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2017

Tractor drive to the South Pole

Monday, 20 March 2017

As Joseph Michael takes us through an Antarctica most of us have never seen before in his ANTARCTICA: while you were sleepingAuckland Museum curator Shaun Higgins explores the story of Sir Edmund Hillary and his team becoming the first party to reach the South Pole by land in 1958 since Scott's tragic expedition in 1912.

Edmund Hillary, ca. 1958 - Tractors in Blizzard, Antarctica

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An expedition to the pole by land had not been undertaken since Scott’s ill-fated arrival in 1912 and Amundsen’s in 1911. A permanent base at the pole, Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station had been established a year earlier, and access was by air. Dr Vivian Fuchs led the 1956-58 venture known as the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition with the aim of crossing the entire continent by land.

Unknown photographer (ca. 1957) - Scott Base with Mt Erebus, Antarctica

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Edmund Hillary (ca. 1957) - Tractors in snow, Antarctica

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Two teams went from different directions, one with the pole as an objective, the other positioned for supply drops along the second half of the journey. Fuchs travelled from Shackleton Base with the aim of reaching the pole before continuing on whilst Hillary’s team of tractors travelled from a newly established base named Scott Base.

Edmund HIllary (ca. 1957) - Ferguson tractor in crevasse, Antarctica

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At some point Edmund Hillary and his team decided to change course and make what has become known as the "dash for the pole". With supply drops in place, Hillary saw the opportunity to continue to the pole. The team’s journey overland by Massey Ferguson TE20 tractor marked the first time overland vehicles had reached the pole - Scott’s Terra Nova expedition had used motor sledges for part of their journey but abandoned them due to frequent faults.

Unknown photographer (1958) - Vivian Fuchs arrives at the South Pole, Antarctica

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Fuchs’s team travelled towards the pole from the opposite direction to Hillary’s. They used larger snowcats. When they met at the pole Fuchs took Hillary back with him for the return journey where they followed Edmund’s supply route to Scott base, completing the first overland crossing across the continent.

Brett (ca. 1956) - Letter to Sir Edmund Hillary, 2 pages

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The expedition gained popularity at home in New Zealand as seen in a letter directed to Edmund Hillary.

Unknown photographer (ca. 1957) Edmund Hillary with crashed sledge, Antarctica

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  • Post by: Shaun Higgins

    Shaun is Curator, Pictorial at Auckland Museum, responsible for research and development of photography and artwork collections.