When I was still at primary we all had to do a project. Nowadays children are always creating projects and lovely creations they are as well . With the aid of computers and software they sing and dance in glorious colour. Back then a project was a strange sounding beast. It had to be explained to us. It was to be a scrap book - there was no other way of doing it.What we needed to acquire was a scrap book, and as many cuttings from newspapers and magazines as we could gather some reading of encyclopedias and an essay or smaller pieces of our own work to explain the grand What was this unusual thing we had to do - it was the The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctica Expedition of 1956 -58. The only original pieces would be ours as there was a very limited variety of magazines back then and most of our parents took the same newspapers.Antarctica. The first I had heard of it and the beginning of a lifetime love affair. I had a small advantage in that not only my parents could help but so too could my grandmothers living with us and fully conversant with the ‘Heroic age of Antarctica’. Through them I learnt of such as Scott and Shackleton. Through them I discovered the North Pole and the North West Passage and such greats as Ross, Parry and Franklin.
I was pointed to the right direction to discover the long, long history of exploration in these frozen wastes. Polar regions, even the name had a ring to it. Captain Cook had insisted Australia wasn't all the Southern continent, there had to be more. He got to within 150 miles of the land mass - in those tiny wooden boats! How the search for the North West Passage had been going on since the 1400’s and only proved in 1909 - how the seeking after the North Pole had been going on even longer.
A whole new world of intrepid explorers, crazy foolhardy dreamers, opened up before me and has never left. Madmen shipping off to uncharted waters, tempestuous seas and killing cold to follow a dream, to win fame and recognition, to prove themselves to - Why do explorers explore? There are a thousand reasons.
Project beside,a life long love affair aside, I was also to refine and deepen my own moral compass with the stories of these men. My family had already sound principles but what child believes their parents, its our heroes we look up to and these men were mine. Not just the Polar ones, although they started it, but all explorers all the madmen. I know because I bought, borrowed the books. Insatiable appetite:)
I started with the home grown variety of course but in all nationalities you will find similar traits in their explorers. The fact that you or you and your companions throw yourselves onto the mercy of ‘whatever’, means self sufficiency of the highest degree and, if with others, self sufficiency and comradeship. To dare all, means more often than not hard grind, exhausting toil, back breaking ‘get up and just do it’ mentality. It means facing incredible danger with fortitude and it sometimes means self sacrifice for the good of a friend or company. It requires good leadership and loyalty and an ability to subjugate your own need for the needs of others. It requires a certain amount of carelessness (what is the utter stupidity of doing all this if not a carelessness of ones own life?) and extreme care and planning.
I already knew of Hillary from Mount Everest fame He was already a hero in my land. Now with my Grannies help I found Scott of the Antarctic, the ‘failed’ hero of the race to the South Pole, except of course he wasn’t a failure. He was a hero. (In my land you don't have to have won to be a hero) Many a myth was to grow up around him, before decades later the wreckers tried to chop him down, as wreckers always will. He, and the men who perished with him were heroes in the British sense that they died with dignity, with courage, having given the endeavour their all. Step up Shackleton also, he who risked his life to keep a promise and save his men. My childhood was littered with men such as these from the war, just finished, and from the generation before, my Grannies fallen men.
The Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration called so because it was recognised that the ill equipped expeditions (before modern communication/travel/supplies etc were available) became expeditions of endurance; testing physical and emotional fortitude to the limits and beyond. It is truly amazing to what heights of endeavour a human can climb in extremities. However not just for these undoubted merits, but for the fact that the men who sailed were not rough uneducated men, they were poets, writers, painters, intellectuals, photographers, scientists of some merit in their own fields and every nation they hailed from held them up as national heroes.
During this age most of the coastline had been discovered and mapped, a great deal of the interior was explored, and the geographical and magnetic poles had been reached. Alongside these achievements much important scientific discoveries and data had been collected. Not bad for a bunch of madmen:)
When I took off on my travels I took with me Scott and Shackleton's legacy, also a couple of my many books on Antarctica. I had armed myself, I hoped, with the qualities they had laid down. Oh I didn’t, like them, conquer new worlds but I was on my own more than I was with others and self sufficiency and getting on with life were necessities if I wasn’t to race home, tail between legs. When I was scared, and I was many a time, I kept my fears inward and worked through it, conquered it, or not! Sometimes when ill, alone and for the moment with nowhere to lay my head I knew to push beyond what I thought was possible. My heroes walked every inch of my travels with me. And when at last 30 years later I had a chance to go to Antarctica I did, and paid them homage where they had walked, suffered and won.
On 17th March 1912 , worried that he ,with his failing health, was holding up his companions and endangering their lives, Captain Oates, according to Scott's diary said
‘I am just going outside and I maybe some time.’ and walked out into a blizzard.