'Yes' to a life of huge challenges; Legendary surveyor's awesome achievements.

 
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Byline: Alison Houston

THE universal reaction to first experiencing Antarctica is "awe and wonder", according to one of the country's trailblazers, Syd Kirkby AO MBE.

The 86-year-old retired surveyor, recognised by the Australian Museum as one of our 50 greatest explorers and by The Australian newspaper as one of our 10 greatest adventurers, said he had seen people "actually incapacitated by awe, they were just so overwhelmed by the grandeur, scale and magnificence".

And despite wintering (1956-57, 1960-61 and 1979-81) and summering there (1961-62, 1962-63 and 1964-65 and 1979-80) as part of Australia's Antarctic program, undertaking extensive sledging journeys for exploration and mapping, and returning in later years with tourists, he said Antarctica remained fascinating and incomparable.

Syd is recorded as having explored and mapped more of the Australian Antarctic Territory than anyone else - much of it by dogsled in temperatures to minus 70 degrees Celsius.

He established the most easterly, westerly and southerly astrofixes in the Australian Antarctic Territory and with two comrades became the first and only people to explore the Prince Charles Mountains on the ground more than 60 years ago.

While he has not personally noticed any climate-related environmental changes over the years in Antarctica, he said "it behoves us to treat the planet with complete circumspection and care because that is the right thing to do" rather than continuing with our "profligate and careless use of resources".

Living on the edge

Syd said he had never felt any enmity or opposition from the continent, as some people articulated, but it was certainly not an environment to be taken lightly.

He recalled winds so strong they had picked up and blown a cable-tied DC3 plane over 12km, and spending months in a 2m x 1.5m tent, hundreds of miles from Mawson station, with just a handful of dogs and two comrades, knowing that a simple tear in the fabric could mean they perished.

"Knowing there is no salvation except as a result of your efforts and those of your two comrades is a very privileged feeling," he said, comparing it to the bond of fellow soldiers or those united by natural disaster.

He said he had learnt a lot "as a 22-year-old kid" working with former Second World War servicemen including Battle of Britain veterans during his first winter in Antarctica.

"They knew themselves, and they knew about bravery and honour and comradeship," he said.

"To run like...

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