Where borders break down

Recollections of a polar traveller

Featured in

  • Published 20220503
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-74-0
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

WHEN EXPLAINING MY Antarctic research to new acquaintances, at a dinner party or a barbeque, I can usually predict the direction of the conversation. First comes surprise and – depending on the crowd – perhaps delight that someone working in the humanities conducts research on the Antarctic region. Then almost always the question follows of whether I have ever visited the remote place that occupies so much of my intellectual life. I understand the impulse behind this question: part polite curiosity, but also genuine intrigue about a part of the world that, even now, comparatively few people have had the chance to experience. It’s a question I would ask, were our positions reversed. But it also raises a whole series of uncomfortable issues.

In the early twenty-­first century, journeys to Antarctica come with a significant carbon footprint. Passengers taking a standard ten-­day tourist cruise, for example, produce more carbon dioxide than the average global citizen produces in an entire year of ordinary living. While almost any long-­distance travel raises similar considerations, the issue seems particularly pointed when the destination is an icy region where increasingly unstable glaciers threaten to make enormous long-­term impacts on the planet and its inhabitants. And then there are direct impacts, such as wildlife disturbance and black-­carbon pollution – sooty material that increases the heat generated by incoming solar radiation. Some studies suggest that researchers have a bigger negative impact than tourists: ‘People who say you shouldn’t go there / Go there’, the Australian poet Caroline Caddy observes wryly. She herself ‘went there’ in the mid-­1990s as one of the earliest official Australian Antarctic writers-­in-­residence. An inevitable sense of hypocrisy troubles anyone who both loves and visits the ice continent.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at griffithreview@griffith.edu.au

Share article

About the author

Elizabeth Leane

Elizabeth Leane is Professor of English in the College of Arts, Law and Education at the University of Tasmania, where she is also associate...

More from this edition

Red heart, red ship

MemoirWhen I was twelve years old, I was head over heels in love with a little red ship, the Danish polar vessel Nella Dan. She worked for the Australian Antarctic Division for twenty-­six years, and in the 1980s Hobart was her home away from home.


FictionThe holiday brochures talk about ‘the sound of silence’ in Antarctica. That it is an experience, elliptical and expansive. This has become a long-­running joke at the base. Everyone knows that life here relies on making noise.

A Lullaby Made From Ice

Poetry The closest I’ve ever come to an iceberg is at the bottom of a dime bag. Me, a climate of catastrophe, aching for the...

Stay up to date with the latest, news, articles and special offers from Griffith Review.