UOW academic recalls ice ship drama

Ben Maddison on his journey to the Antarctic on with the Akademik Shokalskiy.
Ben Maddison on his journey to the Antarctic on with the Akademik Shokalskiy.

It was one of 2013's most talked-about news stories, and University of Wollongong academic Dr Ben Maddison will this week recount his experiences aboard the trouble-plagued Antarctic research ship Akademik Shokalskiy.

From Antarctica to the pub, Dr Maddison will speak at the Uni In The Brewery event on Wednesday from 5.30pm, sharing stories from aboard the Spirit of Mawson voyage.

The expedition, led by Illawarra scientist Dr Chris Turney, was stranded in Commonwealth Bay for two weeks after being trapped by sea ice as the ship returned from a trip retracing the steps of famed explorer Douglas Mawson.

"I'll be talking about what happened down there, and giving an impression of what it's like being stuck in the ice," Dr Maddison said.

"It was actually one of the high points of the trip, because we got to spend a lot more time in that environment."

Dr Maddison held a variety of roles during the voyage. His knowledge as a historian gave other passengers a historical understanding of the path being retraced, while his experience in the Antarctic - he has visited the frozen continent 10 times - put him forward to pilot rafts, drive snow vehicles, and even build a helipad for rescue helicopters.

"I did a bit of everything. It was terrific," he said.

After becoming wedged in by ice on Christmas Day, passengers aboard the ship aimed to keep their spirits high, a feeling Dr Maddison contributed to by staging an "Antarctic Writers Festival" and encouraging passengers to document their Antarctic experiences.

"We were quite philosophical about the situation," he said in response to criticisms in the media about the boat's mission and the resources expended in the rescue. "It was inconvenient more than anything, it messed up our schedules," he said.


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