Yesterday we were exploring the remnants of the Hector whaling station in Whalers Bay of Deception Island. The derelict remains of building once devoted to the wholesale slaughter of whales marks an important part of Antarctica’s history, but amidst the rusting hulks of steamers and the rotting remains of the whaling industry, Whales Bay also offers an insight into the spirit of adventure and exploration that marked the early operations in this region. The site boasts the remains of a British research station abandoned in the volcanic eruptions that saw massive mudslides hitting the area in the late 1960s, but it also is home to a rather non-descript hanger like building that perched on the northern end of the beach. And indeed it is a hanger, and in fact the hanger once housed the plane that embarked upon the first powered flight over Antarctica – captained by an Aussie by the name of Sir Hubert Wilkins.
Today as we leave Deception in our wake we were privileged to hear the reminiscences of the daughter of the mechanic who helped Wilkins piece together this amazing endeavour. A young man born in 1896 in Washington, Ona’s father started working on Model T fords and ended up participating in no less than 5 expeditions with Wilkins visiting both poles and being central to the operation to get the first flights up and running. Apparently they saw it all as a rather dry operation with his diary reflecting comments such as “Plane assembly in makeshift hanger, 55 degrees below” with little commentary on the guts of exploration … a feature which makes many of the men of early aviation history. Wilkins and his team did not search for fame or glory. This was a precise operation to reach a defined goal to aid our understanding of the world and to promote a cooperative approach to the exploration of the planet. As we look back it is fantastic to gather an insight into the lives and opinions of these pioneers who pushed the boundaries of our knowledge into the ice south.