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…
Mary’s diary for 1 January 1960: We were up betimes and on deck to see the docks around Williamstown gliding past. Then down below for a 7:00 am breakfast, continental style from the “cold table”.
We docked at 8:00 am, welcomed by a summery crowd on the quay. We leaned over the rail of the upper deck watching the men who had been isolated – even from mail – greeting their loved ones after 13 months. Television cameras whirred and press reporters darted hither and thither making the most of their opportunities. It was not long before they got around to us and we certainly stole the thunder from the men in all 3 of the local newspapers – altho’ we’d already had our turn on the way out.
Both “Sun” and “Age” produced good photos of us and the “Age” produced a very creditable article, mostly about what they called my “research tour” (See below for a copy of the “Age” article.) We performed again for TV but I didn’t see this, nor did I hear what was said in the news.
Hope went to collect her car & while waiting for her to return to give me a lift home to Minette’s I chatted with Mr. Brazenor & one of the out going party. From the latter I found that the Macquarie party’s only real objection to our visit was that they had had to watch their language & could no longer be free & uninhibited in conversation. This, as I pointed out, a very good rehearsal for returning to civilisation. This was apparently only a minor, and mostly imaginary worry, however, as we had had innumerable apologies for words spoken which were supposed to be impolite but which struck us as being very little different from what we heard in the normal course of events. No one had worried about having to give up their toilet accommodation & the first question when they heard we were going was “How old are they?”. From reactions on New Year’s Eve it had seemed that the question of age mattered very little.
Back at Park Street – to a strangely quiet house vacated for the holidays – I went through a big pile of mail & then adjourned to the botany department with my grass plants for Beth Gott. Much chattering with Garth Everson, the only botanist on deck, & then back to gather up some food, only just in time, as the last shop shut for the weekend.
Just as I was finishing lunch Pat Worham appeared at the door, eager for news about her husband she would not see for another year. So we spent the afternoon nattering and dined from chops, peas & pumpkin and biscuits & cheese & coffee.
In the evening we took ourselves to town to see the film “The Horse’s Mouth” – a not particularly good comedy about an old artist – and a fairly good supporting “who dunnit”.
Read on tomorrow!
Reference material and further reading:
- Australian Antarctic Division
- History of Macquarie Island Station
- About Macquarie Island Station
- Antarctica history and facts
- Macquarie Wiki
- Images of Hope Macpherson plus Mary, Isobel and Susan
- Isobel Bennett “in her own words” campaign
Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.