The Call of Aurora is a chamber opera, based on Douglas Mawson’s 1911 – 1914 expedition to Antarctica and explores the challenges faced by all those who were stranded on the ice continent for two years, before being returned to Hobart in January 1914.

In December 1911 the SY Aurora departed from Hobart Harbour for Antarctica. Heading this expedition was Douglas Mawson, a geologist, who had previously been to Antarctica with Ernest Shackleton. But on this expedition, despite having been invited to accompany Robert Falcon Scott to attempt to be the first men to reach the South Pole (an invitation that Mawson declined, of course), Mawson chose to lead on his own expedition to undertake scientific exploration on the Antarctic Continent. The SY Aurora arrived at Commonwealth Bay in January 1912, and Mawson and his crew set to work in the remaining summer months to build their huts, and establish their main base and outposts before winter – and the complete darkness that would come with it – arrived.

During that winter of 1912 the men would have busied themselves with the many and necessary preparations for the respective scientific expeditions that each party would embark upon in the late spring of 1912. Their plan was to go out as parties of three or four, leaving base camp in October or November, and to all be back in time for the Aurora’s return in January 1913, when they would board for their trip back to Hobart.

In October 1912 Mawson and his party, which comprised Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis, along with their team of huskies pulling three sledges containing tents, food, and other provisions, headed out for what they expected to be a 500 miles and three month expedition.

For the first 300 miles or so, thing went well enough, until Ninnis suffered frost bite on one of his fingers, which, in his reluctance to bother Mawson with, ultimately became septic. When eventually Ninnis, so affected by his poisoned finger, became of no use in pulling his weight, Mawson decided to ditch one of the three sledges and some of their provisions, and pack what he believed was necessary onto the two remaining sledges, re-assigning the dogs into two teams. As Xavier Mertz, some way out front of the first sledge (on which Ninnis rode as an incapacitated passenger, and in front of Mawson’s second sledge) realised that they were all perilously close to the soft drift that had only that night before covered what he knew just then to be a crevasse, Mertz raises his hand, as a signal to go no further. But it was already too late.

The first sledge, pulled by the best team of dogs, and carrying the dogs’ food, some of the ‘man food’, many of the provisions – and Belgrave Ninnis – had completely disappeared down a deep crevasse. Going to the edge of the crevasse, Mawson and Mertz could hear the strangling cries of the dangling dogs, but could see nothing, and despite their calls – for almost three hours – heard nothing of Ninnis. They fed their longest rope down the crevasse, but it was too deep. Just like that, they had lost one companion, the best dogs, food and much of their provisions. Mawson had no choice but to turn back for camp, with the last remaining sledge and those dogs, lucky enough not to have fallen to their deaths.

The Call of Aurora begins here.


Music & Libretto by Joe Bugden

Directed by Lucien Simon
Musical Direction by Johanna Bostock
Set Design by Nicole Robson
Lighting Design by Louise Goich

Cast (in order of appearance):

Christopher Bryg as Sidney Jeffryes (the mad wireless operator)
Phillip Joughin
as Douglas Mawson
Nick Monk
as Xavier Mertz
Grace Ovens
as Paquita Delprat (Mawson’s fiancee)
Michael Kregor
as Cecil Madigan
Nathan Males
as The Ghost of Robert Falcon Scott
Zoe Fitzherbert-Smith
as The Spirit of Aurora

Ensemble Members:
Rosemary Holloway ~ flute
Derek Grice
~ clarinet
Damien Holloway
~ viola
James Anderson
~ cello
Jamie Wilson
~ vibraphone


The Call of Aurora is supported by the Commonwealth Government via Festivals Australia and by IMAS, and is presented as part of the 2022 Australian Antarctic Festival

More than a century ago, Australia was introduced to the wonder of Antarctica by the great scientist and explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. 

Understanding the continent is key to a deeper understanding of climate, weather and sea level changes. As a nation, Australia has an enduring commitment to protect and preserve Antarctica for future generations.

As a nation, Australia has an enduring commitment to protect and preserve Antarctica for future generations.

A photo of a group of people dressed in thick coats and hats in Antarctica. They are sitting on the ice, next to a weather pole, and in the background there are sevral vehicles for travelling in the ice and snow.
Photo by Andy Hung. Australian Antarctic Division

This event is part of Winter Light 2022 and the Australian Antarctic Festival 2022 and is presented by Salamanca Arts Centre

11 – 28 August 2022
Tuesday – Sunday
11am – 4pm

Last Dance Orange Roughy depicts the final Australian voyage of the RSV Aurora Australis to the Antarctic continent. The Aurora Australis has been carrying expeditioners and resupply to Antarctica for over 30 years. This final voyage was special in many ways. It departed with COVID-19 just a whisper and returned to a fundamentally changed world. The extra protocols instituted on the ship in response to COVID-19 reinforced the interdependency and collaborative actions of such a tightly knit microcosm, already essential for survival in Antarctica, but with a renewed sense of urgency in the emerging emergency. At that time Antarctica became the last COVID-19 free continent and we had a duty to preserve that status.

Using laser and photogrammetry scans and ambisonic sound recordings of the ship, crew and expeditioners, Last Dance Orange Roughy  presents a virtual experience depicting the intricate choreography of ship and expeditioners. Using an artistic rendering of the ship along with choreographed impressions of the crew and expeditioners, Last Dance Orange Roughy portrays the final voyage as an intricate dance sustaining life.

Last Dance Orange Roughy is an immersive visual and sonic feast of three-dimensional environments and spatial sound visualising and sonifying the last grand Antarctic dance of the Aurora Australis, crew and expeditioners. John McCormick and Adam Nash (Wild System) were the 2020 Australian Antarctic Arts Fellows on the final Australian voyage of the icebreaker Aurora Australis to the Antarctic continent. 

Antarctic Art Fellows: John McCormick, Adam Nash
3D Artists: Casey Richardson, Casey Dalbo
Choreography: Kim Vincs, John McCormick
Dancers: Valentina Dillon, Wendy Feng
Ambisonic Sound: Adam Nash
Antarctic Arts Program: Sachie Yasuda, Tiffany Brooks
Drone Filming: Simon Payne, John McCormick
3D Stereo development: Joshua Reason
Ambisonic sound consultant: Simon Maisch

John and Adam would like to extend their thanks to all the crew and expeditioners aboard the final voyage of the RSV Aurora Australis to the Antarctic Continent.


Whilst the wearing of masks is not mandatory it is recommended in certain situations by Tasmanian Public Health.  Masks will be available upon entering the venue for those patrons who would like one.  

If you’re unwell, it is recommended that you stay at home, and we look forward to welcoming you at Salamanca Arts Centre another time.


Artists

Photo John McCormick

John McCormick

John McCormick is a technology based artist with a major interest in movement. John is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Transformative Media Technologies, Swinburne University of Technology where he investigates artistic practice in mixed reality environments, robotics, artificial intelligence and human movement. John has collaborated on works worldwide, including at ISEA, SIGGRAPH, Melbourne Festival, SIGGRAPH Asia, Ars Electronica Futurelab and Art Science Museum Singapore.


Photo: John McCormick

Adam Nash

Adam Nash is an artist, composer, programmer, performer and writer working in virtual environments and generative platforms. His work has been presented all over the world, including SIGGRAPH, ISEA, ZERO1SJ, the National Portrait Gallery and Venice Biennale. He is Associate Professor (Virtual Interior) in the Interior Design discipline, School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University. 

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