Society celebrates Antarctic pioneers

Heritage NZAS News

Society celebrates Antarctic pioneers

Grant Hunter

Forty members of the New Zealand Antarctic Society’s Canterbury Branch recently enjoyed a double celebration of long-term commitment to the Society and to Antarctic endeavor. Baden Norris celebrated his ninetieth birthday on the same day that Robert (Alec) McFerran celebrated his ninety-fifth, and Alec was awarded Life Membership of the Society.

The celebration was hosted by Anthony Wright, Director, Canterbury Museum, and held in the Museum’s Antarctic Wing. Peter McCarthy reviewed Baden’s exploits at sea, his work within the Lyttelton community, his contributions to archaeological discovery and conservation throughout Canterbury and in the Cook Islands, and his conservation and education work around history and relics in the Ross Sea Region of Antarctica. These contributions are without peer.

Baden’s transition to Antarctica came in 1963–64 as a member of the four-person Discovery Hut Restoration Team – all Antarctic Society volunteers – excavating ice from the hut, which had last been used by Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and documenting the artefacts within. Soon, Baden was appointed Honorary Curator of Antarctic Relics at Canterbury Museum, and in 1974 he was awarded the New Zealand Antarctic Society Conservation Trophy for his work on the historic huts.

More recently, the Christchurch City Council, Canterbury History Foundation, Canterbury Museum, and the New Zealand Government have each formally recognised his contribution to community and Antarctica. He was made a Life Member of the New Zealand Antarctic Society in 2006, and awarded the New Zealand Antarctic Medal in 2013.

Baden threw a challenge to the Antarctic Society going forward. The need for personal and group commitment to keep societies relevant and its membership strong. He singled out the selfless efforts of people, including Harold Griffiths, Roger Duff, and Alf Brustad, who were not only influential in forming the Canterbury Branch, but in motivating wider interest and keeping it on track through challenging years.

Alec McFerran made a later start in Antarctica. He wintered-over at Scott Base for the 1970–1971 season as base electrician and dog handler. He helped to dig out and recover the Hillary Trans-Antarctic Expedition’s Ferguson tractor (currently on display at Canterbury Museum).

In 1974–1975, Alec wintered-over on sub-Antarctic Campbell Island, where he was involved in extending the meteorological station, which fills important gaps in data in relation to the sub-Antarctic weather and climate.  His stories have been captured as part of the New Zealand Antarctic Society’s Oral History Project.

Since the 1970s, Alec has remained keenly interested and active in Antarctic activities and has made many informal contributions to the objectives of the Antarctic Society of promoting and supporting a love of the Antarctic.

In citing the case for awarding Alec Life Membership of the Society, Michelle Rogan-Finnemore, Executive Secretary of the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP), described Alec as a humble, non-boastful man, always with a wide and welcoming smile. The award caught him unawares, and he accepted it with a touch of emotion, and the grace befitting this description.

The New Zealand Antarctic Society congratulates and thanks both of these great Antarcticans.

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