History Thawing Quietly

Having been away in Auckland and Christchurch for back-to-back Antarctic conferences these past 2 weeks, you could say that I have ice on the brain. Sure, I’m back home now, but the thaw is slow. The quiet of Methven is helping, because now that I don’t have the roar of background traffic to contend with I can finally core down into the story gems I have collected – the odd local one included.

Christchurch is full of Antarctic paraphernalia and historic sites of ice, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s trusty tractor at the Canterbury museum, and the famous marble statue of Captain Scott, carved by his widow, which is currently undergoing repair work. Lady Scott spent time in the Garden City, as did Sir Douglas Mawson. That’s is not surprising; cities are places of bustle, full of ports and people, so they have more of a chance of attracting famous figures that will later stand out in history.

Ashburton can boast a slice of that history as well, thanks to a farmer named George Buckley and an explorer named Ernest Shackleton. George Buckley donated to Shackleton in the lead up to the explorer’s 1907 Nimrod expedition, the aim of which was to try to reach the geographic South Pole. When Buckley subsequently turned up on the docks to farewell the ship, his impromptu request to join the journey south was approved. The farmer travelled as far as the pack ice, taking charge of several ponies during the journey, before transferring across to the steamer the Koonya – which had towed the Nimrod south – and leaving Shackleton’s team to press on towards the continent alone. The Koonya headed back north, bound for cows and home, and laden with tales of excitement from the edge of the world. So it was that Buckley became one of, if not the, first Antarctic tourists. These days yearly visitor numbers may top 40,000, but the modern day tourists had to follow in the footsteps of someone.

Mid Canterbury may often be overlooked when it comes to the adventure stakes, but this tale from the days when the world was black and white shows that living on the plains is no barrier to developing an intrepid disposition.

Meanwhile, Buckley’s generosity in supporting the Antarctic expedition lives on, with ‘Buckley Island’ named by Shackleton in his honour. Antarctica has strong connections to places throughout Canterbury, and it is not just the big smoke that can narrate traces of our icy past.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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