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