Australian Polar Collection Collections
The Mawson, Rymill, and Wilkins Collections include artefacts, as well as material relating to their personal papers, photographs, and polar libraries. While the most active area of collecting is currently Wilkins-related (given the small size of this collection), with the upcoming centenary celebrations for Mawson’s Aurora Expedition of 1911-14 due, the Mawson Collection remains most actively drawn upon.
South Australia enjoys a remarkable Australian 'monopoly' of polar expedition leaders. While Sir Douglas Mawson was born in England and educated interstate, South Australia became his home from 1905. For the rest of his life his interests in Antarctic science became dominant. Mawson's contemporary, G. Hubert Wilkins, and in turn, his near-rival, John Riddoch Rymill, were both born in South Australia. Unlike Mawson, they were drawn first to the Arctic, but their geographical interests overlapped in what is now known as the Antarctic Peninsula. They are less well known than Mawson, particularly within Australia, due in part to leading expeditions that were mounted from their respective bases in the northern hemisphere.
This collection of Antarctic artefacts, papers and photographs, as well as rare books, reports, and maps, numbers over 100,000 items. Much of it was the personal property of Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958), university geologist and polar explorer. It is unrivalled in documenting his scientific exploration, particularly of Antarctica. For half a century Mawson shaped Australia’s Antarctic interests. This period extended from the Edwardian heroic era of 'pole-bagging' by contemporaries Scott and Shackleton, to post-WWII, government-led scientific programs.
The collection also serves as an introduction to the Australian and Antarctic specimens associated with Mawson that are located elsewhere in the natural history collections of the museum.
This smaller collection of polar artefacts, papers, photographs and library was the personal property of John Riddoch Rymill, from Penola in the south-east. It documents in particular his 1934-1937 expedition, an outstandingly successful venture that brought to a close the era of independent polar exploration.
This collection is part of the museum's Foreign Ethnology Collection. It is a small but significant collection of Inuit artefacts acquired during the Canadian Arctic Expedition, and as such, marks the beginning of the incredibly diverse career of Sir Hubert Wilkins, particularly of polar preoccupations. Largely based in the USA, Wilkins retained strong Australian loyalties, stemming from his traditional upbringing in Mt Bryan East, in the mid-north of the state.
Planning is currently underway to develop a more permanent Wilkins presence on North Terrace. For more details please contact the Australian Polar Collection Collection Manager