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Adventurer re-enacts Mawson's harrowing Antar -

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Adventurer re-enacts Mawson's harrowing Antartic trek

The World Today - Wednesday, 7 May , 2008 12:25:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: It remains one of the most extraordinary stories of human endurance.

In 1912, Sir Douglas Mawson led the Australian Antarctic Expedition to the South Pole, a project
which helped establish Australia's claims to large parts of the frozen continent.

But halfway through the several hundred kilometre icy trek taken by Mawson and two of his
companions, disaster struck.

One member of the team fell to his death down a deep crevasse, taking with him a sled full of food
and supplies.

A documentary on the expedition to be shown next week re-enacts the accident.

(Excerpt from documentary)

(Sound of a man calling)

ACTOR: All we could hear was the moaning of two dogs that were trapped on a ledge 150 feet below.
There was no sign of the sledge or Ninnis.

NARRATOR: Mawson's scientific expedition was over. From now on they were on a desperate mission of
survival. In his journal he recorded "May God help us".

(End excerpt)

ELEANOR HALL: Some time later, after they'd eaten their dogs and gone into a terrible physical
decline, Mawson's other companion, Xavier Mertz, died.

While Mawson did eventually make it back to base camp, there has long been speculation about just
how he managed to survive on such meagre rations and in such awful conditions.

Now, nearly 100 years later, explorer and adventurer, Tim Jarvis, set out to repeat the journey -
in part to see if it was possible for Mawson to have survived without resorting to cannibalism.

He and his companion, John Stoukalo, picked up the expedition at the point of the accident. Tim
Jarvis's book about the journey will be released next week along with the film and he joined me
earlier today to talk about it.

(To Tim Jarvis) Tim Jarvis, thanks for joining us. Now you decided to repeat a journey which took
Douglas Mawson almost beyond the edge of endurance and which killed both his companions. Why did
you want to do it?

TIM JARVIS: Hi Eleanor. Yeah, look I went to the South Pole in '99 on what was then the longest
unsupported Antarctic journey and I pushed myself to the absolute limit and by co-incidence, the
number of days it took me to get to the South Pole, 47 days, coincided pretty much exactly with the
number of days that Mawson had survived on only a quarter of the food that I had.

And really every day of that South Pole journey, I just wondered how the hell I'd do this on
quarter of the reasons.

And I guess, to answer your question, it has just always fascinated me as a journey. I think that
Mawson's survival journey is probably the greatest untold story of polar exploration certainly
outside these shores.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you not only decided to repeat this ill-fated trek but to do it under 1912
conditions so you had similar clothing, food, provisions. Let's just hear what you had to say about
that in your film when you were just a few days into the expedition:

(Excerpt from documentary)

TIM JARVIS: Oh, the lack of food is becoming much more obvious now. I get through all of my food
pretty much before I get to camp which leaves me with nothing when I get here apart from maybe a
boiled sweet and a cup of tea.

(End of excerpt)

ELEANOR HALL: So Tim Jarvis, what was the worst of having 1912 style provisions? The food, the
clothing, the sleeping bags?

TIM JARVIS: I guess of all the old equipment, some things perform very well. Things like the
reindeer skin sleeping bags and the beaver pelt mitts and things like that performed very well.

The rest of the clothing, not so good, got very wet. Didn't keep the wind out particularly well,
chafed pretty badly. Just like Mawson, we used a tent, without a floor so life in the inverted
commas "tent" was pretty miserable but I think the low point of all of it really had to be the

Really, the only way you manage to keep your mood up is by eating and you know, you're trying to
fuel a big workload of just keeping your bodily functions working in such cold conditions and that
leaves you in a permanent state of debilitation, I guess.

ELEANOR HALL: And you lost a lot of weight, didn't you?

TIM JARVIS: Lost a lot of weight. Lost the best part of 25 kilos, which is, you know, a lot of
weight to lose. I think my starting weight is around 100 so it is about a quarter of my body weight
and it's a lot to lose when you are not fat to start off with.

ELEANOR HALL: Now the one thing that you did draw the line at was eating the dogs and of course, it
may have been eating the dog liver was what killed Mertz, but even without deliberately poisoning
yourselves, to what extent were you scared about your health deteriorating?

TIM JARVIS: To go on a trip where you are deliberately and consciously disadvantaging yourself by
not eating anywhere near enough, it's obviously of major concern to you. I mean I am a big guy, I
am 100 kilos.

To be surviving on the equivalent of a couple of Mars Bars, three Mars Bars worth of food a day
when you're pulling a heavy sled for six or seven hours in minus 20 degrees is not a nice thought
and it worried us a lot as to what was going to happen to us.

ELEANOR HALL: You seemed to be quite surprised at different points in the journey that you weren't
able to match Mawson's pace much of the time. Now the dogs probably gave him an edge sometimes
there but how much respect did this journey give you for Mawson's sheer strength and determination?

TIM JARVIS: At the end of this journey, quite honestly, having achieved what we did, I think it has
just left me with a really heightened level of respect for Mawson and what a man he must have been
to have done what he did.

You know, for him to have genuinely lost both of his colleagues, both died and be forced to have
eaten the genitals and the ears and the offal of his sled dogs just to survive, you know he
undoubtably went through far worse than we did.

We just tried to replicate all we ethically could of the conditions that he faced.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think that he did at least consider eating Mertz once Mertz had died?

TIM JARVIS: I think Mawson was the kind of man. He was a scientifically minded individual and if he
hadn't made it on the journal, I think he would have felt more than anything else that it was a
terrible waste that the other two had died in vain, not to bring the information back with them
about what they had discovered and I think in order to make it, I think he would have done just
about anything to make it at that stage and lying there next to the body of his fallen colleague,
Mertz, and he lay there for almost 48 hours and it just must have crossed his mind.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you, of course, travelled part of the journey with John and then you had to
complete the last part of the journey on your own. How tough would that lone journey have been for
Mawson after the death of the last of his companions?

TIM JARVIS: The lone journey for Mawson would have been incredibly tough because the Polar Plateau
is an amazingly lonely place and a very harsh environment.

For him to have lost both people in such traumatic circumstances would have left him just feeling
like the last man on earth.

ELEANOR HALL: Now right near the end of the voyage, Mawson had that terrible fall down the
crevasse. He did eventually manage to get out but in his diary he says that he did feel the
temptation to just slip out of his harness at that point. Could you understand that temptation when
you did it?

TIM JARVIS: I think there were times when things become so tough that there is certainly a
temptation just to stop. In my case it just becomes too hard, and for Mawson that same temptation
undoubtably would have been there.

ELEANOR HALL: But you both did finally make it. Let's hear you in the final moments of the journey.

(Excerpt from documentary)

TIM JARVIS: Oh my God. What an effort, what an effort. Today was the hardest day of the whole trip.
If it all been night today, I wouldn't have made it.

(End of excerpt)

ELEANOR HALL: Now Mawson of course, knew he had to continue to have a chance at survival. What kept
you going?

TIM JARVIS: For me, there were a couple of things that keep me going. I mean, I think the thing
that really scares you on these trips is the fear of failure. It does for me anyway.

In the case of the Mawson trip, even though our two journeys started off as separate journeys, I
got to the stage really where I realised, without overstating things, that I was effectively
defending Mawson's honour.

If I had failed, people would have said, you know, Mawson must have cannibalised the other guy to
make it and that was a real motivation for me to keep going. I won't say exactly what happened on
the trip, but certainly it was the thing that kept me motivated to keep going - the idea that I
didn't want anybody to pin that on Mawson, not on my account.

ELEANOR HALL: Tim Jarvis, it was an extraordinary journey, thanks very much for joining us.

TIM JARVIS: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: That's adventurer Tim Jarvis and his book about the expedition called Mawson: Life
and Death in Antarctica, will be in stores on Monday. A documentary film by the same name will air
on ABC1 at 7:30 this Sunday night.