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for one person, Kirkby objects to my suggestion that the strict rationing imposed by Mawson
‘‘ was starving them to death’’. Yet an article in The Medical Journal of Australia in 2005 concluded Mertz died from extreme malnutrition.
As to Mawson’s experience in falling down the crevasse, Kirkby says he has never heard of a
‘‘ sledge pole’’. Yet, as I detail in my book, Antarctica: A Biography, it was Mawson himself who wrote in a newspaper article: ‘‘ Several times I fell into crevasses to the length of my sledge pole and was scarcely able to crawl out.’’
My article was intended to raise questions that have long gone unasked about Mawson’s ill-fated trek and to answer them to the extent that the evidence makes possible. That, after all, is the role of a historian. David Day Eltham, Victoria Editor’s note: David Day is an award-winning historian. I HAVE just finished reading the recently published diaries of my grandfather, John George Hunter, who went with Douglas Mawson on the Antarctic expedition of 1911-13 ( Rise & Shine: Diary of John George Hunter, Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1913, ). It seems ‘‘ the Doctor’’ (Mawson) could be demanding but, according to my grandfather, he was also a hard worker who spent considerable time preparing every party for their sledging journeys. When eventually told in a very succinct message from Mawson that Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz were dead (‘‘two better men never existed’’, my grandfather wrote), he conjectured accurately that ‘‘ it was either starvation or a crevasse & the latter I think’’ that killed them. In retelling his journey, Mawson may have exaggerated his experiences, but as my grandfather noted in his diary: ‘‘ No other expedition that has ever set out in any part of the world has had such conditions to contend against (sic) . . . on Shackleton’s expedition where their blizzards only blew 40 miles an hour (64km/ h) for a day or so whereas our average for 9 months has been over 50 miles per hour (80.5km/ h)’’. It was the ‘‘ God-forsaken country’’ that killed them, not
‘‘ ambition and relative inexperience’’, as David Day suggested in his article. Denise Hunter Artarmon, NSW To be considered for publication, letters must contain an address and telephone number for verification. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.