Four giants stalked the Antarctic in the years before the First World War. Of Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton and Robert Scott you will know. Of Douglas Mawson you may not. Now, thanks to Beau Riffenburgh’s latest book, you can. Mawson is probably the least celebrated character from a period that is dubbed the Age of Heroes. He was an Australian geologist, a man of outstanding endurance, a muscular Christian and his country’s first world-class explorer. He accompanied Shackleton on the 1907-9 Nimrod expedition, during which he not only reached the South Magnetic Pole but became the first man to climb Antarctica’s live volcano, Mount Erebus. He stood more than six feet tall in his socks, believed in God and the Empire, and had no doubts about himself whatsoever. Such was his ability that when Scott planned his trip to the South Pole, one of the people he most wanted on the team was Mawson. He offered him every inducement, including a place on the coveted final stretch to the Pole. Mawson declined. Not for him such glory-seeking antics. Instead he would simultaneously lead his own scientific expedition to an unexplored sector. The consequences were almost as miserable as if he’d accepted Scott’s offer.
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