60-year anniversary of Douglas Mawson Antarctic Collection

Life as an Antarctic explorer in the early 20th century was a true test of endurance. 

April 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the opening of the University of Adelaide’s Mawson Institute and the collection of geological and historical artefacts from Sir Douglas Mawson’s expeditions.

The collection was bequeathed to the University by Lady Paquita Mawson after her husband’s death in 1958. It was opened by the Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies on 15 April 1961. You can listen to the Prime Minister’s speech online.

Mawson collection opening 1961

Pictured, from left, Dr Robin Oliver - a senior staff member in the Department of Geology & Mineralogy at the time (and for some years following) who had an avid interest in Antarctic geology; Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies; Lady Paquita Mawson; unknown person.

Image: p. 218 from the book: Hall, L. & Scanlan, B. (2000). ‘Douglas Mawson: the life of an explorer’. New Holland Publishers (Australia). 224pp.
View larger image


The Tate Museum

In the Mawson building at the University’s North Terrace campus, you will find an incredible collection of minerals, rocks, fossils and specimens that illustrate geological phenomena.

This space is the University’s Tate Museum, named after Professor Ralph Tate, who at just 35 was the foundation Elder Professor of Natural Sciences at the University of Adelaide from 1875–1901. 

Not only on show are items from Mawson’s famous expeditions to Antarctica and his time at the University as a Professor of Geology – there’s a plethora of stunning items that share insights into our natural history.

Geology student Tate Museum

Meteorites and tektites

Meteorites are strange and beautiful visitors from outer space. The Tate Museum has an outstanding collection of meteorites and tektites from around the world, one of which on display is a 76.9 kg piece comprised of 96% iron.


Approximately 580 million years ago, an asteroid slammed into what is now South Australia’s Gawler Ranges, producing a crater up to 40 km wide that is now known as the Acraman Crater. This display tells the story of the catastrophic event with samples of the ejecta now in sediments that became the Flinders Ranges and possibly ushered in the Ediacaran evolution.

Ediacara biota

Earth’s oldest known complex multicellular organisms are called Ediacara biota. The Museum holds examples from the Flinders Ranges, some of which are up to 550 million years old. Discovered by Reg Sprigg, a former geology student of the University, they are the starting point of animal life on Earth.

Broken Hill minerals

Broken Hill’s massive ore body, which formed about 1,800 million years ago, has proved to be among Earth’s largest silver-lead-zinc mineral deposits. The Museum’s collection features spectacular minerals from the region.

Olympic Dam specimens

The ‘Broken Hill’ of the 21st century is Olympic Dam in mid-north South Australia. One of the world’s largest deposits of copper, gold and uranium, it also contains a significant amount of silver. The Museum has many interesting specimens from this giant ore body on display.

Newly discovered minerals

While good quality iron ore had been discovered in South Australia during the 1840s near Iron Knob, the Australian steel industry only began to flourish from 1915 in Newcastle with ore from the Iron Monarch mine. An incredible 164 different minerals, including six previously unclassified, have been identified from this deposit, with many represented in the Museum’s collection.

Tagged in School of Physical Sciences, Engagement and Industry, Geology and Earth Sciences