Australian Biography: Phillip Law
Phillip Law (1912–2010) was born in Tallangatta, Victoria.
He showed early academic ability and, at the age of 16, became a teacher.
He loved skiing and mountaineering and became fascinated by Antarctica. In 1949 he became Director of the Australian Antarctic Division, a position he maintained until 1966.
During that period he established the Mawson, Davis and Casey stations and led numerous voyages to explore the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory.
He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1993.
Interviewer: Andrea Stretton
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Oh no. No. I ... I was always interested in adventure, camping, mountain climbing and those things but I ... my initial ambition was to become a surgeon. I was academically inclined. I always knew that I wanted to do something academic but I had no way of getting into it. Living in the country where my parents were fairly poor, there was no way of getting to a university. Until later I found that you could get a teacher's scholarship that would lead down to university and I was able to get into that. But then my horizons were really those of rising in the teaching profession. I had no ambitions in any other direction.
Yes the name is [pronounced] "Tallangatha", for some reason or other. [Laughs] I didn't spend a great amount of time there but my grandparents lived there and I used to go back there mainly for vacations, school vacation time. And it was the adventure area where we climbed mountains, we swam in rivers and we went on hikes and played all sorts of interesting games with lads of the village, and the girls of the village. [Laughs]
Oh I was pretty young when that happened, so all my school days were primary school in Melbourne and secondary school in Hamilton High School and the formative years of my life really were at Hamilton High School. That's the period in which I register my greatest development, you could say in every direction: in the school work, in adventure, in sports particularly. In sport, it was interesting. I was deliberately held back for two grades because I was ahead of my age group and I got so frustrated with this interruption that I decided that I'd not do any more swot and I'd join the anti-swot brigade who'd indulged only in sport. It was very good for me really because I developed all sorts of sport skills that as a swot I would never have bothered with. And I had some wonderful model figures to emulate - several fantastic sportsmen of ... of the school, and I used to struggle along behind them fighting to try and compete.
That was ... that was terrible, really. That happened two years running and I saw my friends of my class move on ahead of me and I knew I was coming second or third in the grade and have the first ten moved up and leave me.
Oh they thought I was too young and out of my age group and it would better for me to be with my peers. In a way it was. I was always, before that, the smallest boy in the class.
Yes, they called me Squib. Actually I grew out of that when I was about fifteen. Between fifteen and seventeen I grew about six inches quickly and the name just dropped away.
Well my father was the head teacher of a little school, Mitta Mitta. It was forty-five miles out of Tallangatta, higher up in the mountains on the Mitta River. And I was born in Tallangatta because my mother had to be driven down in a gig with a horse over a 45-mile rough track to reach the hospital at Tallangatta. My elder brother was not so fortunate, because when he was born eighteen months earlier, there was no hospital at Tallangatta, so the idea was that they would take my mother to Wodonga, which was another thirty miles further on. So she was driven down to Tallangatta with a horse and gig and then my grandmother delivered my elder brother because the birth occurred very suddenly before she had a chance to get to Wodonga. And that's an example of the primitive nature of things in those days. I didn't attend school at Mitta Mitta. I was too young. I was only about three or four. But when we first went down to Melbourne, [when] my father was transferred, I attended first kindergarten in Gardenvale and then Elsternwick State School, and only went back to Tallangatta on holidays. Those holidays kept me in touch. My grandfather had set up and run a local newspaper there. When he died my father, sister and I continued it on and eventually the newspaper had to close down because all country newspapers disappeared. And I still retain with my sister, the ownership of the building and it's interesting that it's only this week that I'm finally selling the old Herald office at Tallangatta, so I've had a long association with that. And I love Tallangatta because I had two wonderful grandparents and very loving aunts and these holidays were some of the happiest times of my life. I'd go up there and be treated marvellously by these adoring people and I'd have all this fun and games with the local kids brought up in a country environment, quite different from Melbourne, with the swimming and the playing and the mountains. And that gave me an enduring love of the mountains. And ...
Tallangatta was a small town, I suppose about 1500 people. Mitta Mitta was about 300 - very small. Tallangatta finally was submerged under the Hume Weir and the township was transferred to the site that it now occupies. But all my associations were with old Tallangatta, where as well as having the Mitta River to swim in, we had the Tallangatta creek, which was much shallower and much warmer. And the first mountaineering experiences I had were those of scrambling up, egged on by my adored grandfather, who would take us up the hill at the back of the Herald office, which rose right out of our backyard, to a little flat area about three quarters up this fairly steep and fairly high hill, where he'd cook sausages in a pan and we'd have billy tea - these sorts of things, which to young kids of six, seven or eight were magic. And I remember on one occasion I climbed up on my own and got to the top of the hill and wanted to proceed overland along a sort of ridge plateau or spur, which connected it with another mountain called Mount Charlie, which is quite famous because it was a sort of conical mountain with a fringe of gum trees on the top and it was quite outstanding in the district and I always wanted to know what it would be like to be on top of that. And I set out to walk across this spur. I got about half way there and I found time had run out and they'd be worrying about me back home, so I had to turn around without going there. And that failure to reach Mount Charlie stayed with me all my life until only about six years ago. I was staying with some friends at Tallangatta and one night after a hearty dinner, I happened to mention I'd like to climb Mount Charlie and the lady of the house said, 'All right, we'll get up about six o'clock in the morning and do it', and I said, 'Right oh', and I got to my bedroom and thought, that was stupid. I don't know whether I can climb a mountain at my age. And I thought, she'll forget about it anyway. We've all had a few drinks. It was just a spur of the moment thing. Lo and behold, she knocked me up at six o'clock in the morning and off we went and we climbed Mount Charlie, and I had that great feeling of elation at the age of about seventy-eight, standing on top of Mount Charlie, having waited all those years to get there.
There were six children in our family. In the early days, the Hamilton and Gardenvale era, there were only three: my elder brother, Geoff, eighteen months older, and my younger sister, Marjorie, eighteen months younger. When we went to Hamilton there were three other children who were about twelve years younger. [INTERRUPTION]
In Gardenvale we were lucky again, as suburban children, to have a very open field to play in. In Gardenvale we lived very close to Kooyong Road and it was about a mile down to Gardenvale station and most of that area was unoccupied. It was vacant fields with odd houses cropping up here and there. But most allotments were blank and were simply vacant lots on which we used to play. They were generally covered with gorse and fern and we used to tunnel in through this stuff and make cubby holes, or we'd go to a cleared block and play cricket or football. So it was a very active life. I used to walk a mile and half to the Elsternwick State School in all sorts of weather. And altogether the Melbourne experience was quite interesting. I found Elsternwick State School was a very tough place. It had a lot of input from what then were the slums of Melbourne and a lot of slum children came to school and I remember the State school was a tough place to be in because we used to have these gang fights. If two blokes had a row they'd generally resolve it by picking up sides and these two sides would be two rival gangs, and the gang business was always quite unfair. It was always with a mob onto one person. You know, you would target one person in the opposite gang and you'd tail him home for lunch and then gang up on him when he came out. It was never one gang against the rest. It was always six or eight onto one. So that toughened me up a fair bit.
Well I was always the smallest one, but I was also pretty quick and learned to preserve myself pretty well by flight or other evasive action. For example, the Elsternwick area is riddled with underground sewer tunnels that flowed down into what used to be the Elster Creek, which is now a canal that delivers storm water drain material out into Hobson's Bay. And we found that there were these great tunnels, six foot six in diameter leading out of the canal, and we tracked them down with candle light and we learned these off pretty well. There were about six of them and they would each go for about a mile, a mile and half, underground. And I found I could escape a gang at lunchtime by diving down a culvert somewhere into a known part of one of these tunnels ... one of these tunnels, and weaving my way back to school underground. It was an adventurous sort of background as well. One other thing I should mention is that they had a nasty habit at that school of setting boys to fight each other. They'd arrange after school, for example, that one chap had to fight another chap and if he won, they'd put him onto someone else. And I remember once having to fight three fellows successively after school. They'd just picked us almost out of a hat, you might say, and put up against each other. It was a pretty horrible thing, but again it toughened me up and made me understand what combat was about and perhaps led me into a bit more of an interest into boxing that I showed later.
My elder brother, Geoffrey, I think was in many ways a genius. He had tremendous capabilities in all sorts of directions, but he was not interested in school work and therefore he was always in trouble at school. It's interesting, that after all those years of being regarded as a no-hoper at school, he finally went on and did bachelor degrees and at the age of seventy-eight did a PhD, [laughs] which is an interesting thing for the original no-hoper of the school to have done. But he was a rebel. He was in trouble as I said, at school. He was passed by me at school because I was ahead of my grades and he was just barely level with his because he wouldn't work. And we used to fight, pretty viciously, the two of us, for all sorts of reasons, but I think some of it was due to his resentment of my being the good lad and he was the rebel, and my being the favoured one at school and his being the outcast style. So my mother very sensibly arranged for him to go to a different school. So she switched him from Elsternwick State School to Balaclava State School and then things smoothed out a lot better. Later on, Geoff and I became quite close friends and went on numerous mountaineering exploits and skiing exploits together. But the early days, he disowned the rest of the family. He wouldn't walk to school with any of us. He wouldn't admit at school that he was my brother or Marge's brother.
No. I envied his contempt for authority in a different way. I was a conformist and I envied the sort of freedom he created for himself so that he was not subject to the restraints that I was. And also, I was a very thoughtful planner and I used to always consider the pros and cons of everything very carefully before I did them, and in that way I found that you generally finish up not doing your thing because you could think up so many reasons why you shouldn't do it. So round about the age of fifteen or sixteen I decided I wasn't having nearly as much fun as Geoff and I'd start plunging in off the deep end a bit more often rather than preplanning everything. And I found it worked and it was much more exciting and got me into a bit more trouble but gave me a hell of a lot more fun. So I think he was responsible in that way for changing my attitude to life.
I suppose all the pressures at that time encouraged that sort of behaviour. They were living in a very strict era and discipline was pretty severe. We were quite often strapped by our father for misdoings. It was that sort of age and it was only someone with a very strongly developed rebellious instinct like Geoff who'd step outside that moiré of that time.
I suppose the kids in my street. I lived in Lantana Road in Gardenvale and there were young kids down the street that we palled up with and we played various games with them, and lived in each others backyards and so on. They produce a general social background to my life. I don't think they really had any really permanent influence much. Not as much as the school itself had with its canals and its fights and gang wars and so on.
My father was transferred down to become a lecturer at Melbourne Teacher's College, and he was also then studying for his Master's Degree, MA, and so he was a very distant figure to us children. He would leave early in the morning and he would come home fairly late at night and after dinner would go to his study and swot. So we saw very little of him in those days. But when we went to Hamilton of course it was much the same. He was inspector of schools then. The youngest one in the State. [INTERRUPTION]
We moved from Gardenvale to Hamilton when he was appointed District Inspector, and at that stage the fourth child, Dorothy, had just been born. When we got to Hamilton, my father used to be away from Monday to Friday travelling around the various district schools and we'd only see him Saturday and Sunday, so my mother was the dominating influence in bringing us up. And as I said before, my father tended to be a rather distant figure and being the disciplinarian he had the unpleasant duties to perform, so that he'd come back at the end of the week and if there were any bad transgressions that week, it'd be up to him to punish us for them. So that there was this rather unsatisfactory psychological situation, where the mother was the loving person and the father was the person whom you feared and was the centre of all disciplinary measures. So in many ways we were relieved when he departed on Monday morning and we were left alone for the rest of the week.
I don't know. I don't think it affected me adversely. I remember it as being rather unfair on him. For example, he was a much more loving ... a much more loved father for the three younger children, who were Dorothy, Peter and Wendy, who formed a little group twelve years later than our group. And so to him, they were more like grandchildren in a way, or else he'd learned from his experience with us, or he had simply matured, or he was home more because by then he was living in the Teachers' College and they were living there and so he was present all the week round. So it was rather a different form of parenthood all together from that which we experienced when we were young.
Well we've often discussed that. We children have often said that as a man whose major, in his MA, was psychology, he was one of the worst psychologists you could imagine. For example, on several occasions, as young kids at Gardenvale, one of the punishments was to lock us up in the coat cupboard. To close you into a dark cloak cupboard and leave you there for half an hour was a pretty terrifying experience for a young kid.
And you can't image a psychologist subjecting you to that sort of treatment.
Oh I was. But my brother Geoff wasn't. From the age of two he used to shout out, 'I'll kill you. I'll chop your head off'. He used to defy him at every move.
Oh no, I was a bit of a good boy. [Laughs]
Yes, I acted a bit in loco parentis to the three younger ones, particularly with my father away from home in Gardenvale. I remember once when the three of them got whooping cough and mother and I had to cope with it. Coping meant that when one started to cough you'd rush and whip him out into the yard, where he could vomit, and by then that would set the second one coughing and you'd rush to try and get that one out in time, but you'd generally miss out on the third one because that would happen while the second one was in the garden. So I did a lot of house work, a lot of child minding, and at an early age I could change nappies and bathe kids and so on. So although I've never had children of my own, I know all the processes.
No, no. I quite enjoyed housework, I still do. I like running a house. I like cooking and enjoy housework. I like seeing a place turn out from being a mess to a good clean orderly place. There's a sense of satisfaction in it.
No, the only thing we resented was any element of unfairness in distributing duties. See the three of us, Marge, Geoff and I, all had certain jobs and chores to do around the house, and they had to be very carefully apportioned because if anyone got the slightest bit more than someone else there'd be a row about it.
Our mother was the adjudicator but she was very fair, very sensible, very receptive. [INTERRUPTION]
I think my Hamilton years were the most important formative years of my life. When I first went to Hamilton I was in Grade Seven and half way through the year, I was promoted to Grade Eight, so I had one year at the primary school and then I went across to the high school, and this was one of the times at which I was held back. I came second at the state school in Grade Eight. The top five, I think it was, went into D form at the high school but because of my age, they put me into E form. So I saw that my peers, intellectually, had gone ahead of me, but that didn't worry me too much. I enjoyed E form. But at the end of E form, the top half dozen skipped D form and went straight up into Intermediate in C form and again I was not amongst them, even though I'd earned that position in my results. So I went into D form, just one step up, and it was at that stage that I decided to join the sporting crowd and to give up any pretensions to intellectual advancement.
Yes. Yes. And looking back, I'm awfully glad I did. If I hadn't done that, I'm sure I'd have been a better scientist. I would have had a better intellectual career, but I would never have become the Antarctic explorer. The sporting advent was quite significant. I'd always been fairly physically active but my father - again a point I resented - my father never encouraged my sport. And at Hamilton, even in the sporting era, he showed no particular interest. He never once bought me a tennis racket or cricket bat. He used to sneer, almost, when I came home and started to talk about something I'd done at sport.
I don't know because in later life when he was at the Teachers' College and I was at the university in the boxing team, he became fascinated and used to follow every boxing match I boxed in, and finally he became president of the boxing club as a result, and so I can't explain why he was not interested. The same with my music. He was never interested in the musical instruments I played. As a matter of fact, when I was at Geelong, I was playing clarinet and I wanted to get a saxophone and I knew he would never agree because he'd reckon it was a waste of my pocket money to spend it on a saxophone, so I had to buy the saxophone secretly, and I used to keep it hidden and would only play it when I thought he wasn't there.
And now and again I'd almost get caught and I'd quickly switch onto the clarinet. Luckily his musical ability was not such that he could tell the difference much, so he didn't ever detect that I was playing saxophone ... clarinet instead of saxophone.
I used to get very disappointed. I'd win in some inconsequential little thing at the athletics day and come home and have it dismissed as being of no importance. And I suppose it made me try all the harder really. But I was mentioning the role models that I had. There was a chap called Reg Stewart who is still alive at the age of about eighty-six, and he was one of the most remarkable natural sports I've ever met. From a country high school, he became the under-fourteen athletic champion of Victoria. And he could do everything. They were fairly wealthy and I used to tail along in his wake. He was the best bike rider. He was the best shooter. He was the captain of the footy team. In the cricket team. The swimming champion of the school. Anything he touched, superb. So I learnt to shoot, I learnt to swim, I learnt to swallow-dive. I eventually won the school swimming championship. Through hard work I got into the cricket and footy teams. I was runner-up in the tennis at school. I became a first class shot with the shotgun or a rifle. And I went round the district swimming with the Hamilton Swimming Club.
I was fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, I suppose. So from Hamilton ... Oh, at the end of my time at Hamilton I became the junior teacher at the high school. I must say that I ... in those days, matriculation was called Leaving Certificate and there was an extra year that you did if you were good called 'Honours'. Leaving Honours gave you special marks for entering university or something. So I did leaving Honours in English, physics and chemistry, and had very mediocre results. I got a pass in Honours physics and a third class Honour in chemistry and a third class Honour in English, and my teachers were very disappointed. But when I came down to Melbourne I suddenly realised the inadequacies of the sort of preparation you get in a small country school in those days. For example, there was no space on the timetable for allocation of these duties to the teachers. They had to do it as a sort of act of grace for a couple of periods a week, and they were not highly specialised in this area. Later, for one year, I taught at Melbourne Boys' High School. I taught matriculation physics and maths, and I suddenly realised the advantages of the city boy: the degree of excellence of the teaching, the special programming, the coaching, the attention to detail, the thoroughness of treating the curriculum. It was a completely different world of scholarship from struggling along as the single student. You see, in a little high school like that, I'd be the only one in the physics or chemistry honours class so the teacher would have to just give such spare time as he could devote. And you'd go down to Melbourne Boys' High School and find a class of thirty under the best teacher in the State. So ...
In later years. Yes. The sort of envy I developed was when I became a physicist and realised the tremendous obstacles that I'd had to overcome in my intellectual career, which meant that there was no earthly chance of my ever becoming a top class physicist.
... I'll just mention here that there were severe interruptions, to my tertiary level education, and that combined with the sort of lack of basic foundation in my secondary years, all contributed to what I thought were inadequacies in my later scholarly life. At Hamilton, the, I've mentioned the sporting side of thing, there was also the wonderful outdoor life that I had. We all rode bicycles, the high school was a mile and a half out of town, and I used to ride a bike to school in the morning, back home for lunch then, back to school and then back after school. So that was four cycle trips a day just in school. And every weekend we would go rabbiting, and rabbiting took different forms according to our sophistication. At first we would go out with a dog and simply get the dogs to chase the rabbits down. Then we became a bit more sophisticated and took ferrets. And then we graduated to shot guns and pea rifles. So we'd cycle ten or fifteen miles out of the town on a Saturday, and spend almost all day shooting rabbits, and come back in the darkness nearly always to find mother apprehensively pacing the footpath outside, peering into the darkness wondering whether her son had shot himself or been hit by a motor car of something.
Remarkably tolerant. Of course, Geoff paved the way for this. As a young kid, aged about nine and a complete loner, he found a sort of small hill outside Hamilton called Mount Pierpoint, that was an extinct small volcano of the western district with a bit of a crater hollow in the middle. And he went out there for one weekend as a kid, carried blankets and things, and just camped there over the weekend on his own and he liked it so much that he designed a little caravan on wheels, which he would drag out through the paddocks and then spend the whole weekend on his own.
So then we were introduced to the Grampians because a school teacher friend of my father's, a man who was the headmaster of the school at Portland, arranged a trip, a three-week trip in the Grampians for his family and some friends and Geoff and me. And we went up with two lorries, each one drawn by two draft horses and stacked with everything we needed for a three week stay. And we stayed at two places. One was Mafeking, which was a deserted gold mining town on the slopes of Mount William, which had been deserted right back in about 1905 and everything was overgrown with scrub. This was about 1923 when this happened. And then from there we moved on to a place called Jimmy's Hut, which is on Jimmy's Creek, which flowed into the Wannon River right in the heart of the Grampians. And this gave Geoff and me a life long interest in the Grampians and in bush walking and in mountain scrambling generally.
And in those days there were no tracks and no mountain motor road. The motor roads finished at Mirrinatwa Natural Gap in the south and at Halls Gap in the north and the Wannon Valley just had an ancient wagon track just all overgrown with scrub. And over the following years, Geoff and I spent most of our holidays in the Grampians. We had Easter holidays, we had first term holidays, we had second term holidays. Not generally Christmas holidays because we would go somewhere else.
Generally with other school mates. Generally there would be three, sometimes four. And we started off just walking. We then tried going with bicycles. And our final method of travel was with pack horse, which was wonderful because you didn't carry anything, you put everything on the horse and walked free. So we explored most of the Grampian area before I was seventeen.
I think it was the mountain climbing and the love of the bush generally. But we used to probe in and climb anything we could see. And the climbing was quite dangerous and quite arduous because the Grampians - the shortest way up them was to go up the vertical side. You'd never go up the long slanting side, it takes too long. So to climb up the face here, you'd generally look for a cleft or chimney, which gives you a less steep slope than the vertical face of the cliff. So even there it was pretty steep and very often a chimney would be blocked at the end by a vertical wall of rock and you'd have to come back again and we experimented with all sorts of scrambling around.
It was highly dangerous, looking back on it, because we were so unsophisticated. You see we hadn't read any books on mountaineering. We didn't even have ropes. No idea of roping each other up and belaying each other or safeguarding ourselves. So we took all sorts of risks scrambling around on these vertical faces.
Well, I think they were immune to it by this stage. They'd got used to Geoff going off on his own. Oh, I forgot to tell you, that for about three years after this episode with the lorries to Jimmy's Hut and Mafeking, Geoff decided he'd like to retrace his steps, so he went off on his own. Walked in from Dunkeld or Willaura, I forget which, and went to Mount William and he had this photographic memory. He remembered every tree on the path. He remembered everything. But he followed around this almost trackless country to get to the various places where we'd been and he spent about ten days on his own doing that. And my parents accepted it.
Yes, well, he was the stimulus and the goal setter you might say. He also stirred me out of my lethargy. He organised a lot of trips which I, left to myself, would probably not have done. Later on he organised, oh I'll come to that later, the first ski trip I ever went on. That was Geoff. Later on I organised my own but the first one was generally Geoff pioneering the way.
Very close and yet very aggressively opposite, so that we fought interminably. But we developed a very close rapport in all sorts of ways. I think he admired me for some reasons and I admired him for others. [Laughs]
Yes. Yes. She was a remarkable woman looking back on it. She was tolerant. She was loving. She was highly efficient in running a house. A very good cook.
Oh, and putting up with the sorts of things that a woman in those days put up with from a husband, in terms of having very much the second level position and being ... having little say or no say with anything to do with money. All money was handled by the father and she just had to just accept what housekeeping money was doled out once a week, and no such thing as personal allowance or anything like that. Had to almost beg from the husband is she wanted a new hat or a new frock or a new pair of shoes. And having always to handle everything in the house with very little help. For example, it always turned out, that whenever we shifted house, my father wasn't there, so mother would have to organise it all and do all the work and all the packing.
I think he was at work in some way or another or something happened to the effect that he was not able to be present.
Yes. We'd help of course, but she was the organiser and the official person. She'd do it. Wonderful.
No, but I often felt she'd have blossomed socially much more if she'd had a different sort of husband. See, he was a non-social person. He was very shy. He was working so hard. He didn't have time for the frivolities of entertainment, so that there was almost no entertaining of other people in our house. The sorts of breaks we'd get would be, he'd be invited out to some country teachers place for Sunday afternoon, so we'd all pile into the T-model Ford and drive out and have afternoon tea with this teacher and his family. That sort of thing was the sort of break, but very little in the home itself. One of the only things that ever happened in our home, was I think they were called the 'Oddfellows' or something. This little group of intellectuals in Hamilton, who used to read a set book once a month and then come to different houses of the members to discuss it with supper. I remember this group coming to our place on several occasions over the years so my father, who'd be chairman for the evening, would discuss the particular book concerned. But apart from that ... and the kids we used to invite home to play music on the piano, because my mother could play the piano and she had a piano. Apart from that, there was no social life in our house.
Oh yes. She was a very happy person and she loved having us and the other kids around, and she encouraged us musically. She tried to get Geoff, Marge and me to try and learn the piano but we all ... we got fed up with the discipline of five finger exercises so we each threw it away. And then later on, each of us took it up again. Marge taught herself later piano. Geoff taught himself about five or six different instruments. I taught myself about two or three different instruments. Once we got onto jazz, which was the in-thing, we had a motivation which we didn't have with classical music. So our development in classical music came years later, when we found the limitation in music of the jazz ... of the jazz envelope, and began to move outside that for other forms.
Well that's, that's a nice point. One of my earliest memories of Mitta Mitta was at the age of three attending an Empire Day march. And I have a photograph of Geoff and me dressed up in soldier uniform with a digger hat and everything and a sword each and a belt, and we tagged along on the end of this procession. And my father, who'd been rejected for active service because of eyesight, worked very hard raising funds for patriotic purposes and per head for population of school, his school raised more than any other in Victoria. And so the war was a very important thing in the small town of Mitta Mitta, which was very patriotic indeed. Most of the men had gone off to the war and those who remained and the families, were very supportive of the whole war effort. Later when we got to ... to Gardenvale, the war loomed in other ways. I had two uncles, my mother's brothers, who went to the war. I didn't have much impact from the war, except hearing every now and again about battles and having the usual admiration of exploits that were blown up in the press of bravery and so on. But I do remember at the end of the war, the returning troops brought back with them the influenza, the so called Spanish influenza. And this Spanish influenza was devastating. We were very close to what was the Caulfield Military Hospital. Later became a repatriation hospital. And I remember as a kid, during war time, going past the hospital and seeing wounded soldiers being wheeled around in stretchers and things, and after the war I remember the whole place being turned into a gigantic camp of tents to cope with the patients from Spanish influenza. This epidemic had devastating effects right through Melbourne and the hospital was unable to cope, and they simply put army tents up all around it on all the spare ground they could find. And there were thousands of people in hospital with the Spanish flu. All our family got the flu except my father. He never caught anything. He was very meticulous in his personal hygiene with nose and mouth douches in the morning before breakfast and so on. He just never seemed to catch anything. But mother was badly struck by it. And I believe the reason for the big gap between the top three children and the bottom three is that she had a miscarriage in the middle of that time, due to the Spanish influenza, which she caught.
I don't think so. It would have been very foreign to his whole temperament. He wasn't that sort of person, and I think socially he would have been out of place because he was always a very shy person who didn't mix very well with other people.
I don't remember much about my younger three in Hamilton, except that they were there and I helped entertain them and look after them and do the housework and so on. And they went to school, and they went to Sunday School and ... Oh, one little thing I should mention, that reminded me. We three elder ones were sent to Sunday School regularly for the first year and we resented it, mainly because it happened on a Sunday afternoon and that was one of the times of the week when we wanted to do other things. And then we had a very astute minister in the Church of England there, and he was a canon, and he devised a morning service from 10 - 10.30, which would precede the ordinary 11.00 Church of England service, and this 10 - 10.30 one was for the teenage kids in the town. And we were told by our parents, if we attended that, we needn't go to Sunday School in the afternoons. So we went to this and Canon Jessop was a remarkable man. Instead of giving us readings from the Bible and a lot of rather uninteresting stuff, he taught us a lot about the background of the Church of England: the structure, the components of the church, the nave and the chancel, the sanctuary; a lot about church history, a lot about other religions, and this was an education to me which resulted in my winning the Scripture prize in my last year at high school. But it formed a basis for later life, which I've always appreciated. The fact I'm no longer a believer of any sort, I'm quite agnostic, I do understand religions. I have a fair background of what they're all about. I was brought up as a confirmed member of the Church of England.
Yes. But she changed to the Church of England with my father, for which her grandmother never forgave her.
Well not so much her brothers and sisters, they were always very sorry for her. But they were afraid to show any outward form because of the dominance of this pretty terrifying grandmother, who was about five feet one high and ruled everyone with a rod of iron. A little Irish woman. [Laughs] [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
One of the interesting aspects of life at that time for a teenager, was the masculine attitude to girls, which is so utterly different from what it is now. It was considered to be sissy to have anything to do with girls. Very few high school chaps had steady girlfriends, and the one or two who did, you regarded as being a bit offbeat. Most of us would have been ashamed to admit that we had a girlfriend.
And the only sexual events that I had up 'til I left Hamilton at the age of seventeen, were bits of crushes on various girls, at a distance, at school. To take someone home from a high school dance in the dark and to be arm in arm, and hand in hand, until you got to their front gate and have a quick kiss to say goodnight, or to go to the church social and play postman's knock and kiss the girl in the dark, whoever she happened to be. But you know nothing steady. Nothing at all real about it. And this funny repression of the masculine attitude: of being anti-girl and anti-that sort of weakness. When I went to Geelong I had spent one year as the ... I should say before that, I'm sorry. My last year at Hamilton I was the junior teacher at Hamilton High School. Now junior teachers ... a junior teacher was a position of apprenticeship to teaching. In those days you did a year or two years of junior teaching before you went to Teachers' College and you were supposed, in that time, to have been given indoctrination as how to teach a class and to have had practice and so on. But I in high school didn't get that. I was the office boy to the head master. So my training was quite different. I learnt how to type, and how to file. I had to answer correspondence and had to answer telephones, and how to type out the exam papers for all the rest of the staff. And I learnt ... had my first lessons in administration.
And even now, I can look back on how valuable it was: the whole idea, for example, of having to keep a green copy of every bit of correspondence that goes out, having to keep a correspondence book, noting down what letters were sent out and what dates and what they were about and brief extracts, learning how to pay money into banks and out and so on. When I went to Geelong High School, my father had been transferred to being District Inspector at Geelong and I became junior teacher at Geelong High, which was very fortunate, being able to live at home. And I developed these skills and I also studied Honours Mathematics. Again, with no particular success. I got a third class Honour in Mathematics ... Honours Maths at the end of the year. But Geelong was important. First I learnt how to improve my typing and to run a duplicating machine and to duplicate thousands of sheets for the exams. All the exam papers were done by me in the office. And I had a wonderful head master called Robert Hagan and it was a first class school and I really profited from the experience of the teachers I saw. And the sport - the sport was fantastic. I seemed to do everything that year. At school we had a good gymnastics man and I did gymnasium at every break and at lunch times.
Was I quite what?
Yes. Yes, very much. I ... in Hamilton I had done all the swimming certificates that were possible. But in Geelong I gained the highest certificate you can get, which is called the Award of Merit of the Royal Lifesaving Society, which is quite a difficult award to get, and I remember it was done under terrible conditions in the sea baths at Geelong in April in bitterly cold weather, and with what I know now, I know I was suffering severely from hypothermia. After an hour in the water I got out and I shivered uncontrollably and it was over half an hour before I returned to anything like normal and was able to walk. But nobody did anything for me. Nobody put a blanket around me or anything. I was left on the sidewalk of the baths to recover.
Oh, yes. And I joined the Church of England Boys' Society, mainly because of sport. They ran athletics and they ran a football team and a cricket team, so I joined in all that. And then a chap, a bank clerk, I met, persuaded me to join the Geelong Guild Harriers and I entered a field of sport I'd never done anything with before, and that was athletics. I'd learnt at high school that I didn't have the speed to sprint and I was no good at foot racing generally. I didn't have the leg muscles for it, I guess. But under the persuasion of this chap, I took up long distance running and this was a form of severe physical training. Looking back on it, I'm staggered at the fact that I went through it and persisted with it. But we used to do a three-mile run every Tuesday and Thursday after work and then Saturday we'd do a five mile run, which was generally competitive with the Guild Harriers. Geelong Guild Harriers were one of the top amateur athletic clubs in Victoria, at that stage, and they had some very famous runners of Australia class, who ran for them.
I was then ... let's see ... I must have been eighteen. Then having done three miles on Tuesday and three miles on Thursday and five miles on Saturday, we'd turn up at ten o'clock on Sunday for a 15-mile race walk. We'd walk from Geelong out to Batesford and back, headed by two of the best walkers in Victoria. And at the beginning I'd walk until I was 200 yards behind, then I'd run to catch up, and then I'd walk and drop back to being two or 300 yards back behind, but at the end of the year I was beginning to keep up with them all. And, so at the end of that year, 1930, I was a very fit young man. I'd been swimming, because we were only about half a mile from Corio and the swimming club, and what with swimming, and athletics, and the gymnasium and the Church of England Society, playing basketball for example, cricket, football, I sort of did everything. And at the end of that year I went - hoping to get a scholarship to Melbourne Teachers' College to do the secondary course, which led you straight into a science degree and then onto a Diploma of Education. And to my disgust and disappointment, they cut heavily back on the numbers that year and the following year they cut it out all together. Anyway, I didn't get in there and I was sent instead to Ballarat Teachers' College to do a primary degree ... a primary course leading to a trained Primary Teacher's Certificate, a one year course. The lucky part ...
Did I what?
I felt thwarted academically. But there again it paid off. In Ballarat I had a wonderful year. The sport was wonderful. I played football, cricket and swimming. Scholastically it was broadening because I had to do subjects that I had never taken much interest in before: psychology particularly and world history which I had never studied. We'd always done British history at school. And lovely English, which broadened my whole English perception, because I had been brought up in the school in the classical old fashioned sort of English of Milton and Shakespeare and all that era. And here we had a modern teacher, who taught us what a short story was and introduced us to contemporary short stories and three-act plays and modern novels.
No. Not even mountaineering books, strangely to say.
So at Ballarat Teachers' College I played on the local ... I played on the college football team and the college cricket team. I was the champion swimmer of the college, not that that meant much, there were not many of us. I didn't play tennis there. I was too busy on football and cricket, I guess. And I was ... I ran a little dance band and played the saxophone.
No he was not there. He was out teaching. And I was on the council, the student council of the college. And I became enamoured of a nice young girl with whom I went steady. That was the first steady girlfriend I'd ever had.
Yes. And I remember we used go up on a Saturday night and climb over the fence into the Ballarat Gardens and park there on the lawns away from anyone.
She was at the Teachers' College, yes. She was a Melbourne girl who had been sent up to do the course there.
One year. Now that opened another gate for me because at the end of that year I found there were two scholarships given for what they called a second year: one for a man, one for a woman. And I won the one for a man and it led to one year at Melbourne's Teachers' College to enrol for a degree. So the following year, 1932, I went to Melbourne Teachers' College and did a one-year, first-year science course. When I talk about interruptions to my academic life, at the end of that year, money had run out and I had no money to live in Melbourne, so I had to take a teaching job in the country. So ...
Well that was the middle of the Depression. And they then closed down ... the following year they closed down the Ballarat College because of the Depression. Ballarat and Bendigo. And they cut this secondary course out of Melbourne's Teachers College and I had to go out to Clunes Higher Elementary School as a teacher and for a while I thought, that's the end of my university work for some time, but then I found that I could study mathematics without attending the university. So I did Part Two and Part Three Pure Maths while I was studying ... while I was teaching at Clunes Higher Elementary School. And that was a terrible struggle.
No lectures at all. See I was in a little country town and I arranged with one of my friends from the previous year, who'd done Part One science with me, he'd gone on to Part Two mathematics ... I arranged for him to take his lecture notes with some duplicating paper, you know, carbon paper, so he sent the carbon paper notes of his lecture notes and then I would write down to the public library in Melbourne, and get them to post up text books, and I literally taught myself maths, following the syllabus set out in these notes.
I suppose that I could see that my future in the Department depended on getting a degree, particularly being in the high school section as I wanted to be. And in this elementary school I was teaching up to Intermediate Certificate. One aspect of that shows you, talk about being keen, I found that a country teacher in a little school five miles out of Clunes, a rural school, who lived out there, he wanted to do Part Two and Part Three Maths too. So he and I teamed up, and every Friday night I'd walk five miles across the paddocks to get to this chap's house and he'd give me dinner, and then we'd settle down and work till midnight on our mathematics. And then next morning, which was his shopping morning, he'd drive into Clunes to do his shopping and deliver me back. And over those next two years, I did Maths Two and Maths Three and so did he in that way.
Just a couple of things about Melbourne's Teachers' College I forgot to mention. On the sporting side, I played football for the college, again did not play tennis, although I played a few games of tennis during the year. I entered for the university boxing championships and I won the novice championship and then went on to win the open championship in the light weight division. At the same time of course I won the Teachers' College boxing championships in the light weight division. And because I'd won the open championship, I was a member of the inter-varsity team, which went to Sydney to box against the other university. And I met a chap from Sydney University, who was the state lightweight champ ... amateur champion and I was quite outclassed. I remember trying to just somehow defend myself and keep out of trouble and put up some sort of a show, but in the third round he caught up with me and hammered me and the referee stopped the fight. I was terribly disappointed to find I didn't get a half-blue because I found out later that blues at universities are only awarded to winning teams and winning people. [INTERRUPTION - PLANE - SLATE]
Still on the boxing theme, I remember being quite terrified in Sydney because I didn't sleep the night before the event and all of us were terribly nervous. I remember playing the saxophone to the boxing team the night before, just to try and create a bit of a diversion to keep our minds off what was going to happen the next day. But I found the contest was in the main Rushcutter Bay Stadium in Sydney - this huge place was where all the professional fights were held and the man who was referee was the professional referee from boxing fights I'd seen, a great portly bloke called Wallace I think. And when I stepped into the ring and sat on my little stool in the corner they swung out a spittoon type thing like you have at a dentist's, with running water in it. You know these round thing. Do they today, in dentist, have it?
A round thing with water running in the thing. And I took one look at that and thought, Oh, that's in case you have a tooth knocked out or something. And then they swing that out of the way and they swing your seat out of the way and they say, 'Seconds out of the ring', and you have to move forward against an adversary and you suddenly realise that you're absolutely alone. There's no-one in the world that can help you and there's that bloke and he wants to kill you, so it's just up to you. It's you and he. And this is the most alone feeling you can get that I know. And it's not like other sports where you get beaten you're just beaten. In boxing if you're beaten, you take a hiding as well. You're up for physical disfigurement even unless you can really handle yourself properly. And all my boxing career I was always so nervous in the first round but I just fought automatically according to what I'd learnt in the gym. Not cerebrating at all, I didn't really start cerebrating or thinking it out until the second round. It's all very scary in a way and I'll come back to that again later because I want to say what I did in 1936, but I'll do that later in the tape.
I like the skill element particularly. It's a wonderful skill of sport. And it depends essentially on a very fast reaction time. And that's why even at this age, I'm still a good tennis player because I've got such fast reaction times that I can still intercept things at the net that very few people of my age can do, and that's just the genetic talent I inherited that made me a good boxer.
Oh yes, that's so. But strangely enough you don't feel brutal when you're inflicting your punishment on the other fellow. As a matter of fact, often I'd be far from brutal. I'd decide that if I felt superior that I wouldn't like to cut him about and I'd like to end if pretty quickly rather than just pick him off and finish up in a bloody mess. So I'd tried to hit him hard in the solar plexus or somewhere, where it didn't show much, to stop the fight. But then you have this strange business of developing sort of brotherhood and there's this strange relationship between anyone whom you'd fought in the boxing ring. Sort of blood brothers in a sense. It's quite peculiar.
It's a very definite bonding, yes. Anyway, I'll leave boxing and come back because some years later I won the inter-varsity championship and I'd like to talk about that later. But while we're on this first year at university, there were three blokes in the Teachers' College, who actually resided in the residential part of the Teachers' College. I didn't. As a sort of outsider coming down from Ballarat, I had to try and find lodging in Carlton. So I'd lodged in a boarding house in Drummond Street, which my father remembered because he had lodged there at one stage, and it was run by two elderly spinsters. And it housed two or three teachers and a couple of bank clerks, a couple of girl clerks, and it was pretty primitive in a terrace house in Drummond Street that badly ventilated and smelt of boiled cabbage. And you had a bath once a week - you put your sixpence in the heater, and I used to go down to the Teachers' College and get baths there. Borrow somebody's room and use the showers there. But I formed a friendship with three other Part One people: Arthur Wilcox, who was doing geology, Bob Hill, who was doing physics with me, and Reg Jacobsen, who was doing geology. And Arthur Wilcox became important years later, when I was in the Antarctic. I got him onto the place-names committee for Antarctic names, which was a Federal Committee. Bob Hill, the physicist, had a profound influence on me. First, he was the first real scholar I'd ever met. When I saw the way he approached physics and his voluminous knowledge of the subject, and his studious philosophical attitude to it, I was just a child by comparison. And that ...
Yes, his complete academic standard. I realised years later that he had a very fine mind and was a very fine physicist. He later became professor of physics at Chicago University. Sorry, Illinois, Illinois University. And I visited him only last year in America. Talked our heads off all night about physics and modern science and various things.
At that stage, when you were ... when you were young, as the time you're talking about, when you met people like that, did you wished to yourself that you'd had a smoother academic path? [INTERRUPTION]
I had no continuity in my studies. For example, when I did Part One science at Melbourne university, I'd been out of the game for two years because I'd been a junior teacher. And when I came back to do Part Two physics, I'd been out of the game for another two years, while I was in the country, and you can't afford in the modern competitive science race to have these blocks and drops. Quite apart from making it very much more difficult to pick it up, you lose an immense amount in that break in continuity.
Yes, well, this is the fascinating thing to my friends that I miss out on the academic thing, and because of that, I gather the reward of the Antarctic thing. It's fascinating. But the Bob Hill experience is important, because for the first time in my life I realised what real scholarship is, what real academic work is. And the other two are just as good, Wilcox and Jacobson, but Hill was outstanding, and still is. He later became a an expert employed in a big research development corporation in Santa Barbara, where they had Government contracts for re-entry problems of rockets coming in through the atmosphere, and he's one of the chief physicists on lots of secret work. And he's now one of the world experts on lightning, and the effect of lightning on the beginnings of human life, because in the primordial ooze ... [INTERRUPTION]
I was really interested to read about when you were at university and war broke out and you put all you administrative skills into practise by doing, arranging social service work with you and other students.
That was an interesting development. When the war broke out I was doing my Master's Degree and I was persuaded to finish that before I did anything more active, and in any case it was a phoney war so it didn't seem to matter much whether I was fighting or not. But as soon as I finished my Master's Degree I enlisted in the RAAF and I duly went and did all sorts of tests and I was finally appointed a pilot officer, in brackets, navigation, for air crew and asked to turn up at Point Cook at a certain time. I went down to Point Cook and along with a lot of others we were ushered through and told what the score was and where we were to live and what kit we'd be given and all the preliminaries. And late that afternoon I had a note from the Commandant of the area, asking me to come and see him. So I went and saw him and he said, 'I'm sorry Law, but you'll have to go back to the University. Your professor has invoked manpower regulations and he's involved in war work and he doesn't want to lose staff like you'. And this was ...
Well I was very angry because of two things. First, I'd resigned all my appointments as tutor at Newman College and various things and private tutoring and others at Melbourne University, and I'd told everyone I was going to join the Air Force and people had given me send-off parties and things. And I was going back a few days later and having to hear everyone say, 'Ah didn't you go to the war?' you know. Highly embarrassing. But apart from that I resented Professor Laby's attitude. I had gone to him and asked him, 'Was it all right for me to enlist?' and his precise words were imprinted indelibly on my mind. They were, 'Law, it is not the policy of this department to stand in the way of any person who wishes to serve his country in a more active capacity'. So with this rather sonorous speech I went off with his blessing, and having then changed his mind and brought me back was due, I could see later, to the fact that he'd already lost one chap, who joined the Air Force, and then to have me join might set off a domino effect, and if he had to lose another three or four, well then, his war effort in the university would suffer.
That's right. So we were all really frustrated ... frustrated because of the phoney war. Menzies was the Prime Minister and he kept saying, 'Students we don't want you to do anything. You just go on and finish your degrees, that's the best thing you can do', and meanwhile, there's a war overseas and people are enlisting and the Seventh Division off and all this sort of thing, and students were very frustrated. So I decided that we'd do our own patriotic work and I set up an organisation called University National Service. And I gathered some friends round me to promote this and called a big meeting of students in the Union Theatre. It was packed. And I gave a speech. I wish I had a copy of it. I never kept a copy of that one, and it wasn't reported by Farrago because Farrago was antagonistic to what we were doing and wouldn't report it.
Yes. Yes. And for the first time in my life I had this wonderful feeling of being able to sway a group of people with words, to be able to stand and talk and see the impact on people, to arouse the enthusiasm. And it went like wildfire. We arranged a simplistic model that I had of a Communist Society, in which you have cells and then cells nominate people to attend the higher echelon, and you build up different structures until finally you've got presidium up the top. So we did this. We divided people into groups of twelve and we had a sort of leader of each twelve, and they would elect another committee and then another committee and then finally it would finish up with an executive committee of about six at the top. And one of the top members of the committee with me, at that time, whom I depended quite a lot was Alf Butcher, who later became very prominent in Victoria - first as head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and then as President of the Zoo and a member of the ... a very effective member and then secretary I think, of the Academy of Technological Sciences, and a very well-known scientist in Victoria.
No, the pacifist element in those days was very small. There was a communist element, of course, that was anti-war, but they didn't hold anything like the power that they came to have later. It was nothing like the communist development in the 1960s, with the Vietnamese War and the peace movement and all this sort of thing. So most of the students were behind the UNS as it was called: University National Service. And it was interesting to see the sort of things we did. One of the things we started was newspaper collection. It was the first time anyone had collected spare newspapers and tried to make money out of it. Seeing that that's a national programme these days, that's interesting. We of course had a Savings Certificate Programme encouraging students to invest in the national savings certificates. We ran physical fitness classes and social service classes in the poorer suburbs, for disadvantaged kids. And then in the fruit picking season, when so many people had left Shepparton to go to war, I arranged a camp for men and Kate Fitzpatrick ran a camp for girls and the university chaps and girls - the men did the fruit picking, tomatoes mainly but a bit of fruit, and the women went into the canning factory and canned peaches and apricots and things.
No it was patriotism. Very definitely. I'd felt I'd been edged out of the active service and I wanted to do something concrete and effective. And I also ... also felt that university students themselves wanted to do something more and I'd like to help promote that idea.
I don't know if there was that sort of feeling of being natural to be a leader. I ... I felt that I could do it and I'd already had this up-rush of enthusiasm from people as a result. It was fun having these groups working and the whole thing was an exciting atmosphere of creative effort from all sorts of people. When we got to Shepparton, that was wonderful. Three weeks of all sorts of interesting things happening: arguments with fruit growers, the people in the cannery trying to bash down the women to slave type labour. Kate Fitzpatrick ... Kath Fitzpatrick fighting tooth and claw to prevent it and so on. All this I've left records of in the archives of Melbourne University. So, what upset me tremendously was, as part of our Saving Certificate Scheme, we asked Menzies up to open the Saving Certificate Scheme in Wilson Hall, and he came up and he poured cold water onto the whole UNS system. He said, 'Oh, you're wasting your time doing all these frivolous things. You're job is to do your degrees. You don't have to do other things'. I've never been so disgusted with a persons negativism: when there was this tremendous fountain of enthusiastic young people desiring to do something and they just get put down. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
We invited Menzies up to launch this Saving Certificate Campaign and I've never been so disappointed in a person. Instead of encouraging us or stimulating the students, he poured cold water over the whole idea, 'You students have to go on with what you're doing - doing your degrees. We'll look after the country. Don't worry about it. Everything's fine'. So, we all finished up at the end of that thrown almost out of school. However ...
Yes and I learnt something that's remained with me all my life: the hatred of negativism, the hatred of cynicism, the hatred of people who block off enthusiasm, in a world where you need people to encourage enthusiasts and drive them on and make use of their energy to have someone to just dampen them down. And I ran into that later on with certain members of the Dept of External Affairs, who would try to squash out my enthusiasm and my ideas about Antarctica. Some I said. Most were very supportive but there were one or two, who really infuriated me with this sort of attitude.
Well that arose from another whole period of my life. The patriotic work, which the university Physics Department was involved in, was optical munitions. Early in the piece we found we didn't have enough gun sights, binoculars, range finders, da da da, fighting optical instruments. And we tried to purchase them from England and they said, 'No. We need them all here following Dunkirk', and, so there was no option but for Australia to start making her own, and that started a whole new industry in Australia for optical instruments, starting with the manufacture of optical glass largely under Professor Hartung at the Chemistry Department of the Melbourne University. It was a fascinating time for me because I learnt a lot about industry because we were working hand and glove with the factories. I learnt a lot about precision instrument making, workshop practice, the science of metrology - fine measurements down to the thousands of millimetres or something. And I also had my first real chance to do administration because I became assistant secretary to the Optical Munitions Panel of which Professor Laby was the chairman, and the secretary was the senior lecturer at Melbourne University called Doctor Rogers. And Rogers was a very fine administrator. He later became the man in charge of the Shepparton Branch of Melbourne University just after the war, and I learnt a tremendous amount about administration by working under him. And towards the end of ... towards the end of the war, he went over to America on an urgent mission related to optical munitions and for six months I was acting secretary in charge of the administration of this very complex system. And that couldn't have been better preparation for my leadership over the Antarctic Division later. But I still resented the fact that I had not been on active service because of the RAAF disappointment, so I was determined to get up in the fighting area somehow and I'd been working with the Botany Department at Melbourne University on tropic proofing instruments. We found that instruments in New Guinea would all get glogged up with fungus which would grow over the optical components so that finally you couldn't see through, and it involved all sorts of problems and we tried all sorts of attacks on these problems. And I devised a series of field tests, which could only be done really in the jungles of New Guinea. At the same time I persuaded the army that I should write a report on their instrument workshops along the battlefronts, because there was obviously something that needed doing there, because binoculars, for example, were coming in and forming huge piles around these instrument workshops which they were managing to fix up at only three or four a day. There'd be twenty or thirty a day coming in for repair. So, I persuaded the government, the Australian Army to send me as a scientist to New Guinea on a project involving those two things: the testing of the experiments and the report on the workshops.
Yes. Apart from, oh, I'd been to Sydney once, I'd been to Brisbane once and I'd been to Adelaide once. I'd never been anywhere else. Certainly it was the first time for me to leave Victoria during the war. And the interesting part of it was that I went up as a civilian. They tried to give me rank of some sort and put me in uniform and I insisted on going as a civilian, and it was fortunate that I did, because later on when I wrote a report about my visit, before I left New Guinea, the general commanding of the New Guinea force demanded to see my report before I went so that they could censor it. And I refused and I said, 'It's nothing to do with you. I'm reporting to headquarters in Melbourne', and as a civilian there was nothing he could do about it. Had I been in uniform and under his command I wouldn't have had the same ability to produce an objective critical report.
Anyway I got to New Guinea and had a remarkable experience because I saw more of New Guinea than many of the fighting men. I started at Port Moresby and down to Milne Bay and over to Goodenough Island, where the RAAF had an establishment, and back to Buna and Gona and Lae and Finschaf ... Finschafen and Nadzab. And each place, I was up, just one line behind the fighting troops. I was never under fire. I missed a bomb attack at Goodenough Island by one night but no one was killed in that or wounded.
The heat was appalling. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
The heat was appalling and in the jungles of New Guinea, at sea level, I think the climate is probably one of the worst of the world. It's unequalled in most other tropical places because they don't have a wet season and a dry season. They have an almost constant level of around ninety degrees temperature, and ninety degrees humidity, which is about as bad as you can get. And to lie in a native grass hut in absolute still air at night, with the stench of fungus on everything: the sheets and the mattress and the pillow and the tent and the mosquito netting. And the mosquito netting makes you feel more oppressive. Not that pushing it aside creates a draft but just to feel yourself encompassed makes it feel worse, and you just lie there in a pool ... naked in a pool of sweat all night just tossing around.
Oh, yes. I remember one frightening episode where at Port Moresby I had to fly to Milne Bay the next day and we went out to the airport to sleep for the night waiting to leave at dawn the next day. And it rained heavily and at about at eleven o'clock at night we heard ... we could hear a Flying Fortress flying around overhead and it reverberating around overhead for over two hours, obviously trying to find someway down, someway of landing in this storm. And then suddenly this violent explosion - realising that it had crashed. At dawn the next morning we went out in a jeep and saw the remains of this scattered over the hillsides and nothing, except an odd arm or a leg here and there, of any human occupants. Almost no bits of the plane except a few of the engine box and then knowing that we had to get up in a plane two hours later and go down in weather that didn't seem very much better, had a very demoralising effect on us, I must say.
Only an exciting experience I guess. It taught me a lot about the army and the way it runs things. It taught me a lot about troops and their amazing courage. I had the opportunity to examine the Sattleberg battlefield a very short time after a pretty gruesome battle there and see the ravines that our men had to cross in order to attack the Japanese. It's incredible stuff. It taught me a lot about inefficiency, about bureaucracy, about poor leadership and good leadership. It was quite an experience and I was delighted, of course, to have least been able to say I'd been somewhere near the edge of war.
Yes and then went back ... [INTERRUPTION] Yes, the main research involved putting numerous binoculars out into different patches in the jungle. These telescopes, having been treated with a special mercury compound that was supposed to inhibit fungus developing inside them, and then collecting them at the end of my trip. I suppose I was away for about six or eight weeks and bringing them back to the botany department in Melbourne to be examined. And my rather critical report on the inadequacies of the instrument workshops I presented to an interesting meeting of top brass of the army and air force at Victoria Barracks, who were highly embarrassed and started off by saying, 'Of course Law you realise how difficult it is for us and the secrecy of this. We don't want criticism', and 'What do you intend to do with this report?' Obviously they were aware that as an academic I might want to publish it. And I just said, 'Look you sent me up on a mission. You asked me to do a report. There's the report. It's yours. Do what you like with it. I have no further interest', and the sort of sigh of relief all the way around the table that there'd be no further publicity on this matter. Then I went back to the University and started research again, this time in classical physics as in the thermal conductivity ... heat conductivity of gasses at very low temperatures - minus 150 and minus 200 degrees, that sort of thing. And after getting through that, Professor Martin, my professor, came up to me and suggested I should undertake a PhD, which had just been introduced. Prior to that, a Master's Degree that I had was the highest thing you could get. And after the introduction of the PhD, Martin said, 'Look in the world of the future, if you don't have a PhD you won't be able to get anywhere, so you'd better enrol'. I said, 'Well can I count the two years of research I've done on heat'. He said, 'No, that PhD won't allow you to take anything that's done previously'. So, I started up from scratch on cosmic rays and the interesting part of this was that, because Martin later suggested that cosmic rays be part of the newly formed Antarctic Division, I found myself immediately in the research arena of preparing for the Antarctic expedition.
Cosmic rays are strange atomic particles that come in from outer space, and some come from the sun itself. They're these streams of particles that strike the upper atmosphere and then produce all sorts of cascade effects down through the atmosphere of knock-on particles and knock-on x-rays and other radiation, so that what you get at sea-level is a mismatch of all sorts of different particles and radiations ... wavelength radiations, which you have to try and trace back and find what caused them at the top of the atmosphere, and then try and find out whether they came from the sun itself or whether they came from outer space and so on.
It's a very interesting question because I think they illustrate, as well as any other topic, this answer to the question: Why have pure research? Cosmic rays were, I suppose, the purest form of research you could think of. They were a phenomena which existed and no one knew anything about them, and out of sheer scientific curiosity we wanted to look at them and find out more. And yet, although we were not to know it, they ... the study of cosmic rays led on to the study of nuclear physics and particle physics and ultimately much of the information garnered from the cosmic rays acted as a stepping stone to the production of nuclear energy. So here's a great practical outcome from something that was originally utterly pure. And if I might just mention one other example. Back in 1950, I organised the first ozone measurements in any Antarctic or sub-Antarctic region, and we organised this because we were looking for things to study and it looked liked an unknown area and we thought we'd like to do it. We were not to know the ozone hole phenomena now would put such emphasises on this particular branch of study.
Yes. Yes. I think my trip to Antarctica with cosmic ray equipment on the Wyatt Earp was the first continuous set of measurements ever done over that stretch of latitude. You know, it was as new as that.
Not trying to prove anything really. It was just finding what particles they were, and how they behaved and how they interacted, and their relationship to things that might influence them like meteorological conditions and latitude and so on.
Yes. I should say now perhaps, that I finished enough work to complete the practical side of the PhD but I was not allowed to finish in two years, which was the normal period, because being a full-time lecturer they demanded that seeing I was only working part-time on the research that I should spend three years on it. So I had to fill in three years in the physics department on cosmic rays before I could present the PhD. And it so happened at the end of two years this Antarctic business cropped up. And I'll speak about that in a moment, but I'll say here, I was able to defer this extra year of study just in case at a later date perhaps the Antarctic thing would fold up and I'd come back and finish it off, because all I had to do was write it up. I hadn't got to do any more experimental work. But it so happened that the Antarctic thing didn't fold up and I continued on and didn't ever get to back to finishing the PhD. [INTERRUPTION - PLANE - SLATE]
No these PhD regulations demanded that I take three years and although I'd spent two years and done, written up enough scientific papers to get a PhD I hadn't toed the regulatory period needed. And they deferred that in the hope, or in my hope, that if ever the Antarctic thing were to fold up I could come back and put in the extra year and write this stuff up and ... or not even write it up, just present the paper I'd already published in scientific journals. And as it happened I didn't ever go back so I didn't ever take out a PhD.
The side-tracking was quite a fantastic bit of Law Luck. I was working on this cosmic ray work and through it I'd learned that this Antarctic Division was about to go off. But I couldn't find any details of how they were getting people for it. And I was on the point of writing to Sir Douglas Mawson, whom I'd heard of but never met, and I knew he was at Adelaide University. And I thought that if anyone knows anything about it he would and I thought I'd write and ask how to get into this because I thought it would be fascinating to get into the Antarctic work. I might say here that part of that reason was the feeling of discovering before, that owing to the broken nature of my scholastic work and my own comparisons of my own intellectual ability with people like Bob Hill, I felt that really an outstanding career in physics was not ahead of me. Further, particularly in my work in the heat, work where I was working in a little cubby hole basement and never seeing anyone, working about fourteen hours a day, just cluttered around with instruments, that's too much of a back room boy situation for me. I was much too extrovert to be too happy about that. I felt that I was lacking community interest and involvement with people. So life of that nature was never going to really satisfy me. So when the Antarctic thing cropped up I thought, Wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to marry my scientific interests with my physical interests - my interests in sport and physical activities generally and my sense of adventure. And so I was walking down the passage with Professor Martin one day and out of the blue he happened to say, 'I've just come back from Canberra'. He was the scientific adviser to the Commonwealth Government and he used to make regular trips to Canberra every three or four weeks. 'I've just come back from Canberra', he said, 'and we can't find someone suitable to be senior scientist of this Antarctic expedition'. I could hardly believe my ears. I said, 'Did you mention my name?' He said, 'Don't be silly Law. You wouldn't be interested in that', and I said, 'I'd give my right arm to get into that'. He said, 'Good gracious me. I'll go and ring up'. So he went and rang up and within three weeks I had an interview, and within a month I was Chief Scientific Officer of the Antarctic Division. It wasn't the Antarctic Division in those days, it was the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions. And one of the things they were going to do was to send three sets of cosmic ray equipment south: one would go to Macquarie Island, one to Heard Island and I would take the third one on the Wyatt Earp to do a latitude measurement between Australia and Antarctica. So in my appointment as Chief Scientist, I was involved in two things: the one I was engaged in already was being the Chief Co-ordinator of the cosmic ray programme, that is, getting these three sets of instruments working. And its interesting that one of the men working on that was David Caro, who later became Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University. Brilliant electronic scientist. He later built the first cyclotron to be built in Australia. The other aspect of what I had to do, before going to Antarctica, was to co-ordinate the scientific programmes for the various expedition, arising from the various collaborating departments. There was the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, the National Mapping Office, the Ionospheric Prediction Service and some botany and zoology departments and universities. And I had to draw up the full programmes of these and what was needed and arrange for the appointments of the scientists and the indoctrination and training and so on. And all this was tremendously pressurised, because I was appointed, I think in August, 1947, and the first expedition went away in December.
So then I went off on my expedition which was on the Wyatt Earp, and the first journey was a shambles. We got halfway down to Antarctica, well south of the latitude of Macquarie Island, and the engine sank and put a bend in the tail shaft, and the tail shaft was in danger of snapping. So we were ordered home by the Naval Board, and we had to crawl back to Melbourne to have it all fixed up. And the result was that by the time we left on the second trip, it was late in the year. By the time we got down south it was mid-February and ice was beginning to form everywhere and the little Wyatt Earp was hopeless in pushing ice, and we were not able to get through to the continent in any way. We managed to do a running survey of the Balleny Islands, which had not been accurately surveyed before that time, although there were rough maps of them. But apart from that we accomplished nothing except my cosmic ray work, which went quite well. I published a paper. When I got back from that, I persuaded the army, with whom I had contacts, as you might remember, to let me get on an army relief ship, going up to pick up troops from Japan following the occupation there. And I took my cosmic ray equipment from Melbourne ... from Sydney to Japan and back to complete the latitude effect measurements. I'd done the southern part and I wanted to go up across the equator.
David Caro and I drove a utility truck from Melbourne to Adelaide with my wife, Nell, and built the equipment onto the Wyatt Earp over a period of four or five days in Adelaide and then David and Nell drove back to Melbourne while I sailed from Adelaide to Melbourne looking after this equipment. And it was a horrible voyage for me. I was seasick the whole way and yet I had to stand on my feet and keep attending to this equipment, which was going wrong all the time. And we got to Melbourne and Stewart Campbell, who was the leader of the expedition for that first eighteen months, he wanted to ... and the captain of the ship, Commander Ohm, wanted to put me ashore as being incurably seasick, and I had a hell of an argument with them to allow me to proceed. Otherwise my whole Antarctic career would have stopped right then and there. Finally I persuaded them to let me go. But when we left Melbourne on the main trip, we just shot out into Bass Strait through the heads of Port Phillip Bay into a violent south-easterly storm and we were nearly wrecked right then and there. It was one of the worst sea experiences I've ever had. This was little ship rolled 50-60 degrees each side of the vertical with a very fast period of swing. It would do a swing-swang in five seconds. So the things used to get hurled and everything came adrift on the ship. The radio room was a shambles, the typewriters came detached. The radio sets came detached. Everything was on the floor sloshing around in six inches of sea water and if we hadn't been able to pull into the lee of Flinders Island, I think we might well have been wrecked.
I don't know if it's a fear, or exasperation, or misery. I was violently seasick of course. The conditions were intolerable. It was quite frightening and it was a mixture of all these sensations, I guess. And in the lee of the island we were able to restore the ship into some sort of order and sail on to Hobart, where we spent a couple of days patching it all up. And then we went off again and everything continued to go wrong. We had troubles with the Gyro compass, we had troubles with the anchor chains, we had troubles with the engine. And, then, as I said, the propeller shaft problem, going back to Melbourne and finally getting away again.
The Antarctic was unbelievably wonderful. First of all there was the tremendous relief of going into calm water, out of this turbulence that was so upsetting. Then the magnitude of everything and the unbelievable beauty of certain vistas. I remember one moonlight evening, when the wind had dropped, and we were in amongst the packed ice and icebergs and the sun was low on the horizon so all the light is apricot golden coloured and that lights up everything, so that you've got these tints of crimson and apricot across the icebergs, on the pack ice, on this perfectly mirror-smooth water. And you stand on deck and soak up this glorious beauty. Then there was the Aurora, which I had never seen before. There were the birds, which are quite fascinating: the petrels and the albatrosses and so on. The penguins. Whales. We were seeing blue whales in quite large numbers, which in later years we didn't see at all because they had become practically extinct. We had the terrible ordeal of being short of water throughout the whole voyage, so that apart from drinking water, we were heavily rationed. I had various adventures on board - of accidents of one sort or another. But I had my first taste of naval discipline and navy procedures and how the navy operates. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
I think my experience of naval procedures on the ship was invaluable later because afterwards I was to lead expeditions on HMAS Labuan, the LST that relieved Heard and Macquarie Island. So, to be leader of an expedition being run by naval officers and a naval captain and naval crew, it was quite valuable to know how the navy felt about things and how one should work with them. But the Wyatt Earp itself was a dreadful ship. The reason she was chosen, was that when Sir Douglas Mawson proposed the ANARE and this journey to Antarctica, they searched the world, literally, for a suitable ship without being able to find anything suitable. And then he and Captain J.K. Davis, his old captain, recommended that the Wyatt Earp be used. She was a hulk in the River Torrens, Adelaide, and she was being used as the headquarters for Sea Scouts. She had been used by Lincoln Elsworth for four Antarctic voyages. She was a wooden sardine ship from Norway built about 1923, I think, and she was completely made of wood, no bulkheads, with two masts and sails, and an auxiliary engine. So, in preparing her for our use, in Port Adelaide they built the structure forwards further, to produce more accommodation, and they took out the auxiliary engine and put in a heavy diesel engine. And where they'd extended the superstructure forward, they had not caulked the joins where the scuppers used to be, so on the whole of this voyage, the minute the ship rolled, water would come in through cracks and flood the accommodation area. So for most of the voyage, in the open seas, we had six inches of water in the cabins. Icy cold water. That combined with the rapid roll of the ship and the absolute discomfort of trying to sleep and eat and do work on a rolling ship of that nature. The fact that it was underpowered for penetrating ice. It had the wrong shape of hull. It was quite absolutely unsuitable in every way. It was very slow, it could only do about eight knots, and in the following wind it got up to ten once. And so it's very ... there was not enough accommodation for the sort of things we wanted. So one of the things I was interested in upon returning later on was to search out a better ship. And I too failed to find anything around the world. And then I decided the only way to get out of this, was to build a ship in Australia. So I persuaded the government to provide funds, and the chief naval architect of the Australian Shipbuilding Board and I spent two years designing an Antarctic ship. We finished the design completely and we were almost on the point of having the ship built, when I found that there was a ship called the Kista Dan, which had just been built in Denmark and that by taking it, not only would we have more immediate access to a ship, but we would avoid all the problems of crewing with Australian crew and trade unions, and the problem of getting an experienced master and all that sort of thing. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Oh that was when I came down to Melbourne from Clunes in 1935, to take a position as a teacher in physics and maths, science and maths, at Elwood Central School, where I was also sports master. The first year I did some exams in education. When I found my way around I found that I could do a physics Part Two by going to evening practical classes and at lunch time, twelve to one lectures. So I had a little car and I used to rush up from school. I got them to let me off the last period in the morning and I'd drive up to Melbourne University in a hurry from Elwood, go to the twelve to one lecture, eat a sandwich on the way back in my car and be ready to walk in and take the classes in the afternoon. And I used to do practical work on Tuesday evenings, Thursday evenings and Saturday morning. I had intended to be a chemist, but the chemistry department didn't offer any of these night facilities so I switched to physics and not only was I able to do Part Two in that way, but I also did Part Three in the same way. In Part Three there was an added difficulty. Although the lectures were the same, they didn't have the night and Saturday morning practical classes so I had to do practical work by asking the school to let me off on Wednesday afternoons, which was sports afternoons anyway. And so teaching full-time for 1934, sorry, 1935 and 1936, I finished Part Two and Part Three physics. And over that period I became interested in skiing. My early mountaineering had all been in the Grampians and walking around the country one way or another. But my brother decided he'd like to see mount Kosciusko. So in 1936 he arranged for us to go up first to Mount Buffalo and then to Mount Hotham, where we had our first experience of skiing, and then the following Christmas he arranged for us to go up from Geehi to Mount Kosciusko. That was quite an adventurous trip because there was no road beyond Khankoban, so from Khankoban we had to take a pack horse and walk in, fording a river a number of times, 'til we got to the Geehi Hut and from there we spent two days searching for what they call the Hannel Spur, which was cut many years ago as a cattle track but never used because it was too steep. And it was the steepest, longest climb in Australia from literally, the flats of the Murray river, right up to the top of Mount Kosciusko. We did that in the summer of 1936 and we did that once or twice again later, staying in a little refuge hut called the Seaman Hut, which was just nestling below the summit of Kosciusko on the New South Wales side. In 1938, I was transferred from Elwood Central to Melbourne Boys' High school and there there was a young novice skier there called Bruce Osborne, who later became quite well known as one of the leaders of the Wangaratta Ski Club. A very vigorous bush walker and skier. But in 1938 he was a sheer novice and I wasn't much better, and we thought up this crazy idea of being the first people to go up Mount Kosciusko from the Geehi side, in the middle of winter, on skis. It was a very desperate adventure. We were very lucky to come out of it alive and it taught me a lot of lessons, which I later was able to make use of in Antarctica.
Well we were going to do what my brother and I had done before: take a pack horse from Khankoban. So we went up to Khankoban by car, went to a place called Waterfall Farm run by a man called Errol Scamel, and he gave me a horse, a pack horse, but he said, 'You won't be able to go in the ordinary route because all those fords over the river which you'd made [before] are in flood now'. It had been raining steadily for a whole week in Melbourne and up there. So he took us in by a tortuous route over the spurs, high up on the hills, riding horses and leading this pack horse. And he finally took us down to the Geehi flat and we spent the night in the Geehi Hut, and he went off the next morning back to Khankoban, taking the riding horses and the pack horse and just left us there. And we said, 'If we don't come out in a fortnight, you come looking for us'. So the next morning we got up and we had to blond across one of these bridges, which has a wire there and a wire there, and you put your feet on the bottom one and you hang onto the top one. And with the skis and packs, we had a couple of trips to cross weaving backwards and forwards on this thing, and the flooded river under us. And we walked three miles up to where we had to cross back over the river to get onto the mountain. And the river was flowing very fast, the water was icy cold straight off the snow. And Bruce Osborne went in first and he got washed off and I had to chase through the scrub about a quarter of a mile down stream and drag him out. And then we pondered what to do. We were very reluctant to give up at that stage. So I stripped off and half swam and half struggled across with a rope. We managed to get a rope slung across between two trees and with that and undressing and carting stuff over, we stumbled across. The only thing we didn't take off was our boots, because we had to keep our boots on to protect our feet walking across the boulders under water. But we got all this stuff across and we were blue with cold and we ran round madly and towelled ourselves down and tried to get warm and then dressed, and went up to the foot of the mountain. We had expected the snow line to be about 2,000 feet, which is normal. But [with] this very heavy rain in Melbourne and the State, the snow at Kosciusko, and the snow line was right down to the river. We found the Hannell spur track, but it was largely obliterated by snow gum boughs that had been forced down by the weight of snow. We found, that by beating on these with our ski stocks they'd spring back and expose the path, and the path was only about eight feet wide. And at one stage we lost it and couldn't tell where in the jungle the path went, and we noticed little wombat tracks going into this impenetrable wall of leaves so we realised that that must be the track and we beat that and sure enough branches went back. This wombat had been going up and down there in the summer so he knew the way and we followed him a mile or two. This long wombat track would help us out of our problems. But we were having great difficulty. Not only was it steep - we had our skis over our shoulders - but there was a complete tangle of broken down branches under the snow. So we were up to our knees in snow and getting tangled up in branches and things underneath and bashing to get through the branches. And we got soaked to the skin and finally we got out of the tree line and were able to put our skis on but we were very inexperienced. We hadn't heard about skins for climbing and the minute we tried to climb in deep powder snow, we were over our knees in powder snow. We couldn't see our skis and we were of course slipping. So we got rope and wound it round the binding of our skis and made them non-slip, and we were able to push our way up gradually. Very exhausting work, and climb up until we got almost to the top of the Mount Townsend - Mount Kosciusko spur. And from there we would have had to go down a thousand foot valley called the Wilkinsons valley and up onto the top of Kosi and then two miles down to this refuge hut, but when we got to the top of that ridge, we were hit by a blizzard. The wind had turned round again, the wind came up. It started to snow heavily. And we realised that in bad visibility we'd never find our way down, across Wilkinsons Valley or down to the hut. So reluctantly, we decided we'd have to go back. By this stage, it's four o'clock in the afternoon. All our clothing had frozen like armour. And we were just sheathed in ice. So we sheltered behind a boulder in this blizzard and did a very wise thing. We stripped all our clothing off and got fresh woollen underclothing out from our rucksacks and completely redressed ourselves and put our wind proofs back on top of it, and brewed a very little meal of cocoa and a few biscuits over a primus stove and then we headed down again. And going down was worse than coming up. We went down a series of ski traverses across the snow fields. But we couldn't turn. We'd never been in powder snow and powder snow. as I said, was over our knees and we couldn't see the tips of our skis and we were hopeless at doing turns, because we were not very good skiers anyway. So we operated by throwing ourselves over at the end of every traverse. When we'd get to the end we'd throw ourselves over and then climb up and go back and throw ourselves over. The trouble is that when you throw yourself over in deep powder snow, there is no bottom to it, so you fall into a great hole about two or three feet deep in the snow. And when you push down to try to push yourself up, you don't push on anything. Your hand just sinks down into this deep snow. So we found by wangling our skis into a certain position and pushing on those we could get to our feet again, and then do another long traverse. And this again was exhausting and saturating again. So we became saturated with water and frozen up again. We finally, though, got down to the tree line and from the tree line down, it wasn't snow, it was rain. So we went down in pouring rain and got to the bottom and had to strip off again to go through this icy, cold river and then down and climb back over these two wires. And we got back into that hut in pitch darkness about nine o'clock that night. We'd been going since four o'clock in the morning. And the next day it was teaming rain. We lay exhausted in the hut and just slept all day. And the following day it was still raining and we could see there was nothing else to do, so we had to walk fourteen miles back to Waterfall Farm and ford these flooded rivers about five or six times. And when we got to Waterfall Farm we changed into pyjamas which were in our car. They were the only dry and warm things we had left. And drove back to Melbourne.
No, not at that stage. I'm sorry. Yes. But I just want to mention one more thing. A couple of days later, Bruce Osbourne rang me up and said, 'You know Phil, I was thinking last night what would have happened to us if we'd twisted an ankle or a knee or broken a leg'. And I said, 'You were thinking of that last night. I was thinking of that the whole trip', worrying because you realise with only two, you have this terrible predicament where if you leave your injured companion to get help, it would take two days to get there and back and he'd be dead by then. And on the other hand, if you stayed with him, you'd both be dead. So what do you do? So I made a rule then and there, never would I ever go myself or allow anyone else to go in parties of less than three. But you asked about this snow and ice. In 1936, Geoff and I had done this Mount Buffalo, Mount Hotham trip and then had decided to ski regularly because we were fascinated with it. And becoming skiers you then get interested in snow and ice and you start to read those sorts of books - mountaineering books - and that leads onto Antarctic books. So by 1940 I'd read all about Scott and Shackleton and Amundsen and Mawson, without ever relating it in any way to what I might do in Antarctica.
Oh they were tremendously exciting.
I think to begin I homed in on several Antarctic leaders: Scott, Shackleton, Mawson and Byrd, the American. I read all the Scott, Shackleton, Mawson stuff, of course, before I got onto Byrd, who came later. Scott's first expedition was tremendously important because he went down to the Ross Sea and did the first real exploration in that area. Shackleton came later. Scott's first expedition was about 1902, I think,and Shackleton about 1906. The Shackleton work was scientifically good. I think in exploration he doesn't compare with Scott. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't rank Shackleton as a very important explorer because most of what he did in the Ross Sea had already been seen and mapped by Scott, and about the only thing that he did which was highly original in exploration was mapping about 200 hundred miles of the Beardmore Glacier. The important thing about Shackleton, for Australians, was that Mawson accompanied him, and Edgeworth David, a more senior man. But Mawson shone out in that expedition with his exploring and his geological work. And he and David were members of a party that made the first ascent of Mount Erebus, which was an exploring exploit credited to Shackleton, you might say. Later on, Mawson of course led his Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1911-13, and at the end of the time Shackleton took his trans-Antarctic expedition down, which failed. The one where he was going to cross the continent but in the Weddell Sea his ship was crushed. Now in that trip he made no exploring at all because his ship was crushed before he got anywhere. So I would rate Shackleton as a very great adventurer, one of the world's greatest, and a very great leader in the field, but I wouldn't put him on any list of great explorers because of the amount of exploring he did, which was very little. Mawson was great in several ways. First, he led one of the finest of all the heroic era expeditions. Because he was a scientist he directed the scientific work very thoroughly and produced very good results. And he had two parties in Antarctica: one on Macquarie Island and all of them did fine work. And he did a lot of exploring around Commonwealth Bay and his Western Party did a lot of exploring around the Shackleton Ice Shelf for which they've had very little credit and of which people know very little, because it's never been published as a narrative. And, that was the great Mawson era. Later on in 1929-31, Mawson went on another exploration of the coast of Antarctica, covering two summer seasons. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
The Australasian Antarctic expedition, 1911-13 was arguably the greatest of the heroic era expeditions. I think it's doubtful whether Scott's or Mawson's was the most important or most effective but they're pretty closely balanced. I think each of them is well ahead of Shackleton's. Although Shackleton's scientific work in Ross Sea in the 1906 expedition was highly competent because he had some very fine scientists under him who did very good work. But when Mawson carried out his 1911-13 expedition he had three stations: one at Macquarie Island, one at Commonwealth Bay and the Western Party, as they called it, led by a man called Wild, on the Shackleton Ice Shelf. Now that was a tremendous expedition. They explored about 600 miles round about the Commonwealth Bay area of coast and about another 300 or 400 miles of coast up the Shackleton Ice Shelf. Mawson came back again in 1929-31 with what he called BANZARE - The British-Australian-New Zealand Antarctic Expedition, and that covered two summer seasons, but it was only voyages. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
I think, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913, where he had three bases. He set up a station at Macquarie Island, one at Commonwealth Bay and one called the Western Party on the Shackleton Ice Shelf, which was lead by a man called Wild. They produced fine exploration and fine scientific work and I think that expedition rates as highly as any other in the heroic era - marginally ahead of Scott and well ahead of any of Shackleton's work. Mawson was unlucky in the sense that he would like to have pressed on with further work but the war intervened, so it was quite a number of years before he could get back again. But back he came in 1929-31 with the British-Australian-New Zealand Antarctic Expedition. BANZARE they call it, in which he carried out two summer cruises along the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory, but that wasn't known as our territory then. To me a very disappointing voyage. Mawson was much more interested in the Oceanographic work done on the ship than he was with the exploration of the coast. He was inhibited by the reluctance of his two captains in those two seasons to go in. The captains were timid. They were fearful of the ice, fearful of being trapped and they wouldn't go where Mawson wanted them to go at the critical times. The result is that Mawson didn't achieve as much in exploration as he should have. There's another reason in that he didn't seem nearly as interested in exploration at that stage. For example, in two summer seasons they only made three new landings and then only for a few hours each time, and without any survey work. As a matter of fact, so far as I could see, he didn't even take his surveyor ashore with him. It would seem quite remarkable. So I think Mawson's Antarctic reputation rests almost entirely on the 1911-13 expedition.
After the BANZARE trip, again he was frustrated because he wanted to do more work but the Second World War came. I'm sorry, the first thing that came was the Depression. So he got back in 1931 and that was the middle of the Depression years, and it was quite a few years before the economy revived that it was worth talking about expeditions. And then the Second World War came. So by the end of the Second World War, he was too old to bother about further expeditions. But he returned to the fray by making strong representations to the Australian Government that they should carry out more Antarctic work. And to Mawson must go the credit of creating the ANARE - that's the present Australian Antarctic Research Expeditions - because it was due to his representations to the government at that time that a committee was set up and in 1947 the ANARE was established. And I became the senior scientific officer, and as you know at the end 1948 I was appointed leader. So that I can relate the whole business of my career to the fact that Mawson urged the government to create this system in which I was to then operate for so many years. I met Mawson, of course, on many occasions. One of the first things the government did was to set up a planning committee to organise this expedition, and Mawson was a member for that committee. And when I was appointed chief scientist I became a member of the committee and later, when I was leader of the ANARE, I became chairman of that committee. But over the years of that committee Mawson served on it from 1947 right up to 1958, I think, so that for ten or eleven years, I saw quite a lot of Mawson and had his support in the committee for my ideas. I found him not only a most gracious and charming person, but a vigorous exponent of Antarctic ideas, and a man who was always looking forwards, looking for new ideas, looking for new things, supporting innovative projects, whereas Captain Davis, his old captain, who was also on the committee, tended to be very conservative, fairly negative and backward looking. So, for example, when we designed that new Antarctic ship in 1950-52, J.K. Davis was insisting it must be steam, whereas all of us knew it had to be diesel, but he couldn't see forward into this new era and he was hooked on the old steam engine and how reliable it was and so on. Mawson - the whole thing I admired tremendously, is that he never showed any envy or antagonism to me. Here was I, a young, brash person with all the government financial support he'd never been able to muster, with an era expanding out in front of me, which embraced all the things he would have loved to have done. He was never jealous of the fact that I had these chances and he was very supportive in everything I wanted to do.
No I think I was lucky to be in the more important period. You see, those early explorers really didn't explore very much. They scratched the edge of the Antarctic here and there, but more than eighty per cent of the Antarctic was still unexplored when I came into the picture. And if you take the Australian Antarctic Territory, Mawson had explored about a quarter of it. The other three quarters was left to me and my men for the next twenty years. We happened to be there just when the whole thing was expanding. The great step forward in exploration in Antarctica occurred in 1957-58, when they created the International Geophysical Year. Before that the British, Argentineans and Chileans had a few little stations down on the peninsula south of South America and we had Mawson and Davis ... Mawson, I'm sorry, Mawson only, right across on the other side of Antarctica, and that was all there was. But when the IGY cropped up, eleven nations were concerned, and they set up stations, nicely placed around Antarctica, to get a nice broad regulated coverage, particularly in meteorology. And from each of those stations, exploration went on. So the great era of exploration was from '57 to about 1970. About 1970 you could say the exploration of Antarctica had been completed. Everything had been photographed and mapped. Of course, there are huge areas that no man has ever set foot upon, but there's no part of it any longer that is unknown. And I've often said that if I had come along ten years earlier or ten years later, I'd have probably died of frustration. But I just happened to be there at the time when it was exploding, which was wonderful.
In 1936, she was doing a primary teacher's course at Melbourne Teachers' College. My father was the vice-principal of the college and our family lived in the residence at the college. And, of course, I was living in Melbourne that year and teaching at Elwood and was visiting home quite often and I'd formed the habit, because I didn't know that many people, of attending the weekly dance, which the Teachers' College students held in one of the halls of the Teachers' College every Saturday night. They called it the Palais. So I used to go to Saturday Night Palais and play the piano to help them with the music for quite a few of the dances. For the rest of the evening I'd dance with the others and I ... during this period, I noticed a very attractive girl and I started dancing with her, and that's the beginning of our relationship. By the end of that year we were both madly in love, and although it was about five years before we could get married, that was the beginning of it all. I saw a lot of Nell the following year because she topped the Teachers' College and got what they called the Gladman Prize, and as I had done at Ballarat College, she had got what they called a second year to enable her to stay on and do a first year university course. So she spent 1937 at the Teachers' College doing first year Arts and I was then doing my Part Three physics and so I was a student, she was a student, and we used to meet every night between seven and 7.30 and then go back and swot, and on Saturday night or on Sunday night, I'd take her out and walk round South Melbourne in the rain, or go to pictures or ballet or theatre or something. So that was the beginning of it all.
Oh she was remarkable person. She was vivacious - beautiful both in features and physically. And a very exciting person because she was highly original in everything she did. She was a very fine creative artist. A person with tremendous natural good taste that had been built upon by omnivorous reading of everything to do with art and culture. She was a person of great background knowledge in art [and] literature. She taught English and Art at high schools, and her painting, I think she could have become one of Australia's greatest painters if she'd had the physique and the nervous energy and the strength to work hard. But she'd been born with a hole in the heart and she was always frail and always lacking in the sort of dynamic energy that you need to prosecute a career, so that she tended to become exhausted fairly easily. One reason we didn't have children was that she was afraid that childbirth might kill her, so she was never game to expose herself to that risk.
What was that?
It's an interesting question and in the first couple of years of marriage I'd think. yes. One always has a curiosity to know what sort of person one will reproduce in one's offspring. After the first two or three years, I lost that element of curiosity and for most of the rest of the time I've been very grateful that I didn't have children. If I had had children I'm sure I would have resigned from the Antarctic work after about five or six years because I would've wanted to devote more of myself to my family, and in that job for so many years, I was away from home for six months every year, either in Antarctica or travelling around Australia interviewing candidates, or going overseas to conferences, and Nell being a very self-sufficient person with her own interests in art was quite happy to be left alone. She was a bit of a loner. She could cope very nicely without the help of outside people. I was very lucky to find someone of that sort, who complimented my life. Added to which she was a most elegant person, which was a tremendous help to me in my career, both in Antarctica and later in education, where she could grace any assemblage of people at any level of society with dignity and charm.
Yes. Yes. For nearly twenty years we had this sort of life.
Not in that sense, no. We had lot of stress in the sense of both being very strong personalities. We used to clash quite often on all sorts of things. Have furious fights. But we were both very much in love with each other. We used to survive these things and we didn't have any stress whatever, as a result of prolonged absences.
Yes, finally. She'd always wanted to go. Not only out of curiosity, but she wanted to be more a part of my life and feel more understanding of what it was like to be what I was. And of course she very eager to paint in Antarctica. I knew it would be hopeless to ask for permission for her to go. I'd already tried to get a woman down to Macquarie Island as one of the party. An occasion arose where it would have been quite appropriate to have a woman expeditioner but the Department of External Affairs was a very cautious department as you can imagine being concerned with Foreign Affairs and being made up mainly of lawyers. So I knew that ... oh, they'd refused my request about Macquarie Island and I knew that they wouldn't be happy about Nell accompanying me. So I made a plan to smuggle her down on the ship and that was quite exciting. I managed to smuggle her down to Macquarie Island and back, and the next part of the plan was to take her down from Fremantle to the Mawson and Antarctic area. But the night before we sailed, The Herald in Melbourne burst the story and the day we were due to sail my Minister, who was John Gorton, and he was in Perth, and the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs rang me up. Luckily he was the Acting Secretary. If the full-time Secretary had been there, he'd have blasted me and prohibited it. But this man was a very sensitive, kind sort of person and he said, 'Well Law, I don't want to make a decision. You go and see John Gorton, the Minister. It's up to him'. So it was just good luck- the Law Luck - in that we had already invited Gorton and his wife and a senator and his wife on the ship to have a look at it, because they were in Perth. So when they came down to the ship, I had a long talk to Gorton, explained the whole situation, all sorts of reasons why I should be allowed to take Nell and Mrs Gorton's wonderful. She said, 'Go on John, let her go', and the Senator's wife said, 'Let her go', and one way or another, John Gorton agreed, and some of the members of External Affairs were furious because they felt it shouldn't have happened. And the top, the real Secretary, whom by the time I'd got back, had come back from overseas and he dressed me down. I always felt it was after the event so it didn't really matter much. He gave me a tongue bagging in his office and I sat there demurely and I took it all on. But it didn't matter really. Nell loved me, and I'd been and we'd had a wonderful time, and she enjoyed it so much that she said she'd have gone time after time if that would have been possible. And I was staggered at her physical strength in putting up with all the sorts of discomforts and hardships. I actually took her to the crow's nest, up a ladder, and pushing up in front saying, 'Go on. Go on. I'm here to catch you', and got her up the crow's nest so that she could see the view from there. And I took her ashore exploring at unknown places in the motor boat and one place she nearly froze stiff and had to crawl back over ice she couldn't stand up on, and get back into the motor boat and huddle over the diesel engine and try and thaw out. Wonderful stuff.
I think it has a very ameliorating influence, a softening influence. I think it made life on board the ship much happier, much softer, warmer, more cultured. The men enjoyed her company and she joined in organising parties and fancy dress and things of this sort. It was a wonderful period altogether.
No, in my day women were not admitted to this Antarctic male environment. It's only in the last few years that they've allowed women down there and they're now part of the scene. But many people still think it would be better if they weren't there. They do raise all sorts of problems. There wouldn't be nearly as many problems if there were just the same number of women as men. But you've only got two or three women amongst twenty-five men and it can become very awkward, particularly if the woman forms an attachment of some sort with a specific man, and you get the jealousy of the other people, who are deprived of female companionship. This one person has prior rights you might say on this, perhaps, one woman in the station.
Oh, that makes a long lecture in itself I think: the personality problems of Antarctic stations, and the steps you take to select people, and the procedures you go through to select them. I might say that Casey, our Minister, had a very simplistic attitude on this. After we had a problem with a man, who was schizophrenic at one stage, he said, 'Law, you've got to have a psychological test'. He had an idea that you'd have a half hour test of some sort and the goats would go out this door and the sheep would go out that door, and it turned out to be a very long exercise. I went to the Professor of Psychology at Melbourne University, Professor Erza, whom I knew. I said, 'Look, I want you to help me design a test, a psychological test, for people going to Antarctic stations'. He said, 'Well, what are the qualities of the people who are a success at the Antarctic stations?' I said, 'Oh, that's what I want you to find out'. He said, 'No'. He said, 'You tell me what those qualities are and I'll design a test to test them, but it's your job to find out what they are'. So we embarked upon an analysis, you might say, in which we took a psychologist down on a ship for two or three years to interview men, to look at station work, to look at the results and talk to the officer in charge and so on. And after two or three years he worked out the sorts of personalities that were most successful, and he spent another couple of years drawing up tests and then another year testing the tests. So at the end of seven or eight years, we had a psychological test, and these psychological tests of a somewhat more elaborate nature now, have been going ever since then.
The most important thing, is that the man should love his work. When you're down there, the only thing you have to keep you interested and vigorous, is the job you're doing. If you love that job and you're prepared to do it twelve or fourteen hours a day, that's fine. If he's the sort of person whose not interested in his job or gets bored with it, then you have problems. And that's the most basic fact. I think the other thing is you want people who are rather laid-back, easygoing, easy to get along with, non-aggressive, tolerant. You have to put up with other people's failings and make allowances, and it's better to have people a little bit introverted, rather than excessively extroverted. The excessive extrovert wants to be the soul of the party and tell you his stories and wants to entertain everyone. You get very bored with that sort of a person after a short time, whereas a fellow who is very introvert wants to sit in the corner and not particularly mix in, that doesn't impinge on anyone. Their quite happy to have him over there if he wants to be, so long as he doesn't worry them.
I think there is a general decline in morale as you move into this long dark winter. If you're not used to twenty-four hours darkness, it can be quite depressing. It's depressing for another reason, that, if you have a job that is normally outside then that's inhibited, so if you're a geologist or a surveyor and so on, who would normally be out on field work, then you're couped up inside, then that's a bit concerning. But I think everybody in this long winter period, towards the end of July, August, there's a sort of dip in the morale at the station, even though it's not anything of great moment, it's there. Then people's spirits rise as they begin to come out of it and the end of year's approaching and the prospect of coming home again. The spirits all soar upwards from there and onwards. One of the fascinating things though is that when men have mental breakdowns, as we've had two or three, and I've read a lot of literature about what happens in other expeditions, they found much to their surprise that these mental breakdowns don't happen in this long period of midwinter depression. They have them right back at the beginning, within three or four weeks of the ship sailing. And that's because, people in our society have escape routes and by the time they're adults, they've explored these escape routes pretty carefully and they've worked out escape routes that suit their forms of escape from their sorts of tensions. And most of these escape routes are escapism rather as, if you live the street and you quarrel with all the neighbours you keep moving your position of residence as people get sick of you. Or if you're a person, who doesn't get on well with the people in your job, you tend to change jobs. So you can avoid lots of problems. Some people keep sane literally by just constant movement from the stress situations to new positions. Now, a person like that gets to Antarctica, suddenly finds on a ship that sails, that the escape routes are all closed off. They're there and they're going to be there for twelve months and there's no earthly way they can get away and this really hits them. And they collapse. And it's a well-established pattern. Happily, it doesn't happy to often because you select people as well as possible to avoid those problems.
Well the worst incident, we had a chap who had to be closed up in a padded cell. The only person who could attend to him was the doctor, and for four months the doctor tended to him in this artificial sort of situation. The other men became very demoralised by the whole business and they had to wait until a Russian aircraft could come in in Spring and pick him up and take him across to the Americans and fly him up with the Americans in New Zealand and then back to Australia. We put him in out ... Park or Royal Park, whatever the place is.
Very depressing one. If anything goes wrong with a person at a station: a severe illness, a death, or some major psychological disturbance, it has a very demoralising effect on the party. Again, fortunately, it very rarely happens.
Well my main role was choosing men in the beginning. I made a point of interviewing and choosing every person for every party because that was one of the most important jobs I had and it's a job whose success depends on experience. So the further I went, and the more years I did it, the better I became at it. When the job became too big for me to handle alone, I had my deputy do it. But he had been on numerous trips with me and he'd been well indoctrinated and he knew the scores as well as I did, and between us we managed to chose very good teams towards the end. But the early three or four years, we made a number of bad mistakes.
Yes, the first leader of the expedition, a man called Group Captain Stewart Campbell, and he picked men on that criteria. He looked for tough, aggressive, expeditioner, you know. And this was not good at all. You pick twenty men of that sort and put them all together you are going to have trouble. And I disagreed quite violently with his sorts of selections and his method of selecting and I made a rule that I'd advertise all over Australia for people. Give adventurous men the chance to go, whereas the first two years, men were picked on the old chum basis. 'Do you know someone who wants to go to Antarctica?' and asking amongst friends, and amongst people in the airforce, in the army, the navy and so on, and that's not the way to go about it.
Well you see I would go back to Melbourne at the end of the cruise and leave the officer in charge there to run it. And first of all we'd do everything possible to provide them with amenities. We'd provide them first class food, a number of cine programmes for Saturday night movies, a good collection of records and record players, a first class library, all the games we could think of like chess and scrabble and drafts and so on. And that, plus the fact that they worked so hard and don't have much time for entertainment anyway, meant the year would go through pretty quickly.
How much what?
Oh. This varied as we climb the scale. I was lucky enough in ships always to move up the scale. I didn't ever have to go backwards down the scale. The worst ship of course was the Wyatt Earp. The next ship worst was a little ship called the Totham, that we had to use when the Labuan broke down. Then the Kista Dan was luxury compared with those. And then the Thala Dan was better than that and the Magga Dan was the about the same as the Thala Dan, and then the Nella Dan was more comfortable again. So I kept going to better and better ships, which was fine. Originally in the Totham, men were bunkhouse sort of accommodation, in the focsal, which was awful. In the Kista Dan they had four berth cabins. In the Nella Dan I think it had got back to two berth cabins, although I forget. But anyway, they were very well designed with nice toilet basin and running hot and cold water in each cabin, so the privacy was reasonably good. At stations, it's interesting, that in the old days, in the heroic era, there was nothing wrong with the sorts of buildings they had. They were warm, they were comfortable. The worst part were that they were bunker style accommodation. They would have one big living room with a kitchen in one corner and an office in the other for the officer in charge, then bunks all round so everyone was living communally. One of the first things I decided, was that we had to design some methods of producing one man accommodation in the bedrooms. And we played around with all sorts of put and take and space to try and organise something. The men at Heard Island at one stage, in about 1952, divided up a circular hut in the most intricate pattern so that individuals were placed in it. I finally worked out that if you are economising on space in the bedroom, the sort of thing you've got to start using is the upper airspace because in any room there's all this space up here that's not being used for accommodation. So we designed a bedroom that, over an area about six foot six square, had a bunk overhead. Under the bunk, you had ... if the bunk is there, and here we had a writing table with a window and hanging space and a chest of drawers and there'd be room for a man to walk in front of that you see. So you could get ... There was no door, we had curtain. You pushed through the curtain. You could sit at the table or climb a ladder into your bunk, or use the wardrobe or the chest of drawers. So every man had his little cubicle and that was utterly private. Everyone was supposed to knock before they came in, and each man had his little private place that he could furnish with his own photographs and memorabilia and so on. Decorations.
It's not nearly as important as people would think. You sublimate by working intensely hard. Most men would go back to their work after dinner at night, instead of going to the recreation room. It's physically very virile and active. There's a lot of camaraderie and male companionship. And I used to stay to the men, 'Look, you're not going to have any sex down there so just forget about as much as you can and don't think about it'. And I said, 'Don't do what the American expeditioners do'. They just put up nude photographs around the place. I said, 'If you're going to have nude Playboy type photographs, that's just reminding you of something you're not going to have, so the less you have of that sort of business, the happier you'll be'. And it's interesting that there was quite an extreme contrast between an Australian station and an American station. I was shocked when I went to an American station to see everything plastered with nude photographs and Playboy tear outs and things, and you look at an Australian station, you wouldn't see one.
No. We had only one case of any ... that I knew of, any overt homosexuality. And he wasn't really homosexual, he was a bisexual. He sort of bloke that if you couldn't get a woman, the man was the next best thing, you know. He was a lower deck sailor type and he put the hard word on two or three blokes when he was down there, but no one took him up so that's the end of that. I found that I had a bit of sorting to do in trying to avoid homosexuals in the interview. And of course, from checking on past careers and referees and things you could generally sort it out. So we used to avoid homosexuals. And then the psychological test would tend to show up a lot also. I found it was really easy to pick, what you might call, the female homosexual, who had the poofter type gestures and mannerisms. But a hard, tough male homosexual, who didn't have those characteristics, is almost impossible to pick, and I think that we were just fortunate that we didn't have any of those sorts of problems. Whether there was any covert, absolutely secret homosexuality, one would never know, but I think it would have shown up in such a closed community if it had been going on. But certainly, neither I or any of my men I've talked to about this, has ever been able to show any particular person as being homosexual.
It's an interesting point. I don't know what the situation would be today. Just as they've allowed women down there, it's highly probable like in the army, they would allow homosexuals. Then again, it starts with all this, what the implications would be. I know that since they've been having women at the station there has been sexual attachment between some of the women and some of the men, and so I suppose if a homosexual would be down there you'd have some form of some attachment. Whether that would form any form of disruption. As in the case of heterosexualism in the stations, I think the danger is jealousy. You see, if you have a sexual relationship between a man and a woman and someone else becomes intensely jealous, you might have some incident of violence, or serious physical injury or murder, you know. These things can happen. The same thing might possibly happen in a homosexual situation. But, the odds against it are pretty high. I think the chance of a heterosexual relationship or a homosexual relationship in Antarctica passing along quite quietly - the odds are very high that that would be the case, rather than a disruption.
I got back from the Wyatt Earp and I'd been only seconded for one year as chief scientist, so in August 1948, I was back in the Physics Department at the university. And then I had to apply for the job which was advertised, 'Assistant Officer in Charge' in brackets 'Scientific', and I've only found out in the last couple of years, through my biographer, a lady, who did the research on the archival material that the then leader, Stewart Campbell, did everything possible for six months to try and stop me getting the job. We were kind of incompatible but I was very careful to retain a good subordinate relationship with him. I never had any open row with Stewart Campbell but I found he disliked me and he was determined I was not going to get this job.
He ... no, I don't know at all. I was utterly surprised. I've always done my best to preserve his credit and give him credit for having set this thing going. I wrote a very good obituary for him, which I certainly wouldn't have written if I'd found out what a bastard he was really in trying to prevent my appointment. It's quite a story. But it's really a very dirty episode, and I'm only lucky that the Department of External Affairs could see through this and appointed me anyway. If you think of it, my whole Antarctic career might have been blocked off because of this man's opposition.
Ah well the ... When I got back to the University, I had the idea of extending my cosmic ray latitude variation experiment. I'd done the Antarctic side and I decided to move it up over the tropics. So with my contacts now, I was able to say to the army, to put me on a troop ship and let me go up to Kure in Japan, from where they were returning occupation troops to Australia. And this was a story in itself, a quite remarkable story, but I won't go into that here.
It gave me further experience of army organisations. Particularly in Tokyo and Kure I saw occupation forces and the whole regime work. It helped me, I think, in learning about the Department of External Affairs and how diplomats operate in foreign countries, and so on. And I kicked around a fair bit on the troop ship on the way back, [which was] full of New Zealanders. I set up a boxing troop. We used to have boxing competition on board ship and I was acting as a sort of coach for the boys. And music contests and playing the piano accordion and the clarinet, and it was a lovely trip.
Well, right from the beginning I was obsessed with this idea of getting a base in the Antarctica. One of the big differences between me and Stewart Campbell was that Stewart Campbell went back to his position in the Department of Civil Aviation because he tried to find a ship around the world without success. He could see that without a ship he couldn't establish an Antarctic station. He wasn't the slightest bit interested in Heard and Macquarie Islands, so he went back to his job and I took over. Now I was interested in Heard and Macquarie because they were doing ... beginning to do some very interesting geophysics and other studies, biological studies. So I could see that I could be quite content doing the scientific work at Heard and Macquarie over whatever number of years it took before I could get down to Antarctica. But I was determined to get to Antarctica and ...
Oh well, it was the sort of the pinnacle of the whole business I was in. Having been ... Oh, one of the first things I did was to get myself appointed Australian observer with the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition that went down to the Weddell Sea in 1950. And I went down with them from Cape Town and watched a station, Maudheim, being built. And for the two or three weeks I was there, I saw what happened when you landed in the Antarctica, how you went about building the station, and I learnt a tremendous amount from the Norwegian captain on the little ship, Norsel, because he was a superb ice captain. And we travelled over 2,000 miles through pack ice and I watched every possible manoeuvre and every technique, including the technique of using explosives to free a ship jammed in ice, which I used later. Much ... despite the opposition of the captains, who never wanted me to explode dynamite under their ships. So I think that by the time 1954 came along for us to establish Mawson Station I was better prepared almost than anyone in history except Amundsen, to lead such an expedition. I had my background of skiing and mountaineering. I'd been back and forth to Heard Island and Macquarie Island. I'd been down on the Wyatt Earp. I'd been down on the Norsel and I was a scientist and I knew the whole scientific background of things. So altogether I was feeling pretty confident when it came to 1954.
Yes. The support in 1954 was superb because Casey was the Minister by then and he was not only supportive of the expeditions, he was a very keen aviator and it was through his support that we were able, over those years when he was there, to have tremendous air support, so much so that we built the first aircraft hanger in Antarctica, and had a ... the RAAF set up a flight of three men to winter over in Antarctica, and fly aircraft in the winter months. It is something we have never done since at our stations. Nowadays, they do everything by ship-borne aircraft, either fixed-wing or helicopters and nothing through the winter months.
Well we had the ... The ANARE is really a composite body. The Antarctic Division is the administrative arm of ANARE, but ANARE constitutes the Department of the Antarctic Division and the department responsible for meteorology, the department responsible for the Bureau of Mineral Resources, the department responsible for national mapping, and a number of university departments. So the ANARE acts as a umbrella organisation to co-ordinate all these scientific activities and build composite programmes.
You spend all your time persuading people. I learnt over the years that governments almost never initiate anything. The whole point of government is to brush people off and stop them doing things, so that only the tough ones can battle their way through. So everything that happened in Antarctica was the result of a great amount of pressure from me over those years: writing submissions, arguing, pushing, talking to the minister, talking, lobbying, trying to convince Treasury that you needed the funds and how much you needed, arguing with the Public Service Board about what staff you needed to do certain scientific projects. It was a battle, the whole time.
Well they're supportive in so far as their own jobs allow them to be. They're under pressure from all sorts of people like me, trying to persuade them to do things. And, as I said, most bureaucracy is concerned with blocking things off because they get swamped with requests of all sorts. Just imagine the number of environmental requests that any government gets today. So bureaucrats learn to say, 'No, for God's sake, no!' So bureaucrats learn to say no to everything and it's only the people that come back the second, third or forth time and worry the hell out of them that finally get the approval to go ahead. Very rarely do you get some enthusiastic support: 'Oh what a wonderful idea, let's go and do that'. That's not the way this world works.
Well it was tremendously exciting to see this almost brand new ship come up the Yarra and berth at North Wharf, and to go on board and see my leaders' cabin and ensconce myself in relative luxury in this cabin, and then to sail down, first to Macquarie Island. We had quite an adventurous series of landings and back to Melbourne to load up. The tremendous pressure to get everything ready in time and to get it all loaded on the ship in the right sort of order so that the right things come out first, in the order in which you plan it. And we had to go to Kerguelen on the way. Having been to Heard Island we'd go to Kerguelen to pick up more fuel, and then down to try and find Mawson Station. And this was an exercise in itself. It's not as though that's where you're going and you go. There's a whole Antarctic continent and we have to decide where to put a station. And I had got some photographs from our embassy in Washington of photographs taken by the United States' Operation High Jump, of parts of the Australian coastline of Antarctica. And from that with a magnifying glass, I picked out a few possible places: rocky edifices, on the Ice Coast that might possibly work out to be all right, and I deliberately persuaded the planning committee to go across to McRobertson Land in the west, rather than go down to Mawson's area. Mawson was very keen to go to Commonwealth Bay, where he had been. But I knew scientifically it would be much better to go to McRobertson Land because it's on the Auroral zone. The Auroral zone only encompasses certain very rare parts of Antarctica, so geophysically that would be very exciting. And we knew too that there were mountains inland from that McRobertson Land area and that the Amery Ice Shelf area was interesting. So there was a whole region that had much more interest than the Commonwealth Bay area, so we decided, in the planning committee, to go to that particular area. But having decided that, it was up to me to find out which particular spot, and I was lucky again, first in having an aircraft, because without aircraft I think we would have had the greatest difficulty in finding the spot for Mawson Station, because there are a lot of off-lying islands that block your view at sea level and it's like looking for a needle in a haystack trying to find a certain outcrop on the shore. But I had been lucky again in that when I got back from the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition in 1950 - somehow I find it quite difficult to explain how I managed this - but I managed to persuade the government to buy a hut which that particular expedition had been unable to put onto its ship because of lack of cargo space at Cape Town, and to buy two of their Auster aircraft, when they'd finished with them. So in 1952, at the end of the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition, I was able to bring back from South Africa ... [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Yes. I think it's quite extraordinary, that in 1952, I was able to persuade the government to give me money to purchase one hut and two Auster aircraft from the Norwegian-British-Swedish expedition, when they'd finished with them, at a time long before I had approval to even put a station into Antarctica. So this was a sort of preparatory move in the hope that at a later date I would get approval.
Yes. So, it was a bit of long term planning in the way.
Well, on which ship?
Oh, well, I'll come to that now. In 1952, I had designed ... with the chief naval architect of the Shipbuilding Board, I'd designed an Antarctic ship, which in the absence of anything around the world, we were going to get the Australian Government to build for us. Just when we were about to start building that, I learnt that a firm in Denmark had built a polar ship to service the lead mines in East Greenland and that ship would be used in the Northern summer and tied up in the northern winter. So it struck me that we could use it in the northern winter, which is our summer. So I worked through some shipping agents in London to arrange that we'd be able to charter the ship. And then I went to the planning committee and said, 'Look I've got a ship and what about it? Can we use that ship and charter it and now we'll be able to set up an Antarctic station?' and we were able to persuade the government to do it. And the result was that the Kista Dan, this newly built ship, was brought out here rather than being tied up in Denmark for the winter. So off we went. I've explained how we went to Heard Island and then up to Kerguelen and down to Mawson. And I should say that one of the reasons I was able to persuade the government to allow us to set up Mawson station, I said, 'If you do that, I'm prepared to close down Heard Island and we'll shift some of the huts and the diesel engines and the radio. You can get an Antarctic station on the cheap. Instead of having fourteen men, like on Heard Island, I will only have ten men in Antarctica. And this was the cheapest way you'll ever find to set up a new station'. And on those terms we did. The result was the following year we closed down Heard Island.
There were the ten, who were going to be left, and there was myself and there would be another two or three, I suppose, of supernumeraries. I've forgotten exactly how many. And then there would be a crew of about fifteen or twenty. There'd be about thirty to forty men altogether on the ship. Right, having worked out from my aircraft flights, that the point I'd examined with the magnifying glass looked pretty good. It was a horseshoe of rock, perched on the edge of the ice cap and I hoped that when we got there, we could get through the opening of the mouth of the horseshoe. It was very doubtful, because if you have a horseshoe shaped thing, the chances are that across this opening there'd be a reef under the surface, closing it off. So my hope was that somehow the water would be deep enough at that entrance to get us into this harbour. Once in there we'd be beautifully protected from the wind and we'd be able to unload very easily. But when we got down there we'd made good progress through pack ice and begun to see the mountains in behind Mawson and the Antarctic Plateau and everything looked wonderful. Then we ran into, what you call, fast ice, which is winter sea ice that has not broken up into pack ice and it's just a vast unbroken sheet of solid ice. And when we tried to push into that we found that we couldn't make progress fast enough. We were only going about 200 or 300 yards a day, which was hopeless. But we started pushing in and we knew that sooner or later a storm would break it up and we'd be able to get through. It was a question of whether it would happen in time for us. And so to save time, I decided that having flown in on one of these little Auster aircraft and taking off beside the ship on skis, I flew in and landed on skis outside this horseshoe, and then walked in and had a look at it all, and decided that it was perfect. And having flown back to the ship, I got Dovers, who was to be the officer in charge of that station, and about another three fellows to take the weasel ... a couple of weasels and a couple of living caravans and to start moving over the sea ice to go in to Horseshoe Harbour. The idea being that as the ship was making laborious progress through this ice we could be running little ferry trips with the weasels to try and get something going on establishing the station. But they'd only got in somewhere near Horseshoe Harbour when they were hit by a hurricane and to save themselves they pulled up on a little island and anchored there, barges down, and one weasel broke through and was stuck in the ice just before they could get there. Meanwhile, back at the ship, we had a terrifying experience that has never happened since to the same degree. That is the hurricane produced immense pressure in this fast ice and it all began to crack and break up, and under pressure, where there'd be a crack, it would all heap up and break down and these great pressure ridges would be forming out on the ice and the ship was then pushed over onto one side and the ice ... For the first couple of minutes it was quite frightening because we thought the ship would be crushed but then we found the ship was stronger than the ice. And ... [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
The ship I thought would be crushed, but after the first few minutes I noticed that the ice was pushing in and cracking up against the ship.
When the hurricane started our men pulled up on this island near Mawson, Horseshoe Harbour. By radio I learnt they were safe, and the danger then was to the ship, which looked as though it would be crushed by the ice. And it was the first few minutes that were the most worrying because this tremendous pressure heeled the ship over on one side. I could hear the grinding of the ice against the side and then I noticed that the ice was pushing in and cracking and falling back, and I realised that the ship was stronger than the ice. And the ice continued to do this for about an hour and ice piled up all around the ship and finally great blocks of ice were piling up and falling over onto the deck of the ship. And some were falling back onto the ice beside the ship. At the end of about half an hour, all the pressure stopped and there we were firmly stuck with ice heaped up all around us and these great pressure ridges out through the fast ice, where it had cracked and piled up in ridges. And the next problem was how to get the ship out, because when the hurricane ceased, we found we couldn't move the ship. The captain tried all sorts of devices and nothing work. I even tried explosives and it didn't work. So then we got back to the Chinese manpower sort of system. We got everyone out onto the ice with axes and poles and hammers and saws and pick axes, and we literally broke up the ice down one side of the ship, poled it down in some free water along the side of the ship that we managed to create, and pushed it at the stern of the ship where the propellers churned away and pushed it a bit further away. And we spent two days literally digging out the ship. The captain unloaded the anchor chains out of the forward part of ship onto the ice - great heaps of anchor chains to lighten the front of the ship. And he pumped water and fuel from the floor tanks back up to the after tanks. Everything to lighten the front of the ship, and finally, he was able to get the engines going astern, and putting ice anchors out at the rear of the ship connected onto winches, which were pulling on them, he managed to get the ship to pull backwards into open water. Then we found that the hurricane had literally been an advantage because it had weakened all this fast ice and cracked it up, and we were able to push on through that then and eventually get to Mawson Harbour.
It's a mixture of fear and exhilaration. The exhilarating part comes from the fact that at last you could do the real Antarctic thing, like all the things you'd have read about. It's all happening to you, you know. And the adventure makes it wonderful., tremendously exciting. And on the other hand, you're fearful because you know if it goes the wrong way you're in pretty desperate trouble. But it's a bit like soldiers at war, you know: 'It can't happen to me' sort of thing. You have this immense confidence that ultimately you're going to be all right, you're going to get out of it. You never ever seem to think that this is going to be the end of you. Although that happened to me later in the later hurricane, which was absolutely terrible. But at this stage, it was fine. I should mention one little thing which was exciting. I told you that I flew in to have a look at Mawson Harbour first. The landing there was quite frightening because in that area, the fast ice was like polished blue glass. There is very little snowfall around Mawson. In the middle of summer, any snow that falls gets blown away and there's an immense amount of melting going on, so the ablation, as they say, of the ice, means that it finishes up as a polished blue sheet and we landed in the little Auster aircraft on skis. There was an iceberg about half a mile ahead but we didn't take any notice of it. And we landed. We wouldn't stop. There's almost no friction on skis on polished blue ice. And we go rattling on and on and on and the iceberg's getting closer and closer and closer. We suddenly realise that we're going to smash up against it and that's the end of us. So I had a very good pilot, Doug Leckie, and I'll speak about him later, a tremendous experienced pilot.
My pilot, Doug Leckie, flew me in to look at Horseshoe Harbour before this hurricane hit us. I had quite an exciting experience there because the fast ice outside Mawson Harbour was polished blue, glassy ice and when we landed on skis in the little Auster aircraft, there was an iceberg about a mile ahead, about half a mile ahead, which we didn't take any notice off, but we found that after landing, there was no friction between the skis and this glassy ice. So we just went rattling on with no diminution in speed and this ice berg started to loom up closer and closer and closer and we realised if we didn't do something or other, we'd smash into it. So Leckie turned it into what he called ground loops, that is, he spun the aircraft, and we went towards this ice berg in a series of spinning circles. And of course the friction is greater with the skis side on than it is with them end on. So this slowed us down and we finished about fifty yards off the face of this berg.
Anyway, let's go back to the Kista Dan and its approach to Horseshoe Harbour. We broke our way through because the hurricane had produced cracks and channels in the ice and we had quite good progress. And when we got to the entrance to Horseshoe Harbour, the captain sent a motorboat ahead to take some soundings. And we found that there was just enough water over the top of this reef that joined the two arms at the mouth of the horseshoe and we were able to go in over that safely, and inside the water was very deep. It was 150 feet or something. And the ship was able to back and charge around a bit and smash up an area of the fast ice, which enabled it to then moor and send cables out to the rock on each side of the horseshoe, to hold the ship in place. Then we started unloading onto weasels, which would run up to the edge of the ship on the fast ice and take the stuff ashore. So to cut a long story short, we built Mawson Station to the point where we had half the huts up, enough for the men to live in and we left them then to finish the rest of the job after we left. So when we left I still had a bit of charter time and I persuaded the captain to move in an easterly direction to have a look at the Amery Ice Shelf and a big bay beside it called Prydze Bay, with the hope that we would then move on to a place called the Vestfold Hills, that had been sighted first by the Norwegians in the 1930s and later photographed by Operation High Jump of the Americans. But when we got to Prydze Bay, the captain said he didn't want to go in, and I said, 'Look I've got charter time and I want to go in'. He said, 'It's not safe', and I said, 'This ice's no worse than anything we've been through and I don't see any reason why we shouldn't'. He said, 'The insurance won't cover us because it doesn't cover exploring'. So I sent a cable to the owners saying, 'The insurance in my view does cover it. I've looked at the insurance terms and I want you to instruct the captain to do what he's told or I'll declare the ship off-charter and stop paying for it', so the captain was very upset. The next day he got a cable from the owners telling him he had to do what I wanted, so he pushed into the south into Prydze Bay and I was able to encourage him to keep going until we reached a point just off the Vesthold Hills, which enabled us to make the first Australian landing in that area. And it was tremendously important because it was as a result of that landing, and my photographs of that area from the aircraft, that we decided that was an ideal place to set up a station. And several years later for the IGY we put Davis Station ... we put Davis Station into that place. And so I finished our work there. We got some good survey work done, some good aerial photographs. We did everything we wanted to do and I said to the captain, 'Right we can go home', so the captain turned the ship, the ship's bows, heading north and we started to steam out of Prydze Bay. We'd only gone a couple of hours when the wind rose. It continued to rise that night into a huge hurricane. The wind strength at the extreme must have been about 140 knots, which is something I'd never experienced in my life, and the ship was light because it had unloaded all its cargo. Normally when that happens the captain fills up empty fuel and water tanks in the bows with sea water to hold the ship down. But captains don't like doing that because when you put water into an oil tank it means when you get back home you've got to spend money cleaning it all out again, because there's sludge, so they try to avoid it. So he had avoided it when he left Mawson, and then when the hurricane began to hit and he then went to try and do this, it wouldn't work because the pipes had frozen up. So he was unable to redistribute the weight and with the bows high out of the water, the hurricane was such that he couldn't hold the ship bows on into the wind and she just got blown round sideways. And with the ship sideways on to this immense wind, we were just held over about thirty degrees and rolling from there, which meant that at best you're vertical and at worst you were down about seventy to eighty degrees lying on your side. It was highly dangerous because the ship was unstable. In my diary I had noted on the way to Macquarie Island that I felt the ship had a very slow period of roll which means it's unstable. A stable ship rolls very rapidly. And so I was worried that the ship, if it was pushed over too far it would just go right round. Just be submerged. And when you think that, lying on your bunk, when the ship rolls as much as that, you're not lying on the bunk, you're lying on the wall. And at some of the terrifying moments, I'd be looking out the porthole and just looking down at the green depths and my cabin was on the highest part of the ship. And for me to be looking out the porthole just down to green water just shows you how far over we were. Well this terror arose because of the fear of capsizing. The ship would go over to seventy degrees, and then it would shudder and stay there for about ten or fifteen seconds. Your heart's thumping and you'd think, oh we're gone this time, she's going round. And then she'd recover. And the next blast of wind would hit and over she'd go again and the same thing would happen, and that went on hour after hour. And we also had the danger of ice because we were in a pack ice zone, surrounded by ice, ice floes and growlers, which are lumps of ice, anything up to the size of a house, and huge icebergs, with the ship drifting sideways through all this. The only control we had was the ship could go forwards or it could go backwards, but it couldn't steer any other way. So it was a nice ... [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
So a hurricane of this dimension, you've got breaking waves being hurled at you and in those waves there's all this ice, so the ship is being thumped by great masses of ice striking it. Now the pack ice is reasonably all right because the ship can take that, but a growler is old, rock-hard ice and very big, anything up to the size of a small house. And you can't see a growler on the radar because very little of it sticks up and the bit that does stick up is obscured by the clutter of breaking waves and pack ice and everything around the ship. Ice bergs you can see and the captain spent a lot of his time crabbing around them. As he'd drift down on one ice berg he'd go forward to get round it and then he'd back back to get around another one. And in this crab fashion he was able to avoid the icebergs. But the danger of growlers was ever-present and we were struck a couple of times by very big blocks of ice and it's quite frightening to have a big hunk hit you. Lifted up on a twenty or thirty foot wave and hurled into the side of the ship. And there's this immense explosion, and bits of shattered ice fly everywhere and there's a great dint in the ship - the plates of which up at the forepart are about an inch thick, so its very solid steel that's being bashed in this way. And the danger of capsizing, as I mentioned. So the captain spent a terrible time on the bridge. This whole thing went on for about twenty-six hours. And towards the end we drifted into a remarkable area of sea ice, which was a result of all the pack ice being pulverised by the storm into smaller pieces, anything from a metre across down to the very tiny bits. And all this acts like a concrete mix it looks like in a way, so that floating on top of the sea there'd be between one or two metres thick of this brash pulverised ice mixed in. So that this had the effect of flattening out, so you no longer got breaking waves but you had these huge swells, so that looking from the deck of the ship when daylight came, you had this astonishing landscape, as though there's hills and valleys but they're changing. They're all up and down. One moment the ship is up on top of a hill looking out over landscape of the valleys, white valleys, and the next moment it's at the bottom of the valley looking up at these white hills. And so this whole crazy landscape moving like this and the danger had subsided because then the fear of capsizing had disappeared. And the fear of growlers had disappeared. But then we began to worry us as to whether we could get out of this. When the hurricane finished and we were able to start sailing, we found we had about 100 miles of pack ice to the north of us that we still had to get through. And a few days later we were trapped in very heavy pack ice, unable to move and we had another hurricane. But being in the pack ice, stationary, we were not in danger as we had been in the earlier one. But the problem then was, would we be trapped there for the winter because this was in March and too late to be down there. And I remember everyone got very despondent and the morale went down very low and I had the cook come to me and ask if he should do a stock take of all the food on the ship. I said, 'No. Don't you dare until I tell you. If the boys learn that I'm taking a stock take of the food on the ship then the morale will become even worse because they'll know then that I think they're going to be trapped'. Anyway this hurricane was a Godsend in a way because it had broken up the pack ice and after the second hurricane we were able to get out and proceed. But my embarrassment was very great because I'd forced the captain into this position. And then I realised that if the ship had sunk I could be blamed for all this, not that I was worried in that case, because I'd be dead. The other interesting thing is my reaction to the danger. Everyone on that ship thought we were going to die. Not one of us at the height of the storm thought we'd survive. So much so, that although there was wonderful photography, there wasn't a single photograph taken by anyone, including myself and I am an avid photographer, simply because there didn't seem to be any point in wasting your time taking photographs, you weren't going to get out of it anyway. So we have no record of this fascinating business of the ups and downs of these valleys and things, which we could have photographed.
My feeling was one of extreme anger. I was furious. I said, 'Here I am a successful expeditioner. I've achieved my objective. I've put a station in Antarctica. We've got a ship full of records, and surveys and aerial photographs and wonderful data, going home, crowned with success and here we are going to be bloody well killed', you know. It's most infuriating. And it's so infuriating that you don't feel frightened in that sense.
Oh that's easy enough. As a matter of fact it's forced on you. Every decision you make is a matter of survival so you have to keep going. Well, back to Melbourne, to a welcome: the crowd on the wharf, relatives and people, the minister and so on.
He didn't ever say anything about this earlier problem. But we had continuing problems with captains. This one in particular was the worst. He became steadily worse on successive voyages. Finally I had to ask the owners not to send him anymore.
Because he ... he'd become so antagonistic to anything I wanted done. And so timid. And so frightened of possible consequences, that even the simplest things he would read danger into them and refuse to do them on account of the safety of the ship. Remember that the captain has the ultimate say the minute he says, 'It's the safety of the ship, which is at issue'. And as leader of the expedition I can't overrule him. Up to that point I can say, 'I want you to do this. You must do this. That's what I want'. But if he says, 'Look it's too dangerous and I am here to protect this ship and its crew and its passengers', then that's the last point. Now over the years we had numerous captains and there were two that I would except from this statement, two wonderful men, but almost invariably the others would become more and more cautious as they came down in later years. And my deputy, who went onto these voyages after I resigned, I said to him once, 'You know most of the captains became less useful as their experience increased because as they learnt more and more about Antarctica and the dangers, they became more and more cautious'. And I said, 'Most of them'. He looked at me with a glint in his eye and said, 'Not most of them Phillip', he said, 'All of them', because he had the same experience as me. And of course, Mawson had that experience with his two captains on the BANZARE trip. The captains wouldn't go in where he wanted them because they were frightened of what would happen. So this is a continuing problem with every expedition leader. Expedition leaders are concerned with pushing to the limit and exploring and finding out things, the curiosity driving him. The captain of the ship invariably has no curiosity. I remember saying to one captain, 'Look, I want to go round that headland'. He said, 'No. I don't want to go'. I said, 'Look if you go around that headland you'll be the first captain in the world to ever to see that'. He said, 'I don't care'. I said, 'Look if we go around there history will show a map of Antarctica with a little dotted line and the name of your ship on it and the name of you as captain as being the first ship in history ever to have gone there'. He said, 'I don't care, I want to go home'. So this is the problem you have.
Well they always thought I was difficult by wanting things done. I remember spending hours in the crow's nest. When things get difficult the captain goes to the crow's nest and navigates the ship from there. When I think he's getting a bit edgy I'd go up and sit beside him and say, 'Oh, not as bad as I thought it was.' You know, it's going all right. Let's just look over there'. You know, make him realise that if he wants to say no, he's really got a problem on his hands, and kid him along. I kidded one bloke all night to cross a very shallow bank rather than going a couple of hundred miles around. [INTERRUPTION]
Well intense curiosity. And this is what drives a scientist and what drives an expeditioner. You just want to see what's round the other side of something. To see something no one else has ever seen, to map, to produce new knowledge, to create, in a sense.
Very much so. Particularly in my day, where I had this experience that very few people had had and which no one can ever have again of just standing up on a mountain peak and looking down the other side and saying, 'Mine are the first eyes in the history of creation to have ever seen this'. Now you can't even say that on the Moon or Mars. It's all been photographed.
Well we were all extremely patriotic. This business of raising flags, it's a bit hard to express this today where those sorts of feelings are sneered at a bit. But in our time we still had this sort of Empire spirit, this business of doing things for Australia, in the name of the Queen and the Commonwealth, putting a flag up in the name of the Queen and the Commonwealth and Australia, and helping to cement the Australian claim to Antarctica, which now I no longer believe in. It's fascinating looking back on the sincerity of our patriotic feelings and doing this exploring for patriotic purposes.
Tremendously proud to be able to raise the Australian flag and say, 'In the name of Queen Elizabeth and the Commonwealth of Australia, we raise this flag as an example of Australian ownership to this Australian Antarctic Territory'. And then we'd build a cairn and put a bottle under a stone with a message in it saying, 'On such and such a day we raised the Australian flag and the people concerned were such and such'. And every time we explored a new place we'd put a cairn up on an unknown coast, knowing this fierce competition we had in those days between us and the Russians. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Apart from curiosity, which is one of the most powerful driving forces in explorers, there is this other element of being the first into something. Now most people experience the thrill of going to some remote place where they know very few people have been and they come home and they've got this feeling of 'I've been there and I've seen this and I'm one of the only few hundred who have every done that'. Just imagine to do what I had the pleasure of doing on several occasions and that is to go up to some high eminency, to climb up or be dropped there by helicopter or something, and then you go forward and look out over the other side into the distance and you say to yourself, 'Mine are the first eyes in the creation of the world that have ever seen this view'. This is an immense thrill and there is this feeling that perhaps you'll be able to do something like that, it's another driving force from the adventure, to take risks and to get to places. And nowadays it's not possible to do that anymore. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, when all this was happening. Now you can't do it anywhere on earth. The whole of the earth has been photographed and seen and that goes for the Moon and for Mars. So where do you go to get this experience again?
No, it just makes you feel very happy inside yourself I guess. [Laughs]
No. No. It's the opposite feeling of personal privilege, uniqueness. It's the summit of an explorer's experience really, to be able to do something like this.
I think it's right to say that you feel very humble because you realise the insignificance of human beings in relation to the great forces of nature. And that's why I take issue with many environmentalists. They have no idea of the magnitude of Antarctica and they talk about things that have to be protected in Antarctica that are quite unimportant. A lot of so-called 'Conservation Antarctica' is nonsense because man at his worst can make almost no impact on this immense continent. And to talk about becoming a wilderness area is nonsense. Ninety-five per cent of it will always be wilderness. The impact that individual people, or tourists or expeditions can have is minuscule. It doesn't matter. You might affect a tiny area and it'll be completely recovered within a few months, if not a few years, and it will have no impact on the other 99.9 per cent of the country.
It will always be our last wilderness. It will always be a wilderness. It's nothing you can do about it. It's unapproachable, inaccessible, threatening, dangerous. You can just probe in at odd spots. If you look at the map of my voyages, you'll see it's scalloped. We've gone in there, we've come out to sea, we've gone in there, we've come out to sea, we've gone in there. That's because the places in between are unapproachable by ship. They aren't approachable largely by air, except helicopters.
It seems in certain places. We've got to be a bit careful about introducing seeds and plants and things, not that I think many would ever exist down there. When you think the only things that really grow in Antarctica are lichens and mosses. Really there's very little we can do to harm Antarctica. The oil threat is the worst, but even that has been proved to be far less than anyone has envisaged because we're not conscious of nature's immense ability to protect itself and to remedy things that happen. And by sheer immensity, when you talk about oil spills, people talk as though an oil spill in Bass Strait will poison everything in Darwin. That's the sort of argument that is being applied to Antarctica. I'd agree that if you have any oil spill in Bass Strait it will affect Bass Strait. In Antarctica it will affect thirty or forty miles of coast, perhaps a bit more, but not the total 12,000 miles of coast or something around Antarctica.
If you look at a tiny place, yes. If you look at the immensity of Antarctica, it's one of the most robust, untouchable places in the world, in the inability of human being to have any real effect on it.
It can never overflow with tourists. Tourists will only go somewhere where they can reach easily, where it's interesting. There are only two places really that tourists want to go. And are able to go and will probably will ever go. And one is the Antarctic Peninsula, which has to be carefully looked after because it is a bit in danger of too many people, but that's a little area. It's not Antarctica itself. As a matter of fact it's one of the rare little areas of Antarctica that's probably very different from all the rest, because it's further north, and it's easier to get to it and it actually has different sorts of flora, for that reason. That's one place they want to go. The other place is the Ross Sea area where McMurdo Station is. Most of the rest is not worth looking at from a tourist point of view. And ninety per cent of the rest, they couldn't get to anyway. So this idea of being flooded with tourists just won't happen. It can't happen. And the bits that are endangered, okay, protect them. You can draw up any rules you want to apply to the peninsular area and a few places around the Ross Sea or Mawson's Hut. But don't imagine that that applies all over Antarctica. It would be stupid to bother about the rest of Antarctica. I think that we're wasting, in the world, we're wasting immense amounts of money every year with committees, with paper work and expenditure, on conserving Antarctica when we should be really putting all that into conserving Australia and the populated parts of the world. You're just wasting your time doing it down there.
Because they're not concerned about the major issue which is world population. They want to do things that are spectacular. They want to do things that have an impact. Antarctica is more in focus in the world than any other place and you can get more kudos and more publicity and more support from doing something in Antarctica. And that's why they're all there. [INTERRUPTION]
I'll be very popular if this goes to air.
It's all right. Same as in Australia, if you have an endangered species, you look after it. That doesn't mean that everything's endangered. When you talk about seals and penguins. The environmentalists complained when the French wanted to build an airport because they might threaten the thousand Adelie penguins. But there are over twenty to thirty million Adelie penguins in Antarctica. If you have to ship a thousand to one place or the other or move them, it's immaterial. [INTERRUPTION]
That's because they didn't get on to protect them early enough. The treaty nations have put into operation a whole lot of measures to protect Antarctic environment, and they did most of it before any Greenpeace or environmentalist got stuck into it at all. I think the great danger of people like Greenpeace is they endanger the treaty structure itself. I think the conservation of the Antarctic Treaty system is much more important than any other single conservation measure in Antarctica, and Greenpeace did more to destroy the Antarctic Treaty than any other group.
Just by causing all sorts of problems that disrupted the Antarctic Treaty people. This whole business of the anti-mining crusade almost tore the treaty apart. And yet it's quite meaningless. There's going to be no mining in the Antarctic for fifty to 100 years. No possibility whatever, except for oil which is rather different. I'm talking about mineral mining. And looked at in that regard, if you sign a bit of paper preventing mining now, if in fact eighty years, 100 years from now, it turns out we are short of molybdenum or something we need back in society for our metallurgy, no bit of paper you sign now is going to stop people from getting things society needs. Frankly I don't see why we shouldn't mine in Antarctica. It's not as though you are going to have a proliferation of mines. You'd be damn lucky if you ever find five mines in Antarctica.
We've been crawling all over Antarctica now for over forty years, and we've not found a single ore body. When the mineral boom was on in Australia twenty years ago, they were finding ore bodies in Northern Australia at a rate of one every three weeks. It wasn't a question of finding an ore body, it was finding an ore body that was viable and profitable. In Antarctica they haven't found a single ore body as yet. One of the problems is that most of the rock outcrops are the tops of mountains and you don't often find important mines on the tops of mountains. We can't prospect through the ice and it's doubtful that we'll ever find a way of doing it, so you're restricted to this very small area of rock, which is outcropping. And if you do find mines then it has to be economical to go down and mine them and that won't happen 'til we're so short everywhere else in the world that makes it a viable proposition. And then you have to have a port to export the stuff, or an airfield to fly it out. Everything's against the exploitation of mining resources in Antarctica, to be quite realistic.
The earlier work of Mawson and other explorers was closely related to the general idea that resources in Antarctica were going to be important for the world. All the history of Antarctica has been tied up with the commercial ideas of whaling or the possibility of minerals, and that leads onto the whole idea of national claims in Antarctica, where the different nations that made claims did so because they thought that at some time in the future, something might crop up in Antarctica that would be commercially important, such as minerals and so on. So the whole idea of territorial claims is related to resources. I believe that the claims era is finished. It's part of the old colonial philosophy of various empires reaching out and grabbing territory. Now there are seven nations that have claims in Antarctica. There are twenty-four nations in the Antarctica Treaty. The other seventeen don't recognise those claims and when we point out that amongst the ones who don't recognise them are all the big powers - the United States, Russian, China, India, Japan, you know, it makes you suddenly realise the claims, really, are not worth the paper their written on. Everyone is just hanging on to claims until there is a decision as to what is to replace them. The nations are searching for a mechanism by which Antarctica can be governed and controlled in some international fashion. There are two major schools of thought. One, to which I subscribe, is that there should be a consortium arrangement by the treaty nations, who should set up some secretariat and some administrative machinery for governing everything that goes on in Antarctica. The other viewpoint is that it all should be handed over to the United Nations, and this I just don't believe would work. It's difficult enough with twenty-four nations. In my time, it was difficult enough with eleven to get some sort of consensus. The treaty has the great value in that every nation that is a full member of the treaty must be carrying out work in Antarctica. That means it really understands the whole Antarctic problem because it is down there operating. Now if you turned it over to the United Nations, you get 150 nations instead of twenty-four, and most of them know nothing whatever about Antarctica and have very little way of ever finding out and many of them have appalling conservation records. And I think the whole United Nations Secretariat system, as you see in preventing wars, is not very effective, so that I believe the United Nations possibility is just undesirable. I think we should continue to work towards getting some treaty machinery and anyone can join the treaty, anyone who can set up a station in Antarctica and operate down there.
Oh, you would throw it out the window. You wouldn't have anymore claims. Get rid of all the claims and have an international body regulate it.
Yes. That's finished. That's bygone. It's part of an era which has disappeared, just as the British Empire has disappeared, you know. It's gone.
Oh it doesn't worry me because my big interest was surveying and exploring and mapping and doing scientific work. That exploring's been done, so we've got that chalked up as a record. The scientific work will go on. That's wonderful to have been in and it's wonderful to see it expanding and developing and continuing. So I'm very happy.
Oh, I believe the future is that ultimately, maybe a very long time ahead, that ultimately, its resources will be valuable, despite what objections there maybe from the conservationists. That will be the bottom line.
I think the rare moments are of very great beauty, and those rare moments of discovery when I landed on quite unknown shores and raised the Australian flag and said, 'Here we are for the first time'.
A long while. I was there last in 1966. And I've never been back.
Not really. I had twenty years and my curiosity was sated. I've seen it all.
I don't think so. I'm quite happy about he way we did it. I think it was very effective, very efficient very professional.
I think everybody who goes to Antarctica comes back enriched, not only in terms of experiences but in developing a greater sense of one's own individuality, developing better internal balance, a better idea of oneself in relation to the world at large and nature in particular, a greater appreciation of one's physical and mental resources and one's emotional resources. I think it was a very enriching experience. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Antarctica has always been regarded as the apex of the adventure pyramid and this is a justifiable assessment. I think adventure in Antarctica is tremendous. It outweighs adventure in any other environment in the world, and this is why people go down there, and why people are still going down there. I was lucky enough to have a number of adventures and even luckier to get out of it alive. I'll just give you one example, which was in the air. And incidentally, most of my hairiest of adventures have been in the air or at sea, rather than on land or on foot. This one occurred when we were exploring Oates Land for the first time. The ship pushed in, couldn't reach the shore, we were stuck sixty miles off shore. But we found a pond, an open lake of water, about a mile across, and so I decided that I could fly my little Auster plane on floats sixty miles in and then go along the shore taking handheld photographs of this unknown coast and its mountain and fly back to the ship. So we duly did that and my pilot was Doug Leckie, who was a very famous and wonderful pilot. And normally when you leave a ship like that you note iceberg positions or something, to act as a landmark when coming home again because we didn't have a radio compass. And on this occasion, simply because the ship was there in a great pool a mile wide, there was no other pool for hundreds of miles in the pack ice, we didn't bother. We just set off and we flew sixty miles down the coast, which was one leg of the triangle, and then sixty miles along and sixty miles back, and when we got back, we couldn't find the ship. We had radios and we said, 'Where are you? What's happened, captain? We can't find the pool'. He said, 'I'm sorry but the pack ice has all closed in and there's no pool'. And so we searched three times - three or four stratagems - without success to try and find the ship and we realised that if we couldn't find the ship from the air, and if we managed to crash land, which was not very probable, because on floats you can't land on ice floes all jumbled up and broken, so our chance for a successful crash landing was nil practically, but if we had managed to survive, the ship would never have found us because they wouldn't know whether to go north, south, east or west. And if we couldn't see them from the air, they'd never see us from sea level. So we had to do something pretty desperate and the only thing I could think of: I radioed the ship and asked the captain to get every pair of binoculars on the ship and hand them out to individual men and to assemble the men up on the top above the bridge on that flat place called Monkey Island and to divide the sky into sectors and to give each man a sector to scan and in this way, after about five minutes, one of the blokes picked us up as a spot in the sky and then they were able to talk us back to the ship by radio. But when we got back, there was no pool to land in. The captain was able to put the engines full-steam ahead and that made the propellers churn violently and push the brash ice behind the ship back. It produced a pool about forty yards long at the stern of the ship. And this wonderful pilot of mine flew the plane in and landed in about forty yards. Luckily on a float plane the drag is immense once the floats hit the water so it's like putting on very severe brakes and we finished up with the nose of the aircraft up against the stern of the ship with about three or four minutes of petrol left. [INTERRUPTION - SLATE]
Well, all my life I've really had no overriding ambition in a directed sense, but I've always felt that it's terribly important to feel that at the end of the year, that you've done something. You must have some output, some accomplishment. So it doesn't matter what it is. When you ... for example, I've set myself to learn a musical instrument, or to do a certain amount of reading or to try and push my career, but apart from this early desire to be a surgeon, I never knew what I wanted to be. And even when I first went to university and thought I'd be a chemist and had to switch to being a physicist, and then having become a bit disturbed with the idea of a backroom boy existence to suddenly find the Antarctic thing opens out. And then when I found that the exploration had finished and they're not giving me the needs that I require to do good scientific work in Antarctica, I could see that's becoming a bit of a flat plateau, and I'm looking for something else creative and suddenly the Law luck works and out comes the VIC, the Victorian Institute of Colleges project, and I managed to get into that. And every time I've been lucky in being on the wave just as it's breaking to go to the shore and I get hurled forward, really regardless of my own momentum. So this idea of not wasting any year, and liking to see something at the end of it all, is still with me in my retirement, and that's why I try to write a book or do something, even if to play better tennis. [Laughs] So that at the end of the year I can say, 'I've wasted a lot of time but the year's not entirely down the drain'.
Yes. I've always been pretty self-sufficient and since my ... I had a very hard time for five years when my wife had a stroke and I had to nurse her and the difficulty there was planning and programming my day. It was a tremendously filled. Every second of every day was used for some purpose. Life's much easier of course. It's not totally lonely because I fill it up with all sorts of things, but there's a huge vacuum, of course, that will never be filled with Nell's absence. And you just live with that. But then I charge on ahead with these other things. This project itself is most exciting and will carry me through to the point of knowing that's a big contribution to this year. Last week I had a book accepted for publication. I have another one, which I'm hawking around the publishers and hopefully will be produced soon. Kath Ralston has written my biography. That's to be published this year. What I want to do as a future project is to publish quite a remarkable diary that Nell wrote of her Antarctic voyage and to illustrate it with reproductions of her Antarctic paintings. So that's a ... something for me to do next year and the year after. So there's always something. My main problem is whether or not I'll have enough years left to do all the things I want to do.
Only in the sense that I've always been interested in having an historical record of all this. That's why I've kept photographs and things. Until I got into the Antarctic work, I had no idea about it at all. But once I got into the Antarctic, having read all the historical books, I made a point of making sure I had elaborate diaries, elaborate photographic records, and occasions for getting things down in print or on the book shelves or into TV or onto film so that there will be a record of the Antarctic work and hopefully of Victorian Institute of College's work. Although that is still for the future because even Kath Ralston hasn't coped with that yet. So I hope someone will write up all the educational work because that's been another huge part of my life. And still there is no adequate record of that.
Well, I think analysing myself, I've got reasonable intelligence but not in the top rank. I've compared myself with great minds of various sorts and I feel quite inadequate. I'm very hard working. I'm very conscientious. I'm a perfectionist. I'm willing to spend seventeen hours a day on something I'm interested in. And I do think I'm a very good organiser, manager and administrator just by being very conscientious. I get on well with people. I think I'm good with interpersonal relations. And I like to be thought of as someone who's been a meticulous, careful organiser with no great flashes of brilliance but I'm pretty quick on the up-take. I have a carefully tuned antenna which picks up important, little things around the place that contribute to the objective, and in many ways, that's better than brilliance because you can absorb other people's ideas and twist them to your own purpose. And so ... and I enjoy life immensely. I've got very broad interests. I'm an avid reader. I enjoy film. I've been the president of the Melbourne Film Society for many years. I play musical instruments. I've always wanted to do a lot of practice on the piano when I've retired but I've never had the time. I don't even have enough time to practice my clarinet as much as I like. And I play a lot of tennis and I have many friends. I like wine. I have lots of social engagements. Many dinners in restaurants. It's a very full life really. [INTERRUPTION]
I'd like someone to do the rating. I'd love some modern writer to pick up the problem of writing up modern explorers and relating them to the men of the past. I've done more I think than Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen or Mawson, all these people put together, not because I've been more brilliant but because I've lasted longer. The environment of modern life is such that I've been able to get government support where they were just using private funds that they collected. Most of them were one-off expeditions or two-off. I had nineteen years. By sheer accumulation I amassed an immense amount of productivity. There are not many people in the world I think who've produced as much in Antarctic work as I and the ANARE have. I was blessed with wonderful colleagues. Tremendous Esprit de Corps, wonderful people working their guts out to produce these results. And very few people stay in it as long. Nineteen years is a long time to be running the vast expeditionary programme. The only person in the world to go as long would have been Admiral Byrd in America and Sir Vivian Fuchs in England. So that there's a lot of assessment to be done. I'd like people to asses the relationship between Mawson, Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton, Byrd, Fuchs and the Norwegians, who did a lot of work. The Japanese. The Russians. The Russian work is immense and is never mentioned and is never compared with anyone else's', but the Russians were our main competitors in the post IGY period because they had stations in Antarctica. They had ships operating all up and down our coast, and every time we went ashore somewhere we were afraid we'd see the cairn of a Russian, or else if we knew there wasn't one, we'd build a cairn and know that if they got there they'd see our cairn and so there's this international rivalry on a very happy, friendly basis, to see who can get there first and get a cairn up to stamp their imprint on that particular bit of territory. I still don't know, and haven't the facility to compare our work with the Russians. Their work's all in Russian and I can't read Russian. I've seen some of their maps showing the voyages of their ships. That's why I was very anxious to get out our exploration map so that they can perhaps see what we've done as well, and so that historians can look at Russian maps and look at ours and then fit them altogether and see who got their first, who saw what and so on. It's a fascinating exercise.
Well I don't think so, for this reason, that everyone is still hooked on the magic of the heroic era. For all sorts of people, they insist on talking to me about what Mawson did. I know what Mawson did. I have never once been listed on any important list of Antarctic explorers. This doesn't hurt me much because I know that in the next fifty years I'll make the grade. But it's a measure of how people are not recognised in life. Now, I've got a surveyor, called Sid Kirkby, who went down on numerous expeditions, and I believe he has personally surveyed and explored more than other ... any other person living or dead. And there would be no one in Australia almost, outside the Antarctic Division, who's ever heard his name. There's a chap called Charlie Bentley, a glaciologist in America, who's covered more of Antarctica in traverses. He's been doing it from the IGY onwards and he's still doing it. And this is a remarkable achievement, but it's never mentioned. We're still hooked on this business of people who die and become famous. If Scott had not died, if Mawson had not fallen down the traverse, if Shackleton hadn't had his ship broken, they would not be famous people. Today, the really successful people don't make mistakes and because they don't make mistakes, no one ever hears about them.
No I just think I'm so lucky. All the twists of fortune have favoured me. If I had to go through my life again, I couldn't possibly do it all again. For example, if I hadn't passed Pure Maths Two or Three, when I was at Clunes, I wouldn't not have got anywhere. If I hadn't got a First Class Honour in Physics Part Three I would not have been accepted for research in physics. And if I hadn't got this position as Director of the Antarctic Division, I don't know where I would have been. If I hadn't got the VIC thing, a whole programme, and that was dead lucky. Nell was ... Nell and I were in bed on a Saturday morning reading the newspaper. Nell looked down the professional page and said, 'Here's a job for you Phil. What do you think?' and I looked at it and if I had written the advertisement myself I it could not have been more in relation to my qualifications. I said, 'Yes, how would you feel if I'd apply for this?' She said, 'Oh yes, it sounds wonderful', so I applied and I got it. Just luck. And this lucky business of my professor in the corridor telling me about the expedition and getting me in as the senior scientific officer. It's remarkable.
I don't know how the world works, but for me it's been all a matter of wonderful luck, all down the line. Even survival in Antarctica, with all the hazardous things that happened to me. Just getting through by the skin of my teeth time after time.
Well I don't know ... I don't know what the average person is. I suppose, all people haven't got a desire to push on and do things. And, not am ... it's not ambition exactly, this desire to accomplish things, means your ability to perform a hell of a lot of drudgery. People used to envy me my position in the Antarctic Division and I used to say to them, 'Look, twenty per cent of it is cream. The other eighty per cent is bloody hard work and most of it is very boring administration. But you have to do it because that's what's needed to make such and such happen'. I don't like writing long submissions, and burning the midnight oil to write to Treasury or the Minister and having to fight for this or that. I've been fighting for an Antarctic ship as a museum ship for fifteen years and getting nowhere until recently. But it's exciting and it's hard work and it's drudgery. And you've got to force yourself to do it but in the end it's all worth it if you get there. Most of the time you do, if you work hard enough.
I think the advice I'd give to kids, for example for exams: time is extendable. There's always that extra minute you can find. You've got to use those extra minutes. If you're up against something terribly difficult you can cope with it by working twenty-four hours a day for three days until you collapse, but you can do it somehow, because the time is there that can be used if you force yourself to use it. And you must be economical, you mustn't waste it.
No, I think the pressure is on people to do precisely this are very much greater now. The competition is fiercer and the ones, who are in the competitive sphere, have to work tremendously hard. And they do. And they do exactly what I'm talking about. They use every spare minute and they concentrate and they work, and they go through the drudgery to get where they want to go. [INTERRUPTION]
One of the lessons young people should learn, you learn it ... I learnt it in physical things first, is that you don't know what your body can do until you force it through to the point of absolute exhaustion. I learnt on that winter trip up on skis on Kosciusko that my physical resources are far, far beyond what I ever thought I was capable of doing. And my sporting career has shown the same thing. To be boxing for three rounds and fight, to exhaust yourself, and at the end of three rounds have the referee come along and say, 'I'm sorry on equal points. I order you to an extra round'. And you've got nothing left. You've got to go out and force that extra bit from nowhere from out of your boots somewhere to cope. And you suddenly find it's always there. You never know how much is in you. And the same thing goes intellectually. Almost no-one ever uses his brains to the limit of what he's got. And if you really forced you can dredge out your intellectual faculties to a degree that's quite astonishing. Some things you write under extreme pressure you look back later and think, How ever did I write that? So that if you can get young people to learn that they've got these infinite resources built in, mental resources and physical resources, all it needs is the motivation, or the necessity, or the emergency that makes you drag it all out. And the successful ones are the ones who learn it early and then apply it and use those extra resources, where other people are not even knowing they've got them.
I think that you just learn that a lot of what you do will go down the drain and you won't succeed. But if you have enough payoffs to keep you encouraged and you generally do if you work hard enough, you don't think about the disappointments, you say, 'Oh that's one I lost. Now where's the next one?' and you go and you fight that one. You might lose three in the row and you win the 4th one and that's good enough to keep you going. It's like going to the races - you win enough to keep you going. You don't lose them all.
The worst disappointment I ever had, was Christmas Eve a few years ago when a bloke rang me up and said, 'She's gone Phil' and told me they'd sunk the Nella Dan. And I was plunged into the most severe depression of my life that night. Actually I'd fought for three weeks to try to save that ship, and to have it so stupidly thrown away by stupid people for stupid reasons. I can cope with almost anything, but human stupidity, that really upsets me.
For all sorts of stupid reasons: an insurance company that wanted to get rid of it. Bureaucrats who applied a rule that had no application in Macquarie Island and they applied a rule of thumb, that they apply around the Australian coast about removing shipping that's a threat to other ships. They should have left the ship where she was on the rocks. She could have stayed there for a hundred years and been a monument, a heritage monument. Or I could have brought her back to Australia. But to drag her off the rocks and then go out to sea and have to pump water into her to make her sink in 6,000 feet of water, that was inexcusable.
Oh yes. I think anyone who's been to Antarctica becomes absolutely obsessed with the beauty and the isolation and the grandeur and the magnitude of it all. But I love Antarctica as much as anyone else. That's why people can't understand why sometimes I oppose some things that I think are stupid environmental procedures, like bringing rubbish back from Antarctica. Spending hundreds of thousands of our valuable dollars on a needless exercise.
I suppose that's how you'd describe it. I don't know what spiritual means exactly but it's certainly a highly emotional, long-lasting experience to have seen and lived through some period in Antarctica. To have seen the landscape, to have heard the blizzards, to have seen the Aurora, to have struggled against the harsh environment and faced the dangers. It's all tremendous.
No. I went through a religious experience in my teens and shortly after, I embraced a more agnostic sort of view. So I've ... Not since I was twenty have I been religious in any sense, except that I have a vague awe of some immense all-embracing power through the universe. But it's just a vague sort of cloud of impressive power which is behind everything, but whether you call it God or something else, I don't know. But I certainly don't believe in any standardised religious ideas.
That's this huge impression of grandeur and organisation and system of nature. And of course the more you look at the environment, the more you see and the ecology of different areas and so on. It all adds to the feeling of awe and admiration. It's a form of religion, I suppose.
Very few. There were a couple of blokes in External Affairs with whom I used to have problems because they were fuddy-duddy, stuck-in-the-mud obstructionist sort of people. No desire to achieve anything, only to block people off from doing things. But they are about the only people I will say that I really objected to. Most of the External Affairs people were very supportive and very helpful and very fine. I admired them tremendously.
I think I am a very happy person. I very seldom have fits of depression, apart from that Nella Dan thing.
Oh, extremely, yes. I've been lucky in love and lucky in everything. Not lucky with money, but that doesn't matter much. [INTERRUPTION]
The shock of her death was not as great as if there had been a traumatic accident or something. In a way I'd been preparing for her death since we'd been engaged, because when we were engaged she said, 'I'm not going to live past thirty years of age. If you want to marry me you've got to face up to that'. Well seeing she lived on till she was in her seventies, she did very well. And over many of those years I recognised her frailty and when she had to have open heart surgery to stitch up the hole in her heart and to give her an artificial mitral valve, there was a period of great apprehension then. She could have died on the operating table. We ... she had a vicious accident in Norway where she was smashed up in a car. All sorts of things happened to poor Nell, where she didn't have the Law luck. And as a result she was living on borrowed time just for so long, that when the end came it was not a shock to me. It was anticipated. It was terribly devastating, of course, to lose your loved one at the end of a life-long partnership where everything had gone so well. As I said, it leaves a vacuum that will never be filled. But I've conditioned myself all my life to look at death rather objectively. I've never been frightened of death myself because I faced it so many times in Antarctica that I am just resigned to death when it happens. And in a sense I play that to other people too. One might grieve but it's a way of life and it's a part of your existence and you have to put up with it. All I can say is that my whole life has been tremendously enriched by having a wife like Nell. She just extended my horizons in every direction, so much I'd be a pretty prosaic sort of person if I'd never met her.
People were surprised when I went into the VIC from the Antarctic Division but those people didn't understand that I'd had so many years in education beforehand: ten years in the Education Department and a number of years in the Physics Department, so education was part of my being and I'd been on the council of Melbourne and La Trobe University and I'd been involved in that sort of education with administration, even when I was in the Antarctic Division. I remember though, I think the accomplishments of the Victorian Institute are these. First, I had the tremendous feeling of satisfaction creating something because when I was appointed I remember walking into Melbourne, standing on the corner of Collins and Swanston Street, and saying to myself, 'I'm the vice-president of the VIC, what do I do?' There wasn't an office, there was nothing. I had to go down to the Antarctic Division and look up some real estate agents and try and find some accommodation and ring up the Commonwealth Employment Agency and get them to send some girls down. So I chose a typist and I told the typist to go and buy herself a typewriter. And I bought some chairs and tables. And I walked down to the GPO and ordered a telephone. And it started from that. And our accomplishments were first, to set up an office and the whole administrative structure for running these colleges. And at one stage we had sixteen colleges under the umbrella that I formed. Secondly, I had to argue politically to change the VIC act, which had all sorts of deficiencies in it and would never have worked if we hadn't changed it. Then, we had to separate these colleges from being parts of the Education Department, against the opposition of the Director of Education. So that was a struggle. We had to then change these colleges from being colleges administered by department into self-administering, autonomous university-type institutions standing alone, apart from certain impositions that the VIC made to make sure they ran in the right direction. We then had to raise their academic standards from diploma level up to degree level and postgraduate level. We had to institute ... we had about fifty committees and we had to institute committees of all sorts to govern the creation of new courses and to assess courses up to degree status, and so on. We had fights to create salary structures that were equivalent to university studies, otherwise we would never be effective. We had to lift up the whole administrative structures by introducing all sorts of machinery and cultures they'd never had before in terms of administration. We built seven new campuses and we created two new colleges: the Lincoln Institute - the Health institute, and the Victorian College of the Arts. And so altogether it was highly rewarding. The other point is, that through the VIC spearheading the whole advanced colleges system in Australia I got involved in Commonwealth affairs and in affairs in other states and was a partner in the whole nation-wide evolution of colleges of advanced education. And then overseas interests and collaboration with other typical ... typically similar groups in South Africa, Britain, USA, Japan and so on. It was wonderful stuff. [INTERRUPTION] In April 1966, I resigned from the Antarctic Division and took up the post of vice-president of the Victoria Institute of Colleges, that had just been created by an act of parliament. That arose out of what was called the Martin Report on Tertiary Education in Australia and it proposed an alternative structure of Tertiary education to that of the universities, an alternative that was more oriented towards industry and practical affairs, rather than the pure research and interest in universities. And there's a framework for that. We took over the existing technical colleges in Victoria. And it was my job to create the umbrella organisation that would produce the motivation and the direction and the controls that I've just mentioned, that would lead this whole thing on the path that I've mentioned. [INTERRUPTION]
I doubt it. I read an immense amount of Boys' Own Annuals and Chums, the Australian Pals and all these books as a kid. I read, omnivorously until the age of about fifteen and I have no doubt that this vast amount of adventure reading had some impact, but I don't think I ever lived out any pre-thought fantasy of any sorts. As I said, most of my life was opportunistic. I just like to make sure I didn't waste time, but I never quite knew where I was going except that I was determined not to let a year go past without moving forward in some sort of way. [INTERRUPTION]
Oh, one other thing, I think I'm a romantic. I always look for adventurous things. I always look for exciting things. I've always been interested in women and adventure and romance. I've been lucky enough to have those sorts of things come good. It hasn't been an arid desert in any sense, anywhere.
No, I think the only regrets I have are the things I haven't done. Temptations at various times that I was too prudish to take advantage of and I look back and think, well, how stupid you were. [Laughs]
I think so. I don't feel guilty about anything. I can't remember having felt guilty about anything really.
As a creative person. I think particularly in relation to stimulating youth. I've always felt that my adventures and my life should provide a role model for young people and I've always been interested in selling adventure to young people. I've been involved in the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. I've been the president of the Geelong Area Scouts for twenty-five odd years. I've helped set up the Exploring Society of Australia and New Zealand. I've been a strong advocate of Outward Bound, and all these things are part of the whole idea of selling adventure to young people and trying to enthuse them. [INTERRUPTION]
I once said in a lecture that eighty per cent of Australians are unadventurous and I think that still applies. And I've been interested in trying to make people take that step out into a sort of semi known area to take the plunge, to jump now and again, rather than just look at all the lot of dangers and then retreat. If I looked at the dangers of Antarctica and tried to analysis the probability of things, I would never get on a ship and sail from the wharf. You have to say, 'Look, sure something might happen while I'm down there'. You take calculated risks, you prepare as carefully as possible to try and provide in case something happens, but from there on you jump. You go forward and take the risk. [INTERRUPTION]
Oh, I think they're all tremendously exciting personally. It's a tremendous thrill to be given the Founders Gold Medal of the Royal Geographic Society. It was a most exciting moment to be given an Honorary Doctorate. In a way it made me an honest man because I didn't have my PhD. You see everybody has always called me 'Dr. Law' and I had to keep contradicting them. It was a great relief finally to be able to be called Dr. Law by everyone, without having to contradict someone.
I think that one of the greatest satisfactions in my life has been the recognition of my peers. I don't really care whether the politicians recognise me, or whether the general public recognises me. I've had the wonderful feeling of having my peers, the people who understand what I've done in science and education and adventure in Antarctica and the recognition they gave me on my eightieth birthday on the symposium was out of this world. It was absolutely wonderful. After that, it doesn't matter what anyone thinks. [INTERRUPTION]
Nell used to call me the modern Drake. [Laughs]
I think in a sense I'm an Elizabethan character. I'd like to think of myself as that. [INTERRUPTION]
A bit flamboyant, reaching out into the unknown, adventuring, taking risks, leading other on to similar footsteps. A bit of exhibitionism. I've got enough extrovert in me to have been a reasonably good public relations man. I was very successful in selling Antarctica in my period in Antarctica. The reason I resent the fact that they've given that all away and they don't really tell anyone what they're doing anymore. I think they are really abdicating a position, in which they could be really influencing the youth of Australia and they're just not bothering. They don't issue press releases. A couple of years ago there was a woman ... a few years ago, a woman was made the first leader of an ANARE station. That should have been really high class press news. But even more so, a couple of years ago, we had a woman who was officer-in-charge at Mawson and she was nominated to the be the leader of a party that went inland with fifteen scientist to do a two months job, 400 miles and back. And that's the first woman in Antarctic history who's ever led an inland Antarctic expedition. And she wasn't mentioned by the Division itself. It wasn't as if they issued a press release and it wasn't picked up. There was no press release. I think there's a feeling there that individuals shouldn't be honoured. This is a Department, so you don't let any individual get mentioned. It's a very nasty attitude on the part of bureaucrats because if you don't mention people, and you don't hold up role models for young people to emulate, we'll never be a great nation. And we're very bad at that in Australia. We don't produce role models in any field and hold them up to the youth and say, 'This is the sort of person you should aim to become'. [INTERRUPTION]
I was of course tremendous impressed by the heroic adventurers in Antarctica and even more, I think, by the mountaineering heroes. I've read a tremendous amount about mountaineering. And the 1930s, the British crop of people were absolutely wonderful and some of them are still alive and one I know personally today. And I still get a kick out of knowing those sorts of people. The Hilarys of this world.
I'm sorry. What was that?
I'm not surprised because I've always felt that these sorts of things come with survival. But most people are not recognised 'til fifty years after what they did. Most of them unfortunately die before they're recognised. If you're lucky enough to live to eighty you collect a bit of it. If I live 'til ninety I'll probably collect a bit more. If I'd died at sixty, I'd be nothing.