Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

A Century of Australian Antarctic Medicine

A winter afternoon in the living hut at Commonwealth Bay.

Left: A winter afternoon in the living hut at Commonwealth Bay. (L–R) Dr Xavier Mertz in charge of Greenland dogs (reading); Archie McLean, Chief Medical Officer and bacteriologist; Cecil Madigan, meterologist; and John Hunter, biologist. © Frank Hurley/Commonwealth of Australia

By Desmond Lugg and Jeff Ayton

Medical care and research in Antarctica has come a long way since the first expeditions took place 100 years ago.

Desmond Lugg was Head of Polar Medicine at the AAD from 1968–2001, and Chief of Medicine of Extreme Environments at NASA from 2001–06. Jeff Ayton has been Chief Medical Officer for the AAD since 2002. Drs Lugg and Ayton are currently writing a book on the centenary of Australian Antarctic medical practice. This article is adapted from an article published in Australian Antarctic Magazine. ©Commonwealth of Australia

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

From the outset, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–14 (AAE) was recognised by Antarctic historians as an important expedition. In 1928 J. Gordon Hayes wrote: “Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition, judged by the magnitude both of its scale and of its achievements, was the greatest and most consummate expedition that ever sailed for Antarctica”.

Considering publication of the AAE scientific reports continued until 1947, this is high praise. Medical reports and comment, appearing as appendices in the Home of the Blizzard (1915), and the 1919 AAE Scientific Report Bacteriological and other Researches bear testimony to the lesser-known achievements in human studies and medicine.

As a plethora of meetings, books, lectures and events celebrate the centenary of AAE, it is timely to review 100 years of Australian Antarctic medicine from the inaugural practice on AAE by its three doctors: McLean, Jones and Whetter.

Mawson had wintered with Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (BAE) in 1907–09, and this experience may have influenced his attitude to the selection of expedition staff, especially doctors. As Mawson stated: “In no department can a leader spend time more profitably than… selection… for a polar campaign the great desideratum is tempered youth.”

BAE had two competent doctors, Marshall and Mackay, both with strong and difficult...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.