University Of Tasmania
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A polar explorer in insanity’s archives: transmitting the story of Antarctic wireless operator Sidney Jeffryes

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 07:38 authored by Elizabeth LeaneElizabeth Leane
This article recounts the author’s journey through polar and asylum archives in order to tell the story of a forgotten Antarctic expeditioner. A radio operator for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, Sidney Jeffryes was a pioneer of Antarctic telecommunications, making two-way wireless contact between the continent and the rest of the world for the first time. However, his mental illness during and after the expedition saw him institutionalised and marginalised from Australian Antarctic exploration history. Telling Jeffryes’ story challenges the way we remember Australian achievement in the Antarctic, but piecing this story together is far from straightforward. With published accounts often eliding his achievements or repeating century-old misstatements, documents preserved in archives become key witnesses to his experience. Dispersed, faded, often illegible, and swamped by the masses of irrelevant documents surrounding them, these feel like the noisy signals that Jeffryes decoded in the Antarctic. In attempting to transmit Jeffryes’ story, this article also tells the story of deciphering his messages from the past. For the conservator, the important lesson is that the material documents held in the archives, although at times messy and frustrating, enabled this retelling. Indeed, this messiness was an integral part of their message.


Australian Research Council


Publication title

AICCM Bulletin








School of Humanities



Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2019 The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Understanding Australia’s past