WIA Virtual Conference - Antarctic Gateway - Keynote Speaker
Professor Elle Leane's presentation is titled - Mixed Signals: The Impact of Wireless on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14)
WIA Virtual Conference Organising Committee
Just before the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) departed in late 1911, its leader Douglas Mawson boasted to the media that “the great feature of the expedition is our wireless equipment.” For Mawson, establishing wireless communication between the two continents for the first time was important not only for practical and scientific reasons, but also symbolic ones: a continent that was effectively within talking distance of Australia, he argued, had a “special call” upon its people.
While Mawson ultimately achieved his dream of establishing two-way wireless communication from Antarctica, it came at a significant cost. The windy environment meant that almost no contact was made in the AAE’s first year. When the expedition was unexpectedly extended into 1913, the arrival of a new wireless officer, Sidney Jeffryes, turned everything around, and regular conversations were soon held with Australia, relayed via Macquarie Island. But this new-found connection created tensions between the men, putting Jeffryes under considerable stress. Around midwinter, just after a strong gust of wind damaged the main wireless mast, Jeffryes began suffering from a psychotic illness. The wireless became a battle-ground between the paranoid, isolated “wireless man” and his worried, frustrated leader – a situation that only got worse when the expedition returned to Australia.
Drawing on a collaborative research project with polar historian Ben Maddison and psychologist Kimberly Norris, Professor Leane examines the impact of the wireless on the interpersonal dynamics of the expedition, focusing particularly on Jeffryes, as a way of understanding the important but destabilizing role this technology played during Australia’s first Antarctic expedition.
Elizabeth (Elle) Leane is Professor of English in the College of Arts, Law and Education at the University of Tasmania, where she is also Associate Dean (Research). She recently completed a research fellowship split between the School of Humanities and the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at UTAS.
With degrees in physics and literary studies, she is interested in building bridges between disciplines, and particularly in bringing the insights of the humanities to the study of the Antarctic region.
She is the author of three monographs – South Pole: Nature and Culture (Reaktion 2016), Antarctica in Fiction (Cambridge 2012) and Reading Popular Physics (Ashgate 2007) – and the co-editor of Anthropocene Antarctica (Routledge 2019) and two other collections.
Elle is Arts and Literature editor of The Polar Journal and a chief officer of the Standing Committee on Humanities and Social Sciences of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. She recently finished an Australian Research Council funded project looking at ways of reimagining the roles and relations of the Antarctic ‘gateway’ cities, and is about to begin another focussed on the way in which cruise-ship operators mediate the Antarctic tourism experience. She is currently working on a book about contemporary Antarctic travel and tourism texts.
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73 WIA Virtual Conference Organising Committee
Page Last Updated: Saturday, 30 Apr 2022 at 11:43 hours by Justin Giles-clark
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