Douglas Mawson (1882-1958)

Douglas Mawson

Yorkshire-born Douglas Mawson, came to Australia aged two. He graduated in mining engineering in 1902 and was appointed a demonstrator in chemistry. However in 1903 he made a geological survey of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu), one of the first major works on the geology of Melanesia. He returned to Sydney University to complete a degree in geology, in the meantime publishing papers on various aspects of geology and mineralogy, being influenced by both Archibald Liversidge and Edgeworth David.

In 1905 he became lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide, and this remained his "base" for the rest of his life. Here he worked initially on the geology of the Precambrian and Cambrian rocks of the Flinders Ranges and the Broken Hill region, identifying and naming the radioactive mineral Davidite, outlining broad aspects of the regional structure and tectonics and considering aspects of the suspected Precambrian glaciation.

Appointed "Physicist" to Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition, Mawson climbed Mt. Erebus with Edgeworth David, and accompanied him (with A.F. Mackay) on the epic journey to the South Magnetic Pole. Mawson returned to Antarctica in 1911-13 for scientific work, but again was involved in an extraordinary journey of more than 160km alone, taking thirty days, after his two companions died. However he did not discard his geological specimens, which remained on the half sled he dragged along!

During World War 1 Mawson was involved in munitions work, before returning to Adelaide University in 1919. For the next thirty years he concentrated on the "Adelaide System", particularly the Proterozoic stratigraphy and Precambrian glaciation, undertaking work in the Northern Territory, as well as in the Flinders Ranges. However he continued to encourage Australian involvement in Antarctic affairs, and led the BANZARE expedition of 1929-31, using the Discovery ship as base, with a light plane to map the coastline and Antarctic islands.

Mawson had particular interests in economic geology and was involved in some small family companies exploring potential mineral deposits in South Australia.

Mawson, knighted in 1914 for his Antarctic work, is commemorated there by Mawson, the first permanent Australian staion, established in 1954. He was one of the first Honorary members of the Geological Society of Australia, and is commemorated by the Mawson Lecture, given at succeeding Geological Conventions. He is also one of the few geologists to have appeared on Australian postage stamps, and adorns (with an appropriate cross-section) the present $100 note.