Australia took control of Papua, formerly British New Guinea, in 1906 to secure its regional borders and prove its status as a mature nation capable of running a colony. By 1913 there were 1219 Australians living in Papua – mostly planters, miners and colonial officials. Many sought to make their fortune in oil, gold or ‘boom’ crops such as sisal or copra. Hubert Murray, Australia’s first and longest-serving lieutenant-governor of Papua, struggled to balance the rights of the Papuan people against the demands of settlers for more land and more indentured labour.
Antarctic exploration offered Australia another arena in which to boost national prestige, by extending the limits of scientific knowledge. Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition produced detailed observations in magnetism, geology, biology and meteorology, and his territorial claims became the basis for the 46 per cent of Antarctica now claimed by Australia.
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Sir Hubert Murray, about 1913. National Library of Australia, AN24110142.
The year 1913 saw the implementation of a plan for the ‘pacification’ of Papua, with increased government patrols aimed at bringing the interior regions under administrative control. A major economic incentive for expanding the government’s territorial control was the potential to supply new labourers for Papua’s plantations and mines. As Australian investors moved into the newly controlled areas, a new cycle of development would begin.
This era of frontier colonialism led Lieutenant-Governor Hubert Murray to rethink his initial aspirations for rapid development. Instead he looked to introduce more gradual reform with an eye towards preserving, where possible, local customs.
The Papuan Official collection
Man wearing a kovave (mask), Gulf Province, Papua, 1933, photograph by Francis Edgar Williams. National Archives of Australia, A6510, 823.
In 1913 the Australian Government built an anthropology museum in Port Moresby, and introduced legislation to protect the cultural property of Indigenous Papuans. The Papuan Antiquities Ordinance prevented the export of significant items of tangible cultural heritage. Artefacts exported in contravention of the ordinance could be confiscated and added to the government’s own collection, which later became known as the ‘Papuan Official collection’.
‘To receive a mask is both an honour and an obligation’, explained Papua New Guinean politician Albert Maori Kiki in 1968. ‘The initiate … is placed under a strong obligation to the people who give him a mask to wear. They will expect him to render help later on in doing their gardens and in looking after them when they are old.’
Douglas Mawson and Antarctica
Living quarters, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1912, silver gelatin photograph by Frank Hurley. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, PXB1698.
Douglas Mawson was a pioneering geologist and seasoned Antarctic explorer. A veteran of Ernest Shackleton’s 1907–09 expedition, he declined to join Robert Falcon Scott’s party in 1910. Instead, he raised funds for his own Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which reached Antarctica in the summer of 1911–12.
After ‘wintering’ at Commonwealth Bay, Mawson set out with Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz to explore King George V Land. It was an ill-fated expedition: Ninnis was swallowed by a crevasse in December 1912 and Mertz died a few weeks later from the side-effects of eating dog liver. Mawson barely survived the trek back. By the time he returned to base, the summer had slipped away, and the men who remained were forced to spend an unanticipated second year in Antarctica.
Mawson recounted his epic story in The Home of the Blizzard: Being the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914, illustrated with photographs by Frank Hurley and other expedition members.
Frank Hurley and Antarctica
Aurora anchored off Cape Denison, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1912, silver gelatin photograph by Frank Hurley. National Library of Australia, VN3257813.
Self-taught photographer James Francis ‘Frank’ Hurley talked his way into Douglas Mawson’s expedition to document it on film and in photographs. Working in an exacting climate, he produced hundreds of strikingly clear and imaginatively composed images.
Though not the earliest film shot in Antarctica, his cinematography from the expedition remains one of the most impressive depictions of Antarctic conditions.
Hurley returned to Antarctica in 1914 with British explorer Ernest Shackleton, and went on to photograph and film Australians in many extreme environments: in Papua, on the Western Front and in the Middle East; in war and peace.
Antarctic memorial to Mertz and Ninnis
Memorial cross to Mertz and Ninnis, erected at Cape Denison in 1913, photograph by Frank Hurley. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, ON 144/H679.
Members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson erected a plaque to honour Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz at the expedition’s Cape Denison base. Mawson set out with Ninnis and Mertz to explore King George V Land in 1912. It was an ill-fated expedition: Ninnis was swallowed by a crevasse in December 1912 and Mertz died a few weeks later from the side-effects of eating dog liver. Mawson barely survived the trek back.
Australasian Antarctic Expedition
Douglas Mawson’s sled, 1911–14. Royal Australian Navy. Photo: Katie Shanahan.
Australasian Antarctic Expedition members relied on dog-drawn sleds for transport. These were based on a traditional Arctic design and made of lightweight wood. Douglas Mawson brought this sled back to Australia and presented it to the Royal Australian Navy’s newly opened college in Geelong, Victoria.