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Loneliness can spread a thick desolation. Out the back of beyond or beneath neon lights in a city street, you can experience the emptiness of being alone. Sense the vastness of this land, feel the solitude. Loneliness drives people apart or it draws them together in surprising ways.

Paquita Mawson and the loneliness of an absent partner


Sepia photograph showing a full-length portrait of a woman wearing a dark jacket, skirt, hat and gloves.
Paquita Maswon, 1912.
Courtesy: Gareth Thomas.

Paquita Delprat's courtship and marriage to Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson was punctuated by the loneliness of several long separations.

Francisca Adriana (Paquita) Delprat was born in England, the sixth child of Dutch mining engineer Gillaume Delprat, whose work brought him, his wife Henrietta and family to Broken Hill in 1898. In 1902 the family purchased a house in North Adelaide.

At a dinner party in Adelaide in 1909, 17-year-old Paquita met Douglas Mawson, 10 years her senior. Within a year they were engaged.

Douglas was committed to lead the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in the summer of 1911. He expected to be away for 15 months and asked that the wedding take place after his return in the late summer of 1912.

The couple kept in contact by exchanging passionate letters. In Mawson of the Antarctic, Lady Mawson later wrote of the separation: 'Although I did not in the least want Douglas to go to the Antarctic, when I realised that he was going whether I liked it or not, he had no keener supporter.'

The expedition lasted 27 months and Paquita and Douglas were immediately reunited when the Aurora docked at Adelaide.

Paquita and Douglas married on 31 March, 1914 in Melbourne. Their married life was punctuated by several long separations which included Douglas leading the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Expeditions (BANZARE) in the summers of 1929–1930 and 1930–1931.

Lady Mawson's Australian Dictionary of Biography entry details her many interests. She was an active member of the Lyceum club, an association for women interested in the arts, sciences, social concerns and lifelong learning. She was also involved with the University Wives club and the Queen Adelaide club.

Lady Mawson worked with the Mothers' and Babies' Health Association for 30 years. She served as president and travelled to many country areas to spread the message of good infant care.

She was also a prolific letter writer, talented public speaker and frequent hostess. She travelled extensively in Europe and America and maintained a strong connection to the Netherlands.

During the Second World War Lady Mawson worked as the convenor of the civilian relief department of the South Australian Branch of the Australian Red Cross Society. In recognition of the help she gave Dutch refugees she was appointed officer of the Order of Oranje-Nassau in 1946. In 1951 she appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Douglas and Paquita achieved much during their lives, both separately and jointly. After Douglas died in 1958, Paquita moved to Mount Lofty. She died on 26 May 1974 and was buried beside her husband at St Jude's cemetery, Brighton.

A tapestry, 'The Discovery in Antarctic Waters', designed and stitched by Lady Mawson, is on show in Eternity.

Lady Mawson in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Jesse Martin and the loneliness of a solo sailor

Born 1981

Jesse Martin on his yacht
Jesse Martin. Courtesy: Serge Thomann, 1999.

When 18-year-old Jesse Martin sailed his yacht Lionheart into Port Phillip Bay on 31 October 1999, he became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop and unassisted.

During his 326 days at sea, Jesse battled with rough seas and long nights and his journey was one of fear, anger, frustration and elation.

There was no denying that in the back of my mind was the fear of solitude. I don't think you can ever prepare adequately for spending nine months alone, but it perhaps would have been good to speak to someone, to talk through some issues.

Jesse Martin, 1999

Jesse's story is also one of isolation – his greatest enemy being loneliness. He spent months at a time without sighting land or another human face, with no-one but his portable video camera to share his experiences.

In the Eternity gallery you can see the diary Jesse kept during the voyage.

John Collinson Close and the loneliness of an Antarctic expedition


John Collinson Close accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914. Close was assistant collector on the expedition and later published many journal articles on his findings. However his letters to his wife, Alice, tell of the anguish he feels at being separated from her.

Close's telescope, which he used to look 'over the sea to Australia, home' is on display.

John McDouall Stuart and the loneliness of an explorer

John McDouall Stuart
John McDouall Stuart. Courtesy: State Library of South Australia.


John McDouall Stuart was arguably Australia's greatest inland explorer.

Born in Scotland, he immigrated to South Australia in 1839 and worked as a surveyor. In 1844 he accepted an offer to join Charles Sturt's party to explore the centre of the continent. This 17 month expedition taught him the perils of travelling in remote, dry areas with a large group.

Stuart found success as an explorer by "travelling light and travelling quick. Whereas other explorers from Europe regarded the desert as something to be conquered by an army with lots of equipment and lots of men, Stuart took a few men, a string of horses and set out." (Dr John Bailey).

With financial assistance from William Finke, a wealthy grazier, Stuart went on six expeditions. While he suffered from scurvy, dehydration and sandy blight, he didn't lose a single man.

While taking a drink of water, I was seized with a violent fit of vomiting blood and mucus, which lasted about five minutes, and nearly killed me. . . feeling worse than I have ever done before. I have told King and Nash to remain with me in case of my dying during the night, as it would be lonely for one young man to be here by himself. Wind, south-east.

John McDouall Stuart's diary, 27 October, 1862.

Stuart was searching for a route across the continent at the same time as Burke and Wills. Australia needed a route for the overland telegraph line. Burke and Wills tasted salt water near the Gulf of Carpentaria in February 1861 but didn't make it back to Melbourne alive. On 24 July 1862 Stuart reached the Indian Ocean after a 9 month trek across the continent. This was his third attempt to cross Australia. His whole party returned alive.

The Overland Telegraph line from Adelaide to Darwin followed Stuart's track and was completed in 1872, six years after Stuart died a lonely death in London. Central Mount Stuart and the Stuart highway are named in his honour.

A piece of wood which Stuart carved with his initial in 1862 when he crossed the continent is on display in the Eternity gallery.

John McDouall Stuart Society website

Minetta Huppatz and the loneliness of farm life

Minetta Huppatz
Minetta Huppatz. Courtesy: National Museum of Australia.


Nettie Huppatz grew up on a farm at Eurelia, an isolated town 300km north of Adelaide in South Australia.

She stitched a prize winning quilt from patterns in the Adelaide Chronicle newspaper.

In a 1933 letter to the Adelaide Chronicle Nettie wrote:

Often when I am stitching away at the quilt, I wonder how many more girls and women, perhaps hundreds of miles away from each other are working away at the same pattern.

This was one of the first stories included in the Eternity gallery when it opened in 2001. The wildflower quilt stitched by Minetta when she was about 18 years old is on display.

More on Minetta Huppatz's 'Farm Life' quilt

Stories previously on display

Jack Castrission
Immigrant established a cafe in Gundagai, bringing together locals and travellers (1930s)

Bejah Dervish
The loneliness of exploring inland Australia (1900–1940s)

Mildrid Hartigan
Loneliness of women in suburban Australia in the 1950s (post Second World War)

Jane McLean
Reaching out through the Salvation Army to the men on in the Western Australian goldfields (1890s)

Mary McConnel
Migrated from Scotland to Brisbane in 1849 and rallied for a children's hospital in Brisbane

Ingrid Ozols
Living with depression and anxiety (contemporary)

Normie Rowe
Alienation and trauma of a returning Vietnam vet and groups to overcome this (1960s–today)

Beryl Royal
Lived on lighthouses around New South Wales and kept in touch with life on the mainland by tuning into ABC Radio's Children's Hour.

Noelle Sandwith
Birdsville Track traveller and artist (1950s)

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