messages. What do you think these are? For example, is there a message in the film about human endeavour? Or about nature? Or about our relationship to the environment?
    1. The pioneer scientists in this video clip lived in a small and isolated community in Antarctica. What sort of qualities would these people have needed? What rights and responsibilities might have been the most important ones for them?
    2. A key value underpinning Australian actions in Antarctica today is sustainability. Look at the way the pioneers in the video clip behave. Can you identify any actions or behaviour that would be considered unacceptable today? Discuss why such changes might have occurred over time.
    1. Identify an environmental issue facing Antarctica today. For example, it might be the impact of tourism. Prepare a briefing paper for a meeting to discuss the issue. The briefing paper will need to include background information, a summary of the issues, statements on possible solutions.
    2. There are many international treaties in force in Antarctica. Examine one of these and Australia’s role in implementing it.
    3. Research an Australian scientific base in Antarctica. Prepare a set of management criteria for the base that will promote ecological sustainability of the area.

Further Resources


Go to
Australian Government Antarctic Division