By Ian Stephenson, Glebe Society President, Bulletin May 2023, 3/2023
The NSW Government’s Blue Plaques program brings to life the extraordinary people and events that shaped the history of NSW. It is designed for citizens to learn about the history of their local region by discovering the events that happened there and the people who lived, worked, or gathered there. The Glebe Society nominated several sites in Glebe and Forest Lodge. This is one of them.
The 13th site nominated in 2021 for a Blue Plaque was 28 Toxteth Rd Glebe, the home of Sir Douglas Mawson who went on to become a key figure in the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.
Mawson reached the South Magnetic Pole as a member of Shackleton’s 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition. He led the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, after which he was knighted. Between 1929 and 1931 he made two further cruises to the frozen south, leading to a territorial claim in the form of the Australian Antarctic Territory. He wrote of his adventures in The Home of the Blizzard.
For much of his youth, Douglas Mawson lived in Glebe. He was about ten years old when his father was hired by a Glebe timber firm and the family relocated from Rooty Hill. They lived in Palmerston Terrace and another address on Glebe Point Rd before moving to 28 Toxteth Rd. Douglas was educated at Forest Lodge Public School and at Fort Street Model School where he developed a passion for geology and where the headmaster is reputed to have made a Speech Night prediction: ‘If there be a corner of this planet of ours still unexplored, Douglas Mawson will be the leader of an expedition to unveil its secrets’. Mawson graduated B Eng in 1902 and BSc in 1905 from the University of Sydney after which he took up an academic post at the University of Adelaide and left Glebe.
The official photographer on Mawson’s 1911-14 expedition was another Glebe boy, Frank Hurley, who pestered Mawson for the job. Hurley ran away from Glebe Public School, got work as a fitter’s handyman in Lithgow, taught himself photography with a cheap Box Brownie and set up a picture postcard business back in Sydney. Hurley was the official photographer on two expeditions to Antarctica and flew with pioneer aviators Ross and Keith Smith. He made documentary films of his adventures and published several books.
Both Mawson and Hurley have Australian Dictionary of Biography entries. Hurley warrants his own plaque.