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12 Heritage

Members of the Adelaide University final year geology class, 1940 atop Wilyerpa Hill, southern Flinders Ranges. Reg Sprigg top right Sir Douglas Mawson standing bottom right (Courtesy Doug and Margaret Sprigg)

Sir Douglas Mawson: man for all seasons By Steve Whitham


ntarctica is a cold, dry, barren continent. In fact it is classified as a desert.

In that aspect, it has something in common with South Australia’s outback, certainly in terms of rainfall. And there is something else that irrevocably binds the two. The great adventurer Sir Douglas Mawson has explored both. Mawson’s three Antarctic expeditions are legendary: his leadership, courage and stories of survival were epic. To quote the title of Tom Wolfe’s book about American astronauts, Mawson had ‘the right stuff’. Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mawson’s polar adventures somewhat overshadow his valuable contribution to South Australia’s mining and energy industries. From his beginnings in 1905 as a lecturer in mineralogy and petrology and later as professor of geology and mineralogy at Adelaide University, Mawson inspired several generations of geos to uncover the hidden wealth of South Australia’s minerals and oil & gas. In fact it was he who was instrumental in ISSUE 04 RESOURCING SA Spring 2016

identifying Australia’s first radioactive ore body at Radium Hill in the dusty dry mid-north east of South Australia in 1906. Then in 1910, after forming the Radium Extraction Company of South Australia, Mawson became a mining mogul himself in order to extract uranium from Mount Painter in the Flinders Ranges.

But the story picks up more than 30 years later when a young Reg Sprigg, one of Mawson’s star students whom he had endowed with a passion for geology, saw that uranium was fast becoming the new fuel for electricity generation.

Mawson never spoke about his famous Antarctic expeditions... He was totally focused on what he was there to teach Well a mining minnow maybe, as he soon realised that despite a fledgling demand for uranium mostly for medical purposes, there was no fortune to be made.

Mawson packing a geological specimen, Encounter Bay geology camp, August 1922. (Courtesy Thomas family collection)

Resourcing SA Spring 2016  

The Spring issue of Resourcing SA is full of stories relevant to all South Australians and more, electricity, nuclear, people in resources,...

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