Australian Polar collection

The Australian Polar collections are made up of three collections: the Mawson, Wilkins and Rymill Collections.

Temporary suspension of collection services

Access to the Collections of the South Australian Museum will be closed from late November 2023 while our staff undertake essential audit work.  During this time we will not be accepting acquisitions or requests for loan or viewing of collection items.

All pre-existing bookings and commitments made prior to December 2023 will be honoured.  We will also continue to honour requests from Aboriginal communities for access relating to repatriation activities.

This closure is expected to continue until mid-2024.

Our galleries remain open to the public, 10am-5pm every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Any questions can be sent to

Mawson collection

The Mawson collection is the largest of the three, with more than 100,000 items. It was acquired in two lots; the first interstate, from the Australian Museum; the second, larger acquisition in 2000 from the University of Adelaide.

This was Mawson’s personal collection, and included artefacts, maps and photographs obtained from his expeditions. Mawson’s balaclava, as seen on the first Australian $100 note, was donated to the Museum in 2010 under the Cultural Gifts Program. Mawson is actually wearing it inside out in the photograph taken by Frank Hurley.                                                                                                                                                    

Sir Douglas Mawson

Sir Douglas Mawson is one of the most celebrated Polar explorers of the so-called ‘Heroic Era’. He served under Ernest Shackleton, narrowly avoided service under Robert Scott — and a promised place on the doomed South Geographic Party — instead becoming commander of what was the first major scientific expedition to depart overseas from Australia in 1911. Mawson went on to establish a territorial claim to 42% of the Antarctic during the last expedition he led over the summers of 1929–1930 and 1930–1931.

Mawson was Honorary Curator of Minerals at the South Australian Museum from 1907–1958. Later, he also served as the Chair of the Museum Board of Governors from 1951 until his death in 1958.

Wilkins collection

This is the oldest collection of the Australian Polar material. It is comprised of approximately 100 items. The earliest collection items were donated by a brother in the 1920s — before George Hubert Wilkins’ world-wide fame.

Sir Hubert Wilkins, as he became known, was a life-long adventurer, operating in both polar regions, the Australian tropical north, the Soviet Union as well as numerous pioneering flights around the world. He is perhaps most famous for his attempt to take a submarine under the Arctic icepack.


Rymill collection

This collection was acquired by the Museum after Collection Manager Mark Pharaoh worked  with the Rymill family in 2005, helping to celebrate this famous figure from the State’s south-east. Several thousand individual items make up this collection, which was acquired in 2006, just a year after the centenary of John Riddoch Rymill’s birth.

Rymill also operated in the Arctic and Antarctic — the latter in the same region as Wilkins, but whose discoveries of an archipelago he proved wrong. This newly discovered Antarctic Peninsula limited Rymill’s exploration to the western region.

Australiasian Antarctic Expedition led by Dr Douglas Mawson on the Aurora

Aurora symposium 2014

The Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Dr Douglas Mawson marked the first Australasian temporary occupation of Antarctica.

The Aurora symposium was held in February 2014 to conclude the Aurora Expedition Centenary: Overlooking Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14.

Coming up next


Up next:

Biological sciences collection