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Geologist and explorer, Mawson is best known for his exploratory expeditions to Antarctica. He joined Shackleton’s expedition from 1907-9, and headed the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 2011 – 14. The scientific work he undertook in this and later expeditions formed the basis for Australia’s claim to 42% of Antarctica as Australian territory.

Glebe connections

The following is based on a talk given for the Glebe Society by Lyn Collingwood in April, 2012.

Douglas Mawson Douglas Mawson, National Library of Australia nla.pic-an10932811-47
Douglas Mawson
Douglas Mawson, National Library of Australia nla.pic-an10932811-47

 We can claim Douglas Mawson as a Glebe boy. He lived in our suburb from the age of 10 until 1905 when he took up a teaching post at the University of Adelaide. He was then 22, a double graduate in engineering and science.

Douglas and his elder brother William moved with their parents to Glebe from Rooty Hill in 1893. They first lived in one of the Palmerston Terraces, in Glebe Point Road opposite the old Valhalla, and later in a house (now demolished) roughly where the Toxteth Hotel now stands. By 1901 (when Douglas was 19 and studying at Sydney University) the Mawson home was 28 Toxteth Road, a seven bedroom mansion.

Douglas and William were enrolled at Forest Lodge Superior Public School. According to one of the school’s old boys, both were shy. Doug was nervous and hesitant. Even so, he managed to get himself kicked out of the St John’s Church choir for lighting a match during a sermon. After Forest Lodge he went on to Fort Street Model School where he developed a passion for geology, perhaps appropriate at an institution then located in The Rocks. At Speech Night in 1898 the headmaster Boss Turner is said to have made this extraordinary prediction: “What shall we say of our Douglas as an acknowledged leader and organiser? This I will say – that 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.”

Douglas was 16 when he matriculated in the same year as his brother, two years his senior – and shorter. In 1899 they enrolled at Sydney University, Douglas in Engineering and William in Medicine. After graduation William set up practice as a GP in Campbelltown where he provided a home for their parents, their father Robert dying in 1912 aged 58 and their mother Margaret at the same age in 1917.

Douglas Mawson was born in 1882 in a Yorkshire valley where his ancestors had farmed for generations. Two years later his father, dreaming of adventure in the South Seas, migrated with his family to Australia. (During the voyage Douglas escaped from his cot and clambered up the rigging. A sailor had to climb up after him and drag the protesting toddler back to the safety of the deck.)

After Robert Mawson tried his hand at fruit canning at Rooty Hill he became an accountant for a timberyard, which brought the Mawsons to Glebe. At the time his sons were finishing their schooling Robert took off for New Guinea in search of fortune, reassuring his wife that the boys would win university scholarships. They did – but they were arts scholarships and neither wanted to study arts. Unlike her husband, Margaret Mawson was practical. To support them through their tertiary education she turned 28 Toxteth Road into a boarding house.

Our knowledge of Mawson’s Antarctic expedition is greatly enhanced by the work of his photographer, Frank Hurley, three years his junior and also a Glebe boy. (See separate entry)

More information

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Glebe Society Bulletin, 3/2005, p10 Who Lived in Your Street: Sir Douglas Mawson

Posted on 6 April 2013 by Peter

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