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A polar explorer in insanity’s archives: transmitting the story of Antarctic wireless operator Sidney Jeffryes


Leane, E, A polar explorer in insanity's archives: transmitting the story of Antarctic wireless operator Sidney Jeffryes, AICCM Bulletin, 40, (1) pp. 50-59. ISSN 1034-4233 (2019) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2019 The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials

DOI: doi:10.1080/10344233.2019.1672942


This article recounts the author’s journey through polar and asylum archives in order to tell the story of a forgotten Antarctic expeditioner. A radio operator for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, Sidney Jeffryes was a pioneer of Antarctic telecommunications, making two-way wireless contact between the continent and the rest of the world for the first time. However, his mental illness during and after the expedition saw him institutionalised and marginalised from Australian Antarctic exploration history. Telling Jeffryes’ story challenges the way we remember Australian achievement in the Antarctic, but piecing this story together is far from straightforward. With published accounts often eliding his achievements or repeating century-old misstatements, documents preserved in archives become key witnesses to his experience. Dispersed, faded, often illegible, and swamped by the masses of irrelevant documents surrounding them, these feel like the noisy signals that Jeffryes decoded in the Antarctic. In attempting to transmit Jeffryes’ story, this article also tells the story of deciphering his messages from the past. For the conservator, the important lesson is that the material documents held in the archives, although at times messy and frustrating, enabled this retelling. Indeed, this messiness was an integral part of their message.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:archives, polar exploration, Australasian Antarctic expedition, history of mental illness, Antarctic heritage, Sidney Jeffryes
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:Australian history
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding Australia's past
UTAS Author:Leane, E (Professor Elizabeth Leane)
ID Code:135314
Year Published:2019
Funding Support:Australian Research Council (FT120100402)
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2019-10-11
Last Modified:2020-02-28
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