Peter McCabe retraces Sir Douglas Mawson’s steps in Antarctica.
Peter McCabe retraces Sir Douglas Mawson’s steps in Antarctica. Contributed

Antarctic trek for tradie

TREADING in the footsteps of one of Australia's greatest explorers is a privilege that Pottsville carpenter Peter McCabe will never take for granted.

Even when it means braving Antarctic blizzards, Mr McCabe wouldn't trade anything for the experience he describes as "amazing and highly emotional".

He is one of a privileged few to celebrate the 100th anniversary of geologist Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition and will act as tour guide for the Mawson Huts Foundation as he heads off on his fifth visit to Antarctica on Friday.

Mawson led an Australasian scientific team that explored part of Antarctica between 1911 and 1914.

Mr McCabe's tour will include a visit to the unique historical buildings known as Mawson's Huts, base for one of the most significant expeditions in Antarctic history.

"To stand in Mawson's hut, knowing the significance of who he was and what he did is an awesome feeling," Mr McCabe said.

He is part of a team specially chosen to restore the iconic buildings.

"I prefer to think of it as a clean-up rather than a restoration," he said.

"We're pausing history and trying to conserve the authenticity of the site.

"We don't want to intrude on history too much."

A 100th anniversary dinner is planned for Thursday in Hobart, the gateway to Antarctica, with descendants of Mawson's team gathering for the historic event and Governor-General Quentin Bryce hosting the dinner.

On Friday, hundreds of vessels are expected to take part in a flotilla on the River Derwent in a spectacular commemoration of Mawson's departure a century ago.

The event is expected to be one of the biggest seen on the river and the largest since the spectacular Tall Ships event in 1988.

"It's such an honour to be part of celebrations and the hut project," Mr McCabe said.

"It has been a huge learning experience and most of all, a great adventure."

The team will spend Christmas day on the ship.

Mawson landed a party of 18 at Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay in January, 1912, and remained there until December 1913.

The site was not visited again until Mawson returned in 1931 with the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition and then not again until the 1950s.

Only a concerted public campaign would save and conserve this historic site for all Australians, and the Mawson's Huts Foundation was formed in 1996 for this purpose.

The foundation has been involved with seven conservation expeditions to Cape Denison, working in partnership with the Australian Government through the Minister for Environment and Heritage, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Heritage Division.

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