Chill Factor

Taking pride of place on my office wall is a photo of your Akubra-clad columnist ice fishing on a frozen lake in the Yukon. Whenever Sarah, my four-year-old, says she’s feeling a little cold I take her into my office and point out how her daddy braved minus 35 degree temperatures to lie on the ice and pose for that photo and that she shouldn’t complain about the cold until she’s endured frigid arctic-like weather.

After pestering me for the last year to let her experience such bitterly cold conditions (‘‘just once daddy, so I know what it’s like!’’) during the week, I finally gave in, and while we didn’t set off for an expedition to the Arctic, we did set off for Antarctica. Well, sort of.

...among the penguins is a man in a hat with a sign promoting Cascade beer!

To celebrate 100 years of Australian Antarctic expeditions a couple of my favourite national institutions are currently showing Antarctic-themed exhibitions. It’s a suitably chilly morning (as all days seem to be this winter, or am I just getting older?) as we scurry into the Traversing Antarctica Exhibition at the National Archives of Australia.

While I try and point out examples of the hardships faced by early expeditioners to the great white south, Sarah makes a beeline for the penguins. Whether they’re in photos or taxidermied as part of the collection she obsesses over every single one.

Meanwhile, I stand by one of the touch screens, mesmerised by footage of the aurora australis, a phenomena I’ve always wanted to see in person but never have. I show Sarah a stunning shot of the aurora over Mawson Base to which she responds with a disappointing tone in her voice, ‘‘there’s no penguin in that photo Daddy’’.

It’s actually a reasonably kid-friendly exhibition, lots of hands-on activities (like dressing up explorers from different eras in their kit) and sound stations where you can whack on some head phones and listen to recordings such as a gale howling across the ice fields. It really is enough to send shivers up your spine.

Suitably impressed by Traversing Antarctica (but not cold due to the Eskimo-type layers Mrs Yowie Man insisted she wear when she heard what I was up to), we head back into the fresh morning air.

Next stop is the National Film and Sound Archive’s Extreme Sound and Film Exhibition. Sarah’s obsession with penguins has now reached fever-pitch and she races through the corridors at a breakneck pace, pausing only to look at historic photos featuring penguins. We both stop at the same black and white photo – it features hundreds of penguins and sea elephants at Macquarie Island. What catches my eye, however, is that among the penguins is a man in a hat with a sign promoting Cascade beer. I guess expeditions had to be funded somehow.

All this running around has made Sarah hungry so we stop for a snack at the cafe. While everyone else is huddled inside (they’ve recently added an area for tables in the foyer), to test the effectiveness of Mrs Yowie Man’s arctic-layering on Sarah we wander into the deserted courtyard for our morning tea where Sarah clutches her hot chocolate, while I sample an icy cold Cascade beer (see the not-so-subtle advertising did work after all).

After downing her second hot chocolate and attempting to imitate a penguin waddle to anyone who will humour her, Sarah laments that she still doesn’t feel really cold. Not wanting to shed her layers and be subjected to the wrath of Mrs Yowie Man (who would somehow find out – I guarantee it), I have one last idea to try and make Sarah appreciate the extreme cold that her daddy endured for the ice fishing photo. I bundle her in the car and head to the Phillip Ice Skating Rink, where, on arrival and seeing the large expanse of ice, Sarah politely asks the attendant, ‘‘is it all right if we cut a hole in the ice to look for daddy’s fish?’’

Somehow we are given a pair of skates and ushered into the rink where, while every other kid (and some dads for that matter!) attempts to stay upright, little Sarah spends almost the whole session lying on the ice trying to imitate my ice fishing pose. After about 40 minutes of lying on the ice, she in a matter of fact way, stands up and confesses, ‘‘Daddy, I’m cold now.’’

Come summer, I’ve got a feeling Mrs Yowie Man will be hiding the photo of me walking on hot coals.


National Archives of Australia: Traversing Antarctica: The Australian Experience runs until September 9. Queen Victoria Terrace, Parkes. Open daily, 9am-5pm. Free entry. Don’t miss the time-lapse aurora australis – it’s on the touch screen as soon as you enter the exhibition. Just touch the ship icon and it should pop up and dazzle you.

National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA): Extreme Film and Sound exhibition. McCoy Circuit, Acton. Open daily, 9am-5pm. Free entry. Ph: 6248 2000. Don’t miss the 119-minute loop of films featuring Antarctica runs in the theatrette.

Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre: Irving Street, Phillip. Skating sessions from $15 per person on weekends. Skate hire $3. For session times: or phone 6282 1660.