For the Birds

I found my ARSC newsletter in the post when I arrived home this evening. I was quite taken with the illustration on back, RAAF pilot Eric Douglas playing a record for Adelie penguins in Antarctica, January 1931:

Pilot Officer Eric Douglas playing music for unappreciative Adelie penguins, January 1931

The photo was taken by Frank Hurley during the British, Australian and New Zealand Research Expedition (BANZARE) of 1929–1931, an “acquisitive” expedition with the purpose of claiming extensive areas of the Antarctic for the British Commonwealth.

I enjoyed the photo’s playful tenor. Though the caption suggests “unappreciative” penguins (how would appreciative ones look?), the one reproduced in the newsletter shows one looking directly at the phonograph with what might be interpreted as an inquisitive gesture (then again, how would an inquisitive penguin look?). Perhaps somewhere in the National Library of Australia there is documentation as to what Douglas was playing for the penguins!

More photos are at the exhibit page, including a feature on albatrosses. More materials, including photographs and documents from the BANZARE expedition, can be searched online at the National Archives of Australia.


12 thoughts on “For the Birds

  1. That is my father Eric playing a vinyl record for the Adelie penguins at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay – it would have been something like ‘the French Song’ or ‘the Girl That I Marry’


      • 6th January, 1931 “…We brought along a portable H.M.V. gramophone and played it to the Penguins in a nearby rookery, they did not appreciate good music, but kept picking at the instrument in their anger. We also introduced Mickey the mouse (a three ply cutting of Mickey standing about two feet high). In the rookery he was received by pecks and beating flippers from the birds standing on their nests. Later on we planted him in a pathway that the penguins take when walking along the icy foreshore, and here he was an object of great interest…” from the log by Eric Douglas


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