Antarctic Ideas: Hot Reads for Cold Nights

A good book is, in many ways, like a good conversation. It engages with ideas in a way that leaves you energised, knowing more than you did when you began – but still thinking and questioning. Maybe that’s why we at Wakefield feel a special affinity with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.

In the lead-up to the full festival program announcement in a few weeks, we’re remembering an event from this time last year that shone a spotlight on the home of the blizzard: Antarctica: Past, Present and Futures. Paleontologist John Long, writer Sean Williams and director of the Royal Society of South Australia, Paul Willis, each shared their experiences in Antarctica.


To discover more about Antarctica for yourself, why not burrow into one of our gripping true Antarctic stories? Preferably under a blanket or by the fire!


Home of the Blizzard

Sir Douglas Mawson

A classic tale of discovery and adventure by a bona fide Australian hero, this has been called ‘one of the greatest accounts of polar survival in history’ by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

This is Mawson’s own account of his years spent in sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds, of pioneering deeds, great courage, heart-stopping rescues and heroic endurance. At its heart is the epic journey of 1912-13, during which both his companions perished.


Shackleton’s Boat Journey

F.A. Worsley

This is the classic account of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1914-16, told by Frank Worsley, captain of the expedition ship, Endurance.

First trapped then crushed by ice, the Endurance drifted in an ice floe for five months before reaching the barren and inhospitable Elephant Island, leaving 22 men there while Shackleton, Worsley and four others made the 800-mile journey to get help.

Braving hurricane-force winds, fifty-foot waves and sub-zero temperatures, this is an extraordinary story of survival.


Body at the Melbourne Club

David Burke

This fascinating biography of the first Australian-born member of an Antarctic expedition gives a new perspective on one of the great polar expeditions.

As an expert horseman, Bertram Armytage was given charge of the ponies in Ernest Shackleton’s great 1907-1909 polar expedition, during which he narrowly escaped the jaws of killer whales. In London, he was decorated by royalty for his achievements. But then, aged just 41, back on home ground, he shot himself in his part-time residence of the Melbourne Club. This is his story.


South by Northwest: The Magnetic Crusade and the Contest for Antarctica

Granville Allen Mawer

The race for the South Magnetic Pole started in the fabled Northwest Passage, when rival French, American and British expeditions were sent to find it in 1840-41. At the turn of the century, it defeated their successors, Shackleton and Mawson. It wasn’t until 1986 that Australian scientists finally found it, after a marathon, multi-expedition hunt that collectively unveiled much of Greater Antarctica along the way.

Books available at and from good bookshops everywhere.


The Wakefield Press Reader’s Guide to Open State

Open State festival has a packed program which kicks off on Thursday 28 September and runs through to Sunday 8 October. Publisher Michael Bollen brings you the Wakefield Press Reader’s Guide to Open State.

My, my. It’s an eye-opener and source of pride, browsing the Open State program, reminding us how books and reading interweave past, present and future. Picking through the goodies on offer, the mind thinks inevitably, Hmm, could be a book in that. And thinks too: Now, which of our existing books best fits that theme?

One session, Blast From the Past, is about getting our stories on screen. We have a host of possibles. Maybe a soapie set in Adelaide’s first gaol, feeding off Rhonnda Harris’s Ashton’s Hotel with its cast of intriguing characters. Or tales from underground, using Carol Lefevre’s beautiful book of true stories, Quiet City: Walking in West Terrace Cemetery.

Then again, perhaps Simon Butters’s YA novel, The Hounded, about alienation in Adelaide’s hinterland, is the best screen fit. Though it works also with the question that obsesses our town – Adelaide is one of the world’s most liveable cities: fact or fiction?

You can take a stroll to decide in the Future Adelaide Walking Tour. Have a browse along the way in Lance Campbell’s and Mick Bradley’s deluxe book, City Streets, which showcases the CBD in 1936 and 2011. Whither now?

Dickson Platten have helped shape the Adelaide landscape through people-centric place-making since the 1960s, and you can celebrate that 50 years of achievement at the opening of their exhibition, On Show. We have books from both Dickson and Platten: Addicted to Architecture, Hybrid Beauty and the lovely Lure of the Japanese Garden.

From one design icon to another: the beloved Jam Factory present Drink. Dine. Design. featuring finely crafted objects, ideas and applications that enhance the joy of eating and drinking. Learn more about the Jam Factory in its fortieth-anniversary book, Designing Craft / Crafting Design.

Nick Jose has written both fiction (Avenue of Eternal Peace) and non-fiction (Chinese Whispers) about China, so its no surprise to see him as one of the co-curators of Writing China, a day-long series of transcultural, transmedia events. Brian Castro is a prominent participant, likely mentioning his novel On China (and why not also add Drift and Double-Wolf to your bedside reading pile). 

Among the many events that make up Writing China is Reimagining: Panel and ReadingsThis panel considers how fiction can take the world you know – your city – and make it new. A full-on accompaniment might be Stephen Orr and his latest book of short stories, Datsunland. In the words of Kerryn Goldsworthy in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘[Orr’s] work continues to have a prominent place in the literary mapping and recording of South Australia and Adelaide’.

For the last weekend of the festival, we’ll be selling our wares at the annual State History Conference. This year’s beguiling theme is Hearts and Minds: revaluing the past. There’s much of that in our new Colonialism and its Aftermath – the first comprehensive history of Aboriginal South Australia since Native Title.

We at Wakefield look forward to seeing you round this Open State as we venture from our normal habitat: gladly chained to the wheel, churning out South Australia’s tales to the world.

South Australia on the Eve of War

May marks the annual South Australia’s History Festival. South Australia on the Eve of War was launched on Tuesday as part of the festival.  Here we have an excerpt from book’s introduction, written by Melanie Oppenheimer and Margrette Kleinig.


Three individuals – David Unaipon, Catherine Helen Spence and Douglas Mawson – encapsulate the spirit of South Australia in the years between Federation in 1901 and the eve of war. All, too, have graced our paper currency at one point or another, an indication of their national importance. Catherine Helen Spence, who died in Adelaide in 1910, was described as ‘the leading woman in public affairs at the turn of the century in Australia’: South Australia’s Chief Justice further described her as ‘the most distinguished woman they had had in Australia’. At the forefront of the first-wave feminist movement, which included ensuring South Australia was the first Australian state to secure voting rights for women in 1894, Spence became Australia’s first female political candidate, standing unsuccessfully for election as a delegate to the 1897 Australasian Federal Convention.

‘Preacher, author and inventor’ David Unaipon was once described as the ‘best-known Aborigine in the Commonwealth’ in the early twentieth century. Born in 1872 at the Point  McLeay Mission (now Raukkan) on the edge of the River Murray Lower Lakes, Unaipon was, on the eve of war, in his early forties. Interested in ‘philosophy, science and music’ and in recording his people’s oral stories and traditions, Unaipon had ‘led a deputation urging government control of Point McLeay Mission’ in 1912, and the following year gave evidence to a state government Royal Commission into Aboriginal matters.

In early 1914 Douglas Mawson triumphantly returned from the Antarctic, where he had led Australia’s ‘first scientific exploring endeavour beyond the Australian continent’. Lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide, Mawson was physicist on the Shackleton expedition (1907–1909) that aimed to reach the South Geographic Pole. While leading the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1914, he made scientific advances in ‘cartography, geology, meteorology, aurora, geomagnetism, biology and marine science’.

These three remarkable people, who pushed the boundaries in their own particular spheres in unexpected and very different ways, point to important social, political and cultural developments in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South Australia that had an impact both nationally and internationally.

Find out more about South Australia on the Eve of War here.

Jetties in the Eyre Peninsula

The wild weather last week was nothing more for many of us than an excuse to play cards by candlelight for a few hours. For some people, especially on the Eyre Peninsula, the storms were much more destructive. After seeing pictures of the battered Port Germein jetty on the news, we’ve been thinking about Jill Roe’s memories of the area from Our Fathers Cleared the Bush


Jetties have played an important role in the history of Eyre Peninsula. Between the 1860s and the 1920s, some 39 jetties were built along the Peninsula’s estimated 3200 kilometres of coastline, from as far west as Fowlers Bay to Port Pirie on the eastern side of Spencer Gulf and on nearby islands. This may not sound a lot, but, as will be evident from a glance at a map of the peninsula, by the early 20th century the region was well served by coastal shipping – mainly ketches and schooners – and it should be remembered that some stretches of the coastline, especially the majestic limestone cliff faces of the west coast but also some of the sandy eastern bays, were not suited to jetty building, or necessitated the building of very long jetties, as at Port Germein – until recently the longest jetty in South Australia. A telling instance of how tricky the approaches could be is the early pastoral port of Elliston, halfway up the west coast, where it was sometimes impossible for ships carrying essential supplies to enter Waterloo Bay, with its narrow entrance and uncertain tides. The misery that attended the turning back of ships is only too easily imagined.

Our Fathers Cleared the Bush

Many older residents of Eyre Peninsula can recall when the arrival of ‘the boat’ was a main event of the week. At Tumby Bay, where I watched it most frequently, you had to be there at the right moment to see it come in. This meant on a Tuesday at about 2 pm, and thus for me in the early 1950s, during school holidays. There I’d be on the beach, with the small east-coast township at my back, squinting towards Port Lincoln, past the estuary of a mangrove-fringed creek and a then uninhabited rocky headland, hoping to see the Adelaide Steamship Company’s MV Morialta appear on the horizon and watch it berth at the town’s main jetty. There was something exciting about the way it suddenly bore down on you, and the Scottish-built ship had a certain style, due in part to a painted funnel.

There were always people on the jetty to welcome the Morialta, in addition to the wharfies busy loading and unloading cargo. Indeed, on most days you would find people scattered along the jetty, fishing, chatting, and otherwise relaxing. For them, as for many people living on Eyre Peninsula, jetties had become an integral part of life by the 1950s. The regular arrival of shipping at the small ports along the coast provided a focal point for town and country folk alike.

There were two jetties at Tumby Bay at that time. The older, shorter one, which was finally demolished in the 1990s, dated back to the 1870s, when it was built to serve various mining ventures in the hills to the west of the town, and it was still being used a century later for recreation and shade on hot days. It even had a diving board. The main jetty, a longer and stronger construct a few hundred metres to the south, dates from the early 1900s and thankfully still survives. Only just, however. In 1972 the body responsible for the state’s jetties decided that Tumby’s days as a port were over and, with costly maintenance needed on one section of the jetty, prepared to demolish it. When work was about to begin, appalled residents formed a picket line at the town end of the jetty, and the demolition was called off. Since then, with extra funding from local sources, the jetty has been strengthened and is as popular as ever. It features in all the town’s advertising, and is part of its not inconsiderable tourist appeal.

It is no wonder jetties were popular. They enlivened many small coastal settlements and, with many parts of the wheat-growing areas far from the coast, were a godsend to farmers. Prior to the building of jetties, farmers had had to get their grain harvest to the beaches by horse and cart, load it onto small boats and row the boats out to deeper water to be re-loaded onto the waiting ketches – when they turned up, that is. Even after the coming of rail, it was still cheaper in some places to use what was called the ‘mosquito fleet’ in the 1930s. (As a student at the University of Adelaide in the mid-1930s, the historian Russel Ward once worked on ‘the mosquito fleet’ during the long vacation.) With the jetties in place, produce could be brought to storage sheds at the base of the jetty, sent on trolleys up the jetties and loaded straight into holds.

Windjammers at Port Germein

By now, however, the future of these historic constructs is far from secure because, as the story of the Tumby jetty may suggest, they are costly to maintain. In an attractive publication entitled Jetties of South Australia: Past and present published in 2005, compiler Neville Collins warns that, while major bulk-handling ports such as Port Lincoln and Thevenard are flourishing, as maybe some recreational sites are also, the smaller jetties are under threat. Indeed, some have already gone, such as the jetty at the historic port of Lipson near Tumby, which was demolished as early as 1935. Collins does not spell it out, but it seems clear from his outline that the economic underpinning is slipping away and that there will need to be strong community support and a profitable tourist industry to sustain them.

It must have been some subliminal awareness of this situation that caused me to decide, on a journey back to the Peninsula in January 2007 as a preliminary to this project, that I would walk the surviving jetties. And, with a couple of regrettable omissions – of the tiny village of Haslam on Anxious Bay, south of Ceduna, of which I was unaware at the time, and Port Neill, north of Tumby Bay, where I missed the turnoff – I more or less did just that: from Fowlers Bay, baking in the hot sun way out west, to as far as the fish nets piled up on the Cowell jetty at Franklin Harbour, halfway up Spencer Gulf. Admittedly I was not brave enough to walk the entire length of the narrow jetty at Elliston on a chilly Sunday morning by myself, and it seemed enough at the time to find that the now somewhat shortened jetty at the lovely but solitary Louth Bay was still there, but overall it was an enriching experience, and one to be recommended to visitors.

Perhaps it was on one of the jetties fronting Spencer Gulf that I was reminded of the once-ubiquitous advertising slogan, accompanied by the ringing of ships’ bells, ‘It’s time YOU went on the Gulf Trip’. Introduced before World War I by one of the three shipping companies then competing for the coastal trade, the Gulf Trip became a standby of the Adelaide Steamship Company, which had gained a monopoly on the coastal trade by 1915, and proved popular in the interwar years. There were two main variants on offer: a short trip from Port Adelaide to Port Lincoln with a brief stay there (three to four days), and a longer trip from Port Adelaide to Port Augusta with calls at Port Lincoln, Cowell, Whyalla, Port Pirie and the old copper port of Wallaroo (six days). Travel up the west coast was never such an enticing prospect, with long stretches of towering cliffs and some dangerous bays along the way. The most worrisome was surely Elliston, where bad weather and rough seas meant shipwrecks sometimes occurred. Safer harbours further west, at Ceduna in Denial Bay for instance, made things easier, but these remote and not especially productive parts had their own problems. There was even an occasional mishap in the normally placid waters off Tumby Bay, and the waters near ‘the Althorpes’ between Kangaroo Island and the western tip of Yorke Peninsula had a reputation for roughness.

It may sound as if the maritime history of Eyre Peninsula is an uncertain story, for all its variety and interest. It was undoubtedly rough-and-ready at times, and it is true that its most colourful aspect – the great grain races that saw mighty sailing ships arrive in Spencer Gulf from Europe until as late as 1949 – was already becoming a thing of the past by the onset of World War II. But local and coastal shipping still seemed sound after the war, with several larger passenger/cargo ships in operation in the 1950s. MV Moonta, built in Denmark in 1931, lasted until 1955, when its cargo side became unprofitable and it was sold off; it had offered six-day trips from Port Adelaide to Port Augusta and back which took in Kangaroo Island. It ended up being used as a casino on a beach on the South Coast of France. The Morialta, purpose-built pre-war but not brought into service until after World War II, lasted only a year longer, until 1956; a comfortable ship, it was advertising cruises to the smaller ports of the lower Gulf, from Adelaide to Cowell and back via Tumby Bay, Port Neill and Arno Bay in 1950. Three years later, in 1960, the queen of them all, the MV Minnipa – another Danish-built ship which began its 33-year service to Eyre Peninsula in 1927 – was finally withdrawn from service, due to a decline in patronage. With that, the coastal shipping that dated back to 1839 seemed to come to an end.

Read more from Our Fathers Cleared the Bush by purchasing the book here.

New poem from Geoff Goodfellow

One of the coolest things about the Wakefield community is that we get to see the latest that our bright and busy authors are producing – and then we can share it with you! This time we have new work from Geoff Goodfellow, who is in fine form this early (drizzly) spring, with a new poem musing on fashion trends in his beloved Semaphore.

Just a little something to get you through your Monday. Enjoy!


This Is Not a One-Way Street by Geoff Goodfellow


Semaphore spring fashions, 2016, by Geoff Goodfellow and Anthony


For more of Geoff Goodfellow’s musings on the wonder of Semaphore, you can purchase his selected poems here.