New Year’s Eve: From Mary’s Diary

At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first British and Australian 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…

Thursday, 31st December 1959

Sunny and  blue at first and again later but a fog around midday as we came through Banks Strait and past (but not near) the Furneaux Group. Still miraculously calm. Entertaining in our cabin most of the morning, chiefly the Captain and Stefan.

Schnapps causing much merriment at lunch and being taken like medicine for the after effects. Roast turkey for New Years Eve dinner. Rodondo & Wilson’s Prom passed us by to starboard in the early afternoon and we were scheduled to reach Port Phillip heads at midnight and dock at 8:30 am next year (to avoid 6 months payment of income tax by incoming personnel).

New Year’s Eve dinner was a riotous affair, as we perceived it might be when we saw the table laid with 4 glasses apiece and groaning under fruit, nuts, sweets etc. The turkey came in lumps  –  great blocks of chest with the honeycombed bones chopped through, and one ate steadily until one could eat no more.

We retired at length after much merrymaking and impromptu speechifying, Hope and Isobel to play bridge and Susan and I to the cabin.

At 11:30 pm, while Susan was gazing from the open porthole at the lights of civilisation and I was on the last few pages of a “Who dunnit” we were invaded by 2 of the dukw crew informing us that this was New Year’s Eve and our presence was required. They tried cajoling, entreaty & force but I finally persuaded them to give me 5 minutes to find out who dunnit. In 5 minutes one was back and I was led to a group of merrimakers on deck. A beer was thrust into my hand, in spite of my protestations, but two sips was sufficient to tell me that Danish beer was no more palatable than British or Australian. Down eventually to the saloon where I was tried unsuccessfully with other alcoholics until finally the punch was brought in and the company began to arrive in various states of sozzlement.

The next hour was hectic in the extreme. O.I.C. Dick, very merry, mounted the table and said a few words, Captain Hans Peterson – still on his feet – said a few more and then everyone, ship’s company included, shook hands with everyone else. Never do I hope to be kissed by so many beards again, particularly the curly ginger variety, but it can be said that it was a New Year’s Eve with a difference. Hope had made a hit with a radio man who had a monopoly, so she missed most of the beards. It seemed a good time was had by all.

We slipped away eventually and were just in time to see the pilot come aboard at Port Phillip heads. The mother ship drew alongside in a blaze of lights and a boat took off with a trilby-hatted, over-coated city gentleman on board. I am always surprised when I see pilots come aboard up the Jacob’s Ladder thus attired, though I should be used to the sight by now.

And so we entered haven and our last night in bunks which didn’t send one ricocheting around like a pendulum all night.

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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