Scott Base: 1956-1960

Peter Mulgrew with field radio during the Trans Antarctic Expedition 1956-1958

Peter Mulgrew with field radio during the Trans Antarctic Expedition 1956-1958. Photo: Geoffrey Lee Martin, Antarctica NZ

In 1957-1958 the [New Zealand] Post Office was involved in providing radio and radiotelegraph links for New Zealand’s first Antarctic facility, Scott Base. This had been established in January 1957, as part of the country’s contribution to International Geophysical Year (1957-1958). These links were used by the New Zealand team under Edmund Hillary participating in the joint Commonwealth trans-Antarctic crossing of 1957-1958 where converted tractors were used by Hillary as ‘Sno-cats’, hauling men and supplies.

One person attached to Hillary’s expedition, with both communications and mountaineering experience, was Chief Petty Officer PD Mulgrew1, a former P&T radio operator, then with the New Zealand Navy. He was the Chief Radio Operator on the expedition, supported by JE Gawn. Mulgrew sent a radio (Morse) message – that the New Zealand party had arrived at the South Pole on 4 January 1958 ahead of Sir Vivien Fuch’s British contingent – to Gawn at Scott Base. The latter then relayed it via Awarua Radio to AS Helm in Wellington. Helm was then Secretary of the Ross Sea Committee, set up in 1955 to plan New Zealand’s involvement in the Commonwealth trans-Antarctic expedition and the establishment of a permanent New Zealand presence in the Antarctic. Helm and Derek Round, an NZPA journalist, sent a news release to the BBC and The Times in London, thereby ‘scooping’ a British Daily Mail journalist sent to Antarctica especially to get an exclusive story about the expedition.2

Radio operator Ted Gawn during the 1956-1958 season at Scott Base

Radio operator Ted Gawn during the 1956-1958 season at Scott Base. The receiver is a Philips BX-925A, and the ‘mill’ (typewriter) has a roll of paper on a feeder. Photo: Geoffrey Lee Martin, Antarctica NZ

Radio operator Peter Mulgrew during the 1956-1958 season at Scott Base

Radio operator Peter Mulgrew during the 1956-1958 season at Scott Base. Photo: JW Beagley, Antarctica NZ

The Scott Base Post Office opened on 11 January 1957 and provided HF radio communications using callsign ZLQ. Cape Hallett Station, a joint US-NZ base, was also established in 1957 as part of the International Geophysical Year, and was permanently staffed until 1964.

The following abbreviations are used in this section:

w/o = Winter-Over
s = Summer Support
OIC = Officer in Charge
DOIC = Deputy Officer in Charge

1957-58 (w/o)

Radio Technician: Mike Gibson
Radio Officer: Peter Yeates

Raising a radio mast at Scott Base, 1957-1959

Raising a radio mast at Scott Base, 1957-1959. Photo: Antarctica NZ

Erecting a radio mast at Scott Base for the Trans Antarctic Expedition, 1957-1959

Erecting a radio mast at Scott Base for the Trans Antarctic Expedition, 1957-1959. Photo: Antarctica NZ

Scott Base radio room 1956-1958. The operator is unidentified (Peter Yeates, perhaps?)

Scott Base radio room 1956-1958. The operator is unidentified (Peter Yeates, perhaps?). The two similar transmitters at left and centre of photo are 250W AM/CW models made by RCA (NZPO designation 351 which indicated a power of approximately 300W and introduced in 1951). Photo: Geoffrey Lee Martin, Antarctica NZ

1958-59 (w/o)

Radio Technician: Ron Pemberton
Radio Officer: Peter Phillips

Scott Base radio technician Ron Pemberton, 1958-1959

Scott Base radio technician Ron Pemberton, 1958-1959. Photo: Brian Sandford, Antarctica NZ

1959-60 (w/o)

Radio Officer: Peter Yeates

Scott Base radio room in 1959-1960

Pete Phillips in the Scott Base radio room in 1959-1960. Photo: Neil Sandford, Antarctica NZ

Scott Base radio room 1959-1960. Some interesting details in this photo: the operator's mittens drying out on top of the receiver, the clipboards on the wall for stations ZLY, ZLZ and ZLA, and the pin-up photos. Well it was 1959 after all.

Scott Base radio room 1959-1960. Some interesting details in this photo: the operator’s mittens drying out on top of the receiver, the clipboards on the wall for stations ZLY, ZLZ and ZLA, and the pin-up photos. Well it was 1959 after all. Photo: J Lennox-King, Antarctica NZ. Click to enlarge.

1960-1970

Notes

1 Peter Mulgrew became the commentator on Air New Zealand scenic flights over Antarctica, and died in the Erebus crash on 28 November 1979 at age 52.

2 Wilson, A.C. (1994). Wire and wireless: A history of telecommunications in New Zealand 1890-1987, (p 167), Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press.