Frozen memories, now digital: Antarctic photographic collections preserved for future generations

Tuesday, 21 February 2023

National Archives of Australia and the Australian Antarctic Division have completed a significant transfer of records documenting early twentieth century British and Australian Antarctic expeditions.

The collection includes hundreds of photographs, glass plate negatives and lantern slides, including original photographs taken by renowned photographer Frank Hurley.

The majority of these records were created during the first part of the twentieth century by Captain John King Davis. Davis made the journey to Antarctica on several missions and most notably was the Captain of the Aurora during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition between 1911 to 1914. Images depict the harsh conditions and realities of life on the icy continent. The collection has been held, until now, by the Australian Antarctic Division based in Hobart.

Director-General of National Archives of Australia, Mr Simon Froude welcomed the transfer of the collection. 'I'm delighted this collection will be preserved within the National Archives for future generations to access. These photographs compliment other national collections documenting Australia's exploration and research in Antarctica,' said Mr Froude.

'The images provide a unique glimpse of the difficult conditions the explorers faced. There are fabulous photos of the unique wildlife, as well as photos depicting the science and technology of the time.'

'Photographic portraits of Antarctic personalities such as Joseph Kinsey, Ernest Shackleton, Douglas Mawson and Frank Stillwell are included in the collection, as well as images highlighting the ingenuity of expedition members navigating life on the ice and aboard the ship,' said Mr Froude.

Assistant Director-General, Collection Management Steven Fox said National Archives staff have completed in-depth record listings and digitisation of the collection and all images are now publicly available on RecordSearch for viewing. Where needed, some of the original records have been carefully rehoused into custom-made preservation boxes.

'This collection is rare and fragile. Acquiring, conserving, digitising and preserving it means it will be accessible now and for future generations. The public can digitally access a range of records from very early Antarctic exploration through to later expeditions' said Mr Fox.

The national archival collection contains records about key events and Commonwealth government decisions that have shaped Australia's history. With more than 40 million items, the collection includes records from Federation in 1901 to now.

Explore the collection 

You can explore the collection, including digitised images, on RecordSearch.

For interview on request

Director-General, Simon Froude

Assistant Director-General Collection Management, Steven Fox

Contact information

National Archives of Australia Media Team
Phone: 0417 247 157

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