In Defence of AAE 2013

For the past week, I have followed the unfolding saga as those onboard Akademik Shokalskiy watch the weather, the ice, the approaching icebreakers. Ten months ago we were battling the ice approaching the Ross Sea in MV Ortelius. Greg Mortimer was our leader then, and he is co-leader of the team on the edge of Commonwealth Bay now. I have only briefly met team leader Chris Turney, but I know of his dedication to science and all things Antarctic. Any expedition guided by these two men is in good and safe hands. Both are careful, considerate leaders. Why, then, are there those who criticise and belittle this expedition?

The world is divided into those who ‘get’ Antarctica, and those who don’t. Those who do are people who make the short trip to the wonderland of the Antarctic Peninsular, and ones who take the continent more seriously and venture into East Antarctica. The REAL Antarctica. Of those who don’t ‘get it’, most still appreciate what a special place this is, and understand the need to monitor its changes which affect the whole planet. A very few laugh at serious scientists who take risks to gather this information.

I have followed just about every tweet and post and blog (including some on WordPress) and am disgusted at the minority who call Chris and his gang all sorts of names – like idiot. They accuse him of running away from the ship, of having too much fun (!). These critics obviously do not understand that science is not tied to the ship. In Mawson’s case, the ship left them. For a year. In Chris’s case, his science is complete, and he needs to return to analyse the data and write papers. The Shokalskiy will be left in the very capable hands of its Russian crew who know very well how to look after themselves and their ship. The scientists are merely passengers.

And as for having fun – surely it is the role of the expedition leader to keep morale high? When we were battling the ice last February, there were a few onboard who grumbled. Greg jumped on this very quickly, organising activities to keep everyone content: Zodiac rides among the ice; helicopter flights over the Transantarctic Mountains; trivia quizzes.

This afternoon, according to Chris, a helicopter has come from the Xue Long and they will be flying out within the hour. The plan is to lift all non-crew onto the Xue Long, then transfer to Aurora Australis who will resume resupplying Casey Station. I have to admit, I am envious. I would give anything to be with them; to experience everything that powerful place has thrown at them, and share the camaraderie I know will be strong.


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 Union Jack – synopsis

This dramatic political novel features a cast of rogues, opportunists and idealists set against a background of corruption, strikes and union bashing. Yet this is not the 1980s but the 1920s and Jack O’Leary — socialist, railway worker and fiery unionist — befriends Fred Paterson, a young lawyer who has joined the newly-formed Communist Party of Australia.

They face two very powerful opponents; Queensland Premier and Labor big man Bill McCormack is trying to bully his party into following his line, supported by his mate Ted Theodore. Years of behind-the-scenes dealings and manipulation of government contracts have cemented their friendship and turned them into wealthy men.

When McCormack and Theodore direct members of the ALP to sign an anti-Communist pledge or be expelled, Jack and Fred lead a campaign to hold the Party true to its socialist roots. Ultimately, McCormack and Theodore fall victim to their own vendettas when Jack’s union exposes their crooked dealings, ending their political careers.

Thinking he can make a difference for his members, Jack becomes organiser for the Australian Railways Union but lives with a secret that, if uncovered, will end his political aspirations. However an altogether different danger stalks his future.


 This book is intended for those interested in Australian political and working-class history. Whilst the manuscript takes the form of an historical novel, it is thoroughly researched and factually correct and could reliably be used as a reference source.

Jack O’Leary was the author’s grandfather.


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Antarctica at Last!

Imagine sitting in a zodiac on a heaving, breathing sea of brash ice, in the middle of the Southern Ocean with 4,000 metres of water beneath. We are 500km from the Antarctic coast, 1,700km from the closest human presence in the Ross Sea. Yet again on this trip, a reminder that I have voluntarily placed myself so far from my comfort zone. From the safety of Ortelius, brash ice and large icebergs appear benign as they drift past. Their beauty dominates, along with the awe they inspire. Up close, it is their power that dominates. The ice through which we push screeches as it grips the rubber, then reluctantly moves aside to let us pass. Every few metres our guide, Elke, cuts the outboard to tilt it free of the surface and kick away lumps of ice that foul the propeller.

Ever so slowly, we creep away from Ortelius to seek out a crabeater seal one of our crew has seen on a distant flow. Personally, I would rather circle the blue, blue bergs nearer to us. For nearly an hour we weave through promising leads, often to reverse and try another path. We make the seal, cut the engine and roll with the swell. The seal opens an eye and stretches luxuriously. It is tempting to think she is observing us, but have learnt she is short-sighted out of water. The weather is kind. No wind, air temperature hovering around zero, high cloud that blocks the glare and favours the many shades of blue the ice holds. After an initial flurry of camera clicking, the shutters slow and we resume our seats on the rubber sides of the zodiac. We can no longer see out mother ship.

There is one more iceberg to visit before returning “home”. It is almost a small island of ice mountains constantly being scoured by frothy waves, deepending the central lagoon of brilliant blue. We pass beneath icicles metres long fringing one of the peaks, and the whole magnificent berg is rocked by a surge of water. I am caught between the hope that something spectacular will happen and the feeling of vulnerability being perching on the edge of a little rubber boat. “It will break up soon,” says Elke. She has read my thoughts.

We are all cold. Elke produces a much-needed block of chocolate, then turns back for Ortelius. This is not a direct route. The sea ice has thickened markedly in the past two hours, and no one talks as she, oh so skilfully, weaves the zodiac through large chunks and mushy ice. We meet Rolf on the way back. The ship has been trying to contact us since we disappeared from sight over an hour ago. Radio on the wrong channel! Back safe, hot chocolate and a tale to tell as we set sail to our next adventure.


When Ellie meets Yenohan

Ellie, the daughter of Nola Thompson, befriends Yenohan, a young Aboriginal girl who lives nearby in 1908.

The shadow behind the snow gum grew into a girl. Ellie rose from the rock where she had been preparing the fairy’s tea party and approached her. Ellie removed the wreath of sedge and flowers from her own head and nestled it amongst the dark curls: ‘I crown you Princess… what’s your name?’.


‘I crown you Princess Yenohan.’

Ellie took Yenohan by the hand and led her to a wombat hole nearby. She bent down and carefully parted the fine branchlets of she-oak curtain covering the entrance, then plunged her arm as far as it would reach into the miniature cave. When Ellie withdrew her arm, the most beautiful creature she had ever seen sat in the palm of her hand. The tiny dress was made from salmon-coloured woolly ti-tree blossom, the hair that tumbled to her tiny waist was the silk from flowers of the reeds. Her lips were ruby red from wild raspberries she had eaten. Ellie spoke into the palm of her hand.

‘Tea is ready, Your Highness.’

Yenohan didn’t understand the white girl’s magic, but she knew it came from her mind. She fondled the plaited crown on her dark hair and giggled with Ellie as she drank make-believe tea from a make-believe cup before their make-believe Queen.

When Yenohan showed her mother the circlet of sedge and flowers, Mooroo turned it over in her hands, admiring the fine work, but knowing it was not of Wolgal making.

‘Have you been to the white man’s house?’

‘Only to the creek nearby. Ellie gave it to me.’


‘Ellie said I can keep it. She is my friend.’

Mooroo handed the crown back to Yenohan. She had feared this moment ever since the day she saw the two girls make eye contact. Her fears could not possibly include such a young person.

‘Well, don’t you go talking to any of the men.’


Preface to Yenohan’s Legacy


This story is dedicated to the men and women who settled the remote country of the southern highlands of Australia and who, assisted by Aboriginal stockmen and women took part in the annual transhumance onto the high plains each Summer in search of fresh pastures for their stock.

Little remains to mark their passing — broken fences, gravesites, piles of rubble beneath tangles of blackberries and hawthorne bushes, the skeletons of once fruitful orchards, weed infested garden beds — but occasionally a restored homestead or cattleman’s hut surprises those who wander over the mountains.

This story, therefore, also celebrates the dedication of the members of the Kosciusko Huts Association who relentlessly battle bureaucracy and the elements to restore and maintain the wood, tin and bark structures that were once homes, and thus preserve the heritage of early settlers.

It also acknowledges the Wolgal people upon whose land this grazing took place, watched by the ghosts of their ancestors.


Introducing “Yenohan’s Legacy”, my second novel.

On 26 October 2013, Horizon Publishing Group hosted a book launch for 5 of their authors at 66 on Ernest, Southbank, Brisbane. I was privileged to be one of their authors.

As with all my writing, Yenohan’s Legacy has had a long gestation period. All the research, the many drafts… but finally the book is a reality. 

These video clips give a little on the background of why I chose to write this story, and a couple of readings. I have also included the book trailer which was shown at the launch. This is something I have not done before, but I sure enjoyed it. I love working with film. My first attempt was earlier in the year when I produced a DVD on my Antarctic Expedition – but that’s another story…