Against all odds

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“Earl de Blonville is a great, but unsung, Australian hero, courageous, strong, confident, and with outstanding leadership qualifications. His book is a powerful account of an expedition that he led to East Greenland in 1986. Australia has had a long involvement in Antarctica, and the achievements of Douglas Mawson and Phillip Law are widely recognised. However, with the exception of the controversial Hubert Wilkins, there has been little Australian involvement with the Arctic. When Earl began planning his expedition he set up an Australian Advisory Panel, which included Dr Phillip Law, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, Sir John Holland, John Bertrand and Dr Eleanor Rymill, for whom his vessel was named. As Australia’s then Minister for Science I was happy to join, and secured Government recognition and assistance. Earl also recruited support from Britain, where his patrons included The Prince of Wales, Lord Shackleton – son of the great Ernest – and the polar explorer Sir Vivian Fuchs. This is a powerful story of privation, courage, obstinacy and tenacity, full of sharp insights, vividly written, well illustrated with useful maps – an unvarnished record of a major achievement. The expedition took place in 1985-86, but the story, with its freshness and immediacy, is timeless, demonstrating what charismatic leadership can achieve, against all odds.”

Professor the Hon Barry Jones AC FAA.

Australian Minister for Science 1983–90

Refreshing honesty

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“Australia’s reputation for Antarctic exploration and research is well known. Not so well-known is the country’s foray into the Arctic that Earl de Blonville describes in this book. The story is told with a refreshing honesty that obliges readers to consider what they themselves might have done in the challenging circumstances. It sanitises neither the interpersonal tensions that arose between personnel, nor the conflicts between individual ambitions and group commitment. It raises the moral and practical responsibility of the designated leader for all contingencies. For the first time, the story also produced a plausible explanation from the recollections of local Inuit people for Watkins’ demise. To say more would steal the thunder of a harrowing adventure, full of twists and turns, only a few of which, with 20/20 hindsight, might have been avoided. For my part, the book made me reflect on the importance of ability, stability, and compatibility in the selection of personnel, and of the need for leaders to pay as much attention to developing a workable pattern of leadership to suit their group, as to verifying the knowledge and prowess in other respects claimed by individual members. On many levels the book and its author are to be admired.”

Emeritus Professor Tony Taylor PhD.

Polar Leadership Expert

Captures reality

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“There is a vast contrast between the hardships of polar travel and the stories that people tell afterwards. I recall very well the stark difference between the harsh reality of a long overland traverse of Antarctica and the post-hoc heroic rationalisations of some of my expedition members. Earl de Blonville has convincingly captured the reality of expedition life. He is refreshingly honest and direct. The book also provides fascinating insights into the personality of someone who would willingly embrace danger and great hardship. Described as pig-headed and an unrelenting bastard, de Blonville is inclined to agree with much of the description. A great read and fully captures the reality of leadership and adventure.”

Dr Iain McCormack.

Polar Psychologist

Un-put-downable!

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“In a word, this book is literally ‘un-put-downable’! The author disarms us with his self-deprecatory style, the lightness of the atmosphere, the ready admission of mistakes and even a questioning of his own capacity to bring it all off! The book is a rollicking adventure, the descriptions of nature in all her beauty and ferocity are entirely compelling. The human side of the drama emerges with deep insights into the complexity and unpredictability of reactions and relationships.”

Sir Gustav Nossal AC FRS.

Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne

Still life

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East Greenland offers extremes. In early winter, hurricanes of 140 knots or 260 kph blast down from the 10,000′ icecap destroying anything not bolted down or concreted in. But in the height of summer, the air can be breathless calm and the fjords as still as a mirror. This picture by a Tasmanian sea kayaker reveals what perfect peace looks like in the Arctic, and why it can seduce so many explorers into coming back time and again. It’s a mystical fascination, as anyone captive to its primordial charms will attest.