It has become traditional for The Royal Society of Tasmania to host a Winter Lecture Series for the public. By courtesy of the University of Tasmania these have been held at the Sir Stanley Burbury Theatre in the University Centre. The series usually consists of a series of presentations over three months, on the third Tuesday of June, July and August.
This year The Royal Society of Tasmania focussed its Winter Lecture Series on the topic of Macquarie Island because it is 200 years since the island was ‘discovered’ on 11 July 1810. This series focuses on the many fascinating elements of this small island rich in history, heritage and ecology.
The series took the form of three sessions, each of three speakers on Tuesday 15 June, 20 July and 17 August 2010. Each session was chaired by an eminent person with some association with the Island. Professor Patrick Quilty President of The Royal Society of Tasmania, of the School of Earth Sciences, University of Tasmania was overall co-ordinator.
Sir Guy Green presided over the first session. Altogether apart from his formal roles in Tasmanian and Australian society, he has a strong Antarctic/sub-Antarctic interest and has visited the island while Governor of Tasmania. He instigated and guides a biennial international forum on the sub-Antarctic and the third of that series is to be held in Hobart early in August 2011.
The first session was chaired by Sir Guy Green, AC, KBE, CVO and had three speakers:
Davidson reviewed what is known of the geological history of Macquarie Island, the people involved in unravelling the history, the uniqueness of the island because of that history, and how what we now know contributes to, and is influenced by, the modern understanding of the way ocean basins evolve. It drew out the strong Tasmanian and international links in the story. Macquarie Island gains its distinctness because it is a piece of uplifted seafloor, and the best place on earth to study the composition and structure of the seafloor which is normally inaccessible while covering 70% of the earth’s surface. But it is true that the Island may not be typical seafloor and our understanding of where it fits in tectonic terms has changed significantly over the last ten years. Work continues.
Kellaway, in a shorter timescale (roughly 1820-1900), outlined the history of governance of the Island. It is still unclear, and no paperwork seems to exist, how the Island was first placed under the responsibility of the Governor of Tasmania (as Macquarrie Island) in 1824. By 1890, the Colonial Office in London had lost any memory of that record and cheerfully agreed that New Zealand could attempt to claim the island (for good management reasons). While New Zealand and most Tasmanian bureaucracy was happy with a transfer to New Zealand, the lower house in Tasmania rejected the idea because of the island’s good harbours, possible timber industry, and potential for use as a whaling base! It is a funny story and was well told.
Hull, who knows his Mawson well, drew out many little-known facets of the Mawson expedition – how his staff were appointed so late, how planning was not as good as it appears, that Macquarie Island was not part of his plans at all until needed as wireless relay station, and that Tasmanian approval to visit the island came very late. He reviewed the history of the main players on the Island at the time, both prior to and following their involvement, including Prof. T.T. Flynn about whom some less-than-complimentary comments were made by many. Many rare images were used and it presented aspects of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) in a new way.
The interesting aspects of the evening were the progression in timescales from geological, through 200 years of ownership history, to the much shorter human timescale of Mawson and his people. An unexpected and highly satisfying feature was that all speakers humanised their talks with discussions of the people.
Another gratifying aspect is that not all speakers knew each other beforehand but are now in contact.
The lectures will be made available, in part at least on the University of Tasmania website, at the Antarctic Division, for Macquarie Island, and through The Royal Society of Tasmania. A two-page summary of each of the talks will be bound together and made available at minimal cost.
Patrick G. Quilty AM
President, The Royal Society of Tasmania
Authorised by the Director of Marketing
19 May, 2011