Leaving Macquarie

At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first females to join a research trip in the Antarctic. The likelihood of females joining future research trips would depend on the success of these ground-breaking women. We’re retelling Mary’s tale and talking more about Macquarie Island where this was all to take place…

The following are extracts from Mary Gillham’s diary for her last day on Macquarie Island:

Sunday 27th December 1959:

Today dawned drizzly & misty, yesterday’s sun & blue skies forgotten and Macquarie back from her brief spell of tropical enchantment to the habitual grey. It was a disruptive and incomplete day involving no major expeditions. After a bout of packing I set off through the rain to collect plants for Beth Gott who was hoping for some “low temperature forms of common and not so common grasses”.

I went first to the Trent Hill gentoo colony, then rode through the big elephant wallow to the Antarctic terns on the opposite coast and back to the camp with the first haul.


Out again, after morning tea to the rockhopper colony and so back to finish off packing.

At midday the old and the new Macquaryites gathered in the rec. room for the official changeover. Tom handed the keys to Mike and there was the general back scratching and speechifying, plus good humoured heckling. A typical speech would begin “Fellows, ladies & gentlemen” (from the back, “What about me?”) “and slaves”.


Afterwards we queued at the kitchen hatch for dinner, boarding school style, and then amused ourselves as we willed until the 3 o’clock dukw.

Susan and I strolled along the beaches and met the dukw at the water’s edge. With difficulty I extricated the last lifejacket from beneath the recumbent form of a drunken Dane and had just about got it fixed by the time we got to the ship’s side. Up the Jacob’s Ladder, down another to the hold to get our various bits of equipment sorted out and we were once again back in the old routine getting our sea legs once more, tho’ the sea was more millpond still than anyone remembered it at changeover.

We had not yet shaken the dust from our feet and the boat steamed down the east coast, the half way point where 2 men had spent the last few days. The American physicist was to come on board and John Warham was being put ashore to walk the 12 miles back over the plateau with Ken Campbell. The best laid plans … etc., however, and a radio message came back from the ship’s boat stating that Ken had injured his knee, so all 3 came back to the ship and we headed once more North to Buckles Bay.

While the ship’s launch was ashore at Green Gorge a group of mixed males and females had been fishing for jellyfish with the plankton net and had succeeded, among cheers, in getting 2 on board. Beautiful ethereal creatures in the water with a tinge of blue and brown and about 6-8” long, they disintegrated to jelly when introduced to formalin and it was unlikely that there would be enough structure left to identify.

At Buckles Bay only the dinghy went ashore, we said our last farewells to John and Ken and set off in the dusk for the home continent.


Read on tomorrow!

Reference material and further reading:

Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.

The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
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