Golly’s Folly

by Peter Noble

[On the Shackleton Range expedition of 1968] we planned a new approach [to camping].  Some years earlier a workman’s cabin had been supplied for establishing the temporary and very lonely "Coats Station".  It had been mounted on a sledge and successfully towed some two hundred miles south onto the inland ice.  It was later used during the darkening months of March and April ‘68 when it had been dragged to Mobster Creek for use as another temporary field base.  

Doc Murray Roberts had his own special interest - penguins, and Mobster Creek gave easy access to the sea ice where an enormous rookery collected every year.  The cabin or "caboose" as it was initially known was fitted out with a couple of bunks, chairs and cooking area but was very spartan and during the brief time I accompanied Doc Murray, I found it pretty cold and inhospitable.  In retrospect, our experience must have paled into insignificance compared with that of Phil Goodwin (meteorologist) and Lawrence Dicken (ionospherics) who were marooned (intentionally) at Coats Station from November ‘64 to (unintentionally) March ‘65.  

The caboose’s potential was obvious and Golly set to work converting this ex-ionospherics observatory, ex-penguin research base into a rather luxurious caravan that earned the title "Golly’s Folly".  This was to be the accommodation for the full Shackletons overland team that had been set at six men.  There was a door at the front and small windows on each side wall.  Across the blank end Golly erected a three tier set of bunks that would accommodate John Carter, Norris Riley and John Gallsworthy  himself.  Above and below the right hand window a double bunk for Stuart MacQuarrie and myself.  Opposite in respectful solitude was Dad Etchells.

The bunks of both Dad and myself served as seating for the collapsible table that could be erected between.  In a corner by the door was the kitchen: an aluminium work top with a couple of primus stoves secured in place.  That left one corner with a cupboard for stores in use and other daily essentials.  

An attempt had been made to insulate the walls and roof, and even double glaze the windows, but any really effective insulation would have seriously reduced the accommodation space.  To counteract the heat loss Golly commissioned electrician Geoff Smith who introduced heat in no uncertain form.  A powerful paraffin burning, electrically ignited and driven fan heater was mounted on the outside back wall with a duct leading through the wall to vent under the lowest bunk.  It could get very hot in Golly’s Folly.   There were two other nice touches added by Geoff: in addition to a light over the kitchen and the table area, each bunk was given its own reading light, all powered by a cable from a pair of tractor batteries.  No doubt those lights were used someday, but it was long after the return of the Shacks party.  Perhaps Geoff had forgotten, when installing the lights in the twenty four hour winter dark, that the expedition would take place in twenty four hour summer sun!  

A good radio receiver and a Squadcall were bolted to the wall beside the food cupboard and a near constant water supply was effected by securing a pressure cooker in a frame over a primus stove.  The arrangement allowed snow to be melted under way.  

There was another useful item though perhaps a nicety: an anemometer (wind speed indicator) was mounted just beside my bed head.  When my alarm woke me, I could open my eyes, glance at the gauge and if it read more than fifteen knots, the speed at which generally the spindrift is too high for us to see the ground, I would roll over for another forty winks!  The others, if awake would watch my move and do likewise.  For those not awake it didn’t matter.

The final adaptation was at my insistence.  The tow bar "A" frame of the caboose sledge was boarded over to allow safe access and egress while on the move.  I did not want to risk a second episode of falling into the gap. [I came close to being disembowelled and crushed as no one knew of my fall and the tractors kept rolling.]

Golly’s Folly was an enormous success such that on the return trip, which for some reason enjoyed a considerably smoother ride, we were able to sleep and cook whilst under way.  This had not been at all possible on the outward journey due to the lift and thump, lift and thump over the many sastrugi.

Extract from Dog Days on Ice by Peter Noble

[19 Jan 2009]


31 July 2009
1968 index page
Z-fids home page