Monday, 5 August 2013

Mystery solved after 53 years of the Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache found on the Robinson Islands, Mawson Coast, August 2007

I am a second generation Mawson expeditioner as my step father Bill Kellas wintered at Mawson as a Bureau of Meteorology observer in 1960. Unfortunately Bill died during my sail down so I didn’t get to share my Antarctic experience with him.

To get a feel of what life was like for my step father down here at Mawson station in 1960 I have been reading the diary of George Cresswell who was Bill’s best friend, and fellow expeditioner. I have found Georges diary fascinating to compare life back then to my present time expedition and we regularly communicate as I ask George question about the past.
Being interested in the history of Mawson station around 1960 led me to stumble across a document titled “Report on Retrieval of Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache from the Robinson Islands, Mawson Coast, August 2007” by Dr Gary Dowse, Station Leader, Mawson 2007.
I thought the report was very interesting and I was surprised that no one knew the history of where the Norwegian Sledge and Cache came from. The Historic Norwegian Sledge is still here at Mawson and I have looked at it many times and recently when I walked past it I recalled a very brief paragraph in George’s 1960 diary mentioning the recovery of a Norwegian Sledge.

8 Nov 1960
Henk, Syd and Bryl had tried to get out to the caravan (17 miles north) in the Jeep. They got stopped by soft snow and the coil on the Jeep packed up too.
Henk wanted to retrieve worthwhile bits off the caravan and also the Norwegian sled that it was mounted on.
Bill D, he and I flew up in the Beaver with GD
We had to walk a mile to the caravan into a biting, cold wind, although only 10-15 knots. We stripped the caravan, loaded everything onto the sled, and towed same ¾ mile to the nearest island – not easy.
We took off most of the stuff and dragged the sled up onto the island.
Then had a walk around and saw seals and pups. Henk fell through a hole in the ice.
GD picked us up at 2. I had to carry a heavy toolbox on my shoulder for ½ mile
I followed my hunch up with George and he also contacted the remaining 1960 expeditioners to see if they recalled the events. While waiting for an answer I read through the 1960 Mawson station log book kept by OIC Henk Geysen and came across the exact event. I also found the same event documented in the field report dated 2nd to 6th November 1960.


Grayham Dyke who was one of the pilots at Mawson station in 1960 emailed to confirm the following; “I checked my logbook and can confirm that on the 8th November I flew to pick up a man haul party”
Then Robert Merrick emailed with a very comical account of the event which was written in the Mawson station news paper “Katabatic” at the time of the event.

“Adding to George's diary report, Katabatic reported in its honest and forthright way about the salvage operations:

"Following an abortive effort to reach the site of the rapidly sinking caravan and Norwegian sled by WM, Jungle and Bril in the Jeep, experts were called in. They were Dick and Cresswell. Feeling that a Sherpa was warranted for the operation they chose the amiable Geysen.

Tuesday at 1015hrs saw the trio landed by Beaver by the fearless aviator Dyke on thin ice merely an ICBM distance downwind from the caravan.

The trio set off toward, reached, stripped and chopped holes in the caravan.

Everything of value was salvaged. All that remained was to pull the Norwegian sled minus the caravan over to the nearby island. So that it would not go too fast and overhaul the haulers, such items as the Trewella jack, chain blocks, crowbars and toolboxes were thoughtfully placed on the sled by star man hauler Dick. The island was reached some 40000 calories later and all loot deposited. The inevitable cairn was built and then the salvagers amused themselves watching Adelies mating. Sherpa Geysen later fell thru the sea ice but (to quote the newsletter) was fortunately unhurt.

GD came back later and the party returned to Mawson."

So finally after 53 years, the mystery of the Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache discovered at the Robinson Islands has been solved.

I would like to thank the following people;

George Cresswell

Dave McCormack

Robert Merrick

Grayham Dyke

Syd Kirby

Terry Elkins


  1. Hi Craig
    That story is a good one - I like the way you're able to blend the original logbook entries with feedback from people who were there at the time. Their story about losing the Weasel is a scary one, and must be the reason why you now have to check ice thickness when travelling.

  2. Hi Peter,

    Glad you liked the story. I found it very interesting too and was amazed when it all started coming together. The Weasel was lost in September after the sea ice was closed for travel? It's easy to forget you are driving a 2 ton vehicle over frozen water that is thousands of feet deep. These days we dill to prove a known route and to measure tide crack depth. (OHS)




    Do we know each other?

    1. Hi Craig
      No, never met. My good friend, Dave, wintered at Mawson in 2011 and taught me a lot about the place, and your blog is continuing in the same vein. However, I know nothing about radio or communications...
      Regards to you and the rest of the team.

  3. Thanks Craig for posting this. I just now came across it. My uncle is Henk Geysen, the OIC for the 1960 ANARE expedition in Antarctica. His son's wife wrote a book about Henk's life (which was quite amazing with many different adventures) called "Going to Extremes". There are a couple of chapters in there about his Antarctica trip. In that is the loss of the DC-3 Dakota and beaver aircraft, which was quite devastating to the team. Also, was the account of Henk's D4 tractor which plunged into a crevasse and his escape from that.

    Ron Hazeloop

    1. What an amazing man my stepfather was. Loved by so many and was a man who we will never forget.

  4. G'day Craig
    I just stumbled across your Blog. Well done on solving the mystery. I was one of the team that recovered the sledge, jack, chain block, etc and some cache boxes with food and first aid supplies in 2007, and then documented the find and wrote the report. At the time I looked through station logs and field reports from the latter part of the 1950s trying to find a reference to when and why the sledge and cache were left on the island, but I didn't get as far as looking in the 1960 log before we had to leave, and in any case had wrongly assumed it must have occurred earlier than that.
    It is marvellous to read the original accounts that you have posted - it all matches perfectly with what we found on the island. It remains curious, however, as to why it was not salvaged the following year, or soon thereafter, especially given it was seemingly well documented and the 1960 log says "...the new party should have little trouble in locating it next year."
    I guess they had other priorities and it became lost in memory...
    Best wishes, and well done
    Gary Dowse, Mawson SL, 2007

  5. Hi Gary,

    Thanks for taking the time to write and give me some nice feedback. It truly was a remarkable chain of events and I was glad to fit the last piece into the jigsaw. The sorry was published in the September 2013 Aurora magazine if you are an ANARE member. Being able to touch the sled that my step father and his colleagues used 55 years ago was pretty special. It would be nice if all these artefacts could be put on display back in Hobart for all to see or at least setup inside the Biscoe hut for the expeditioners to appreciate. I believe the main reason why it was not recovered in 61 was that the higher priority in 1961 was to recover the abandon tractor train that ran out of fuel coming home from the massive PCM travers also in 1960. Many people believed the abandoned tractor train was still out there but I confirmed it was located in 61 and brought back home. Binders base from the same travers (where my step father lived for many weeks) which was also abandoned was discovered by Dave McCormack in 2002/3 which is another amazing story. Maybe 1961 was a bad year for sea ice or was bad for blizzards and the Island became covered in bliz or as you say, maybe they had other priorities and it became lost in memory...

    Best regards,