Sean Williams

Mawson on the Moon

posted on 31 Jan 2018 at 8:52 am

While reading Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries today, I realised that with some judicial splicing, a very different story could be told…

(Quotes taken from the Kindle Edition, location in square brackets.)

Today we arrive at the moon. [3605] Most of us were sick to begin with but everybody is now for some days over this [1130] Moon’s surface particularly clear, detail visible. Picturesque dark sails against the sky. [10415]

Several of us dredge, getting muck with many specimens [3024] One of the long white worms amongst other things [3161] I am conducting experiments on [2627] injecting germs; could not kill it, let it go. [2751]

Weather becoming bad. [6256]

Tonight Hannam hears a curious humming sound on the wireless. [2903] Hurley, who was on night watch, reported at midnight that St Elmo’s fire on everything—the whole of stay wires, corners of screen, rocks, ground wires, and salient points of his person outlined in fire. The whole ground glowed as with phosphorescence. [3050]

Continuous cracking heard in ice below us. [1860] Caruso found by Mertz with cord tight around his neck cut deep into flesh—mysterious. [2536]

I go up on to the rocks to west, find blood tracks on the ice. [5646]

the gigantic white worm [3202] returned as strong as ever [6534] got past McLean, who had the specimen gun (16 bore). [2994] Madigan shoots it [6034]

more today [3483] long carnivorous worms [6129] of gigantic proportions [6614] explosives no use [7806] Very great abundance of worms in all these soils [9705]

We are tired out with it all. [4717] continuing all day with the slaughter [7286] lose all ground gained in night. Commence fight again in afternoon, thick, really scarcely know where we are as sun has been obscured so long [6820-6821]

The weather is, if anything, getting worse [3843]

Madigan on night duty reports Elmo’s fire. The points of nephoscope visibly illumined on snow ramp 18 ft away. The top of the weather cock outlined— N, S, E & W, as well as arrow. Any point on his clothing held a spark, also fingers of mitts— on taking off mitt each finger carried a spark. [2707]

I have an idea [5808] start making a trap. [2954]

Hannam has arranged a small vacuum spark attached to small Leyden jar to determine the St Elmo’s fire intensity. It appears to work very well. [3077] sparks better on a sharpened copper wire than on an ice axe. [3069] a continuous stream of sparks [3337-3338] high velocity—St Elmo’s fire [2676] firing off like artillery. [4921]

Thick drift and static tonight. [5891] Booming sound heard [4623]

dropped traps. [2460] Many worms [6231]

some exhilaration in going out and fighting [2619]

Hannam gets Leyden jar out [2736] sharp and loud reports [1861] uncanny shrieking [6809]

I am extremely disappointed [7442] He appears to have missed [8458]

Madigan helps [3481] Second fired when pointing upwards before ready— [6366]

Many things are broken. [3171]

Had to beat a retreat [9982] they were both killed [3991]

this was a hopeless thing from beginning to end. [8378-8379]

No sleep all night [4194] The moon journeys in calm and silver glory [2988]

The pack has closed in considerably. [7790]

May God Help us. [4645]

we cannot escape. [8024]


I was the 2016/17 Australian Antarctic Division’s Arts Fellow. My current project is a novel based on the experiences I had down there. This is not that story!

And hey, Boing Boing picked this up with a great ‘shop:

“The carnivorous moon-worm story hiding in plain sight in the diary of early Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson”


  1. Keira says:

    I am laughing! Bloody brilliant (pun not intended)