Antarctic adventure for Ben Maddison

There’s a Cheshire cat-like grin on the face of Lawson academic and adventure guide Dr Ben Maddison (pictured) as he poses in front of an enormous glacier on a trip to the Antarctic two years ago.

Dr Maddison, a history specialist, counts himself lucky enough to have had not one, but 10 epic polar adventures.

This month he’s making another visit to the snowy wonderland where he’s launching his first book Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration 1750-1920.

When the Gazette visited in late November, Dr Maddison was still writing the book.

He still had the introduction and conclusion to write and was flying to America to visit his daughter before leaving for the ice adventure.

“It’s pretty hard to keep it all going, all the balls in the air, it’s been hard at times, but it’s also been great,” Dr Maddison said.

The Guardian and the BBC will be on hand to witness the book’s pre-publication on the ice, sometime before December 16, as part of the five-week landmark trip celebrating the centenary of the first Australasian Antarctic expedition led by scientist and explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

Dr Maddison admits sailing 7000 kms on an ex-Russian spy ship is a long way to go for a launch and there’s also more than a touch of irony about it. This trip retraces Mawson’s heroic adventures, just as Dr Maddison is trying to bring the unsung working class heroes of the polar regions to the world’s attention.

“This trip is entirely ironic, absolutely,” he said. “There’s no way out of that because of the way Antarctic history has been sold and told to people, it always puts prominent people [like Mawson] in the spotlight, a heroic explorer that I am trying to put the knife into,” he says laughing.

“Sailors, sealers, whalers, cooks, mechanics, engineers, stokers and radio operators were all necessary in bringing the upper class ‘hero explorers’ to the continent and supporting their expeditions.”

The idea for the book came from the modern day crews he spoke to when he first started going down to Antarctica for tourist expeditions.

The ships were still populated with “largely Russian crews ... sailors who would rather be in the Caribbean, ordinary working class people were still doing it for one reason; it was a living,” he said.

A group of more than 25 scientists will be on board and spend 10 days doing scientific work near Commonwealth Bay, but Dr Maddison will work on educating the other 25 guests, the paying tourists, about what happened in Antarctica more than 100 years ago and also that forgotten role of the working class crews.

“Most of the lectures I will be doing will be when we are in the Southern Ocean, which is incredibly stormy and rough, sometimes 80 foot waves, so some of the challenges of lecturing will be just staying upright,” he said smiling.

The book is being published by Pickering and Chatto and will be available to the public in April next year.

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