Antarctic historian shares tale of being beset in the ice at next Uni in the Brewery

Antarctic historian shares tale of being beset in the ice at next Uni in the Brewery

Antarctic historian Dr Ben Maddison shares his story of being beset in the ice at next Uni in the Brewery on 26 March.

Dr Maddison joined 74 others on The Spirit of Mawson Australian Antarctic Expedition, setting sail from Bluff, New Zealand in early December last year. The Expedition marked 100 years since Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson ventured the very same sub-zero path, with the ship’s passengers revisiting century-old measurements to collect new data for records about the earth’s health. However, the journey took an unexpected turn when the ship became stuck after fast-moving and heavy pack ice closed in on the vessel before it could be steered into open water.

Dr Maddison’s talk will focus on the experience of being beset in the ice for 10 days during the Christmas-New Year period 2013-14, the evacuation of the ship and the important role played by a dog, picked up en route to Antarctica.

“Every time I go to the ice I learn something new about the place and the environment, and that makes me appreciate new aspects of the working class contribution to our heritage history of Antarctica,” Dr Maddison, who has now visited Antarctica on ten occasions, said.

“Between 1750 and 1920, over 15,000 people visited Antarctica. Yet, despite such a large number, the historiography has ignored all but a handful of celebrated explorers,” Dr Maddison said.

While he was there, Dr Maddison held a pre-publication launch of his book Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration, 1750-1920, in the presence of his fellow-travellers and their faithful companion Stay, perhaps one of the last of the Antarctic dogs to wander through the wilderness.

Dr Maddison’s book takes the point of view of “history-from-below”, lambasting the biased concept of heroes, exploration and discovery as reflecting only the activities of only a few prominent individuals.

“My book aims to tell people about the work that it took to get these expedition heroes down to and across the ice; it comes as a bit of a revelation to many people to think about that,” Dr Maddison said.

“I wrote the book out of a sense of historical justice, and I got the idea after talking with Russian, Ukrainian, Philippine and Dutch crew on Antarctic ships today, for whom going to Antarctica was not an adventure, but just wage work,” Dr Maddison said.

“At the same time, I was giving lectures to passengers on the eco-adventure tourist ships that these sailors and kitchen staff were working on, and the history books I was reading had virtually no mention of the contribution of workers to the whole process. So I decided to investigate it by looking at Antarctic exploration as a process of production, rather than a wild and romantic adventure,” he said.

Dr Ben Maddison is a Senior Lecturer in history, in the School of Humanities and Social Enquiry, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts. This event is free and open to the public.

WHEN: Wednesday 26 March, 5.30-6.30pm
WHERE: Five Islands Brewery, Wollongong
RSVP: Register at or phone +61 2 4221 3107

Media contact: Dr Ben Maddison is available for interview on +61 2 4221 3285, +61 420 535 664 or Further enquiries, contact Elise Pitt, Media & PR Officer, University of Wollongong, +61 2 4221 3079, +61 422 959 953 or