- Book reviewer
- History - general, Book reviews
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2015 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Endurance by Tim Griffiths. Published by Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2015. Softback, 354 pages, rrp $29.99.
The cover picture of an ice-bound Endurance is published one hundred years after the loss of this famous ship. The story is written as a novel based on historical fact, with imagined conversations held between real-life characters. However the title is a misnomer, being partly about the ship Endurance and more about human endurance in facing adversity. It is no coincidence the family motto of a key character, Sir Ernest Shackleton, is ‘By endurance we conquer’.
We peruse the life of the Australian photographer James Francis (Frank) Hurley, starting with a rebellious 13 year old running away from home. More like the beginnings of a Wild West adventure, he jumps aboard a Sydney freight train taking him to the far side of the Blue Mountains. Here he finds work in an iron foundry where a kindly foreman, with an interest in amateur photography, sparks a passion dominating the remainder of his life.
The youngster eventually reconciles with his family and is employed in a photographic studio, making a name taking dramatic action pictures. However he quickly finds there is more to business than professional ability and places his family into debt. To escape creditors and find new ventures for his undoubted talents, he applies to Dr Douglas Mawson for a place on his Australian Antarctic Expedition.
Hurley is one of 31 men aboard Aurora, an elderly but robust barquentine built for sealing. They sail from Hobart in December 1911. Hurley proves himself as a stills and cine photographer and, with great physical strength and, practical ability, is valued on lengthy shore expeditions. He was involved in building the famous Mawson Hut which still stands on the shores of Commonwealth Bay as testimony to their epic journey.
The leader of a new Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the Anglo-Irishman Sir Ernest Shackleton, cables Hurley and offers him the position of photographer. In October 1914 Hurley joins Endurance in Buenos Aires,then on her maiden voyage, bringing the complement to 28 men and 69 dogs. Despite all its fanfare Shackleton’s expedition is a failure as Endurancebecomes ice-bound and is crushed to death. In horrific winter conditions her crew is forced to camp on dangerous moving ice floes. As the ice breaks they take to the ship’s boats and eventually make camp on the remote and barren Elephant Island. Here Shackleton and his five ablest seamen take the most seaworthy boat and make the hazardous 800 mile voyage to a whaling station on South Georgia. The 22 castaways on Elephant Island were nearing starvation and almost giving up all hope of salvation when on 30 August 1916 the Chilean naval tug Yelcho,with Shackleton aboard, comes into view. Shackleton turned disaster into triumph and, as not one man was lost, becomes a national hero.
Although the majority of photographs were lost in the misfortune, Hurley carefully preserved enough to make material for newspapers and newsreels. But the days of heroic expeditions were fading, replaced with the horrors of wars. In July 1917 Hurley takes a new position as official photographer in the Australian Infantry Forces. The newly kitted out Captain Frank Hurley reports to Captain Charles Bean, Australia’s eminent war correspondent. Hurley soon finds himself at the front, exposed to new perils of bombs and machine guns, where he captures ‘Diggers’ in action. He finds the strictures of military life difficult and before Christmas is removed from the Western Front to report on Australia’s campaign in the Middle East at a time when most of the heroic deeds such as the charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba are long gone.
This is a gripping novel of ‘endurance’ with graphic descriptions of man against the elements. While novels have no photographs the author’s description enables us to envisage these and the effort required in their composition and development under primitive conditions. Hurley, like many gifted artists, needs careful management and direction, something he does not always achieve. This leads to intense emotional conflict between Hurley’s artistic brilliance and determination when confronting pre-eminent men such as Mawson, Shackleton and Bean. Hard to put down and readers will not be disappointed.
Reviewed by Arcturus