The Great White Whale: The Expeditioners


Warwick Deacock OAM: Leader / Climber / Cook / Cameraman

Warwick was a top British Soldier who decided that killing people was no longer for him. Instead, he moved to Australia to kick start its first Outward Bound School and its Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. He joined the 1963 attempt to climb Big Ben on Heard Island, narrowly escaping death five times on that great white whale of a mountain. But like Moby Dick, he returned two years later, leading a ten-man team to take it on again. Though leader and co-cameraman, he also assigned himself the hardest and humblest job of all, ships cook. Utterly respected, his crew mates swore he was Shackleton reincarnated


Dr Grahame Budd AM: Chief Scientist / Climber

At just 24 years of age, Grahame was appointed Doctor and Station Leader at the Australian Antarctic Division’s Base on Heard Island in 1954. Big Ben, Australia’s highest mountain, 500 meters higher than Kosciuszko, loomed above the Base, and there Grahame’s obsession to climb it began. In 1963 he led an expedition of three, including Warwick Deacock (above) and, though frostbitten and lucky to escape with his life, eagerly joined Warwick for a return bout two years later as Chief Scientific Officer.

Colin Putt: Ship’s Engineer / Climber 

Colin was the ultimate example of the archetypal New Zealander who’s able to fix anything with number eight fencing wire. Colin, with his Mensa IQ literally could, or find something else to do the job. Who else would build their own 14-seater car to take his mates bushwalking or go to the end of a railway line below the buffer (“the train didn’t need that part of the rail”) and cut off two lengths of rail to strengthen the anchor, or use a mixture of largely cornflakes to help strengthen the deck. Colin also played an indispensable role as zodiac driver through Heard Island’s life- threatening surf.

John Crick: Quartermaster / Climber

John, as a student at Outward Bound, impressed Warwick Deacock while Warwick was Warden there. John became an instructor there for Warwick while also training as a teacher and as a mountaineer in New Zealand. Warwick selected John as an “Apprentice Expeditioner” on his 1965 Moby Dick attempt on Big Ben. There was a lot of storytelling and singing on board and John later made a career of this, both in his decades as a school teacher and beyond, including, magnificently, in this film.

Phil Temple: Entomologist / Climber / Author

Philip was a member of the team that made the first ascent of the highest peak in our region, Carstenz Pyramid, in what was then Dutch New Guinea. He documented this climb in his book “Nawok”, the start of his lifelong career as a writer. As climber, author, and as a key member of the scientific team, he was selected for the 1965 Heard Island Expedition, despite the fact he couldn’t swim. Not having this skill on a long voyage, through the world’s roughest seas, on a boat that had no deck harnesses, qualified him as the bravest of them all. His other claim to fame is that he found two tiny creatures on Heard a tick and a mite, unknown to science, that are now named after him.

Bill Tilman OBE: Skipper / Navigator / Author

Simply a legend. War hero in both World Wars, pioneering mountaineer with first ascents of Mt Kenya in Africa and Nanda Devi in Pakistan and leader of the 1938 Everest Expedition. Famous also for the books he wrote about these and many other feats. In his fifties he started suffering from mountaineer’s foot which is the inability to place one foot in front of the other with the same ease, and became a sailor, sailing to the most inhospitable and remote regions of the earth such as the Arctic and the Sub-Antarctic. He was the logical choice to Skipper the vessel the expeditioners had hired, and Tilman, then 67 years old, agreed to do so. Later he would be lost at sea, a fate that also befell Patanela, the Expedition ship.

Dr Malcolm Hay OAM: Expeditioner / Cameraman

Malcolm was another of the team with prior Antarctic experience, in Malcolm’s case as Station Leader and Medical Officer at the Australian Base at Mawson in 1961-2. He had just concluded his specialty training in Orthopaedic Surgery when selected for the Heard Island voyage, and he was also given the job of co- cameraman. He thought nothing of climbing unroped to film from the top of the mast, knowing that, as an orthopaedic surgeon, he could treat himself if he fell to the deck. The sea journey so inspired Malcolm that he spent his latter years fundraising and finally building a Sail Training ship for the benefit of young people in his home state of Western Australia.

Tony Hill: Expeditioner / Ship’s Mate

Tony was a brilliant scholar, Dux of Sydney Grammar School, and later Headmaster of Melbourne Grammar School. In his youth he joined Warwick Deacock as an Instructor at Outward Bound, and did lots of sailing, including long ocean races such as the Sydney Hobart race. He was thus a natural choice as Ships Mate, especially as many of the others on board had no prior sailing experience.

Dr Russel Pardoe MBE: Expeditioner / Expedition Doctor

Infantryman, paratrooper, frogman, pilot, doctor. In this latter role, as Medical Officer at Mawson Station in Antarctica in 1962, he had saved the life of a man by performing brain surgery, using modified dental tools, after practicing on a seal. Later in life he migrated to the United States to become a Professor of Plastic Surgery. Because of the potential risks to life and limb on the 1965 Heard Island Expedition Russel was  one of three Medical Doctors on board. They liked to joke, with only some degree of truth, that they spent most of their time treating each other.

Ed Reid: Expeditioner / Radio Operator / Gentleman’s Hairdresser

Like several of the others, Warwick Deacock first met Ed at Outward Bound, where Ed was a seamanship instructor and peerless joke teller. Ed had learnt radio operating skills in the Australian Navy and was just the right person to operate the onboard radio, an appliance so large that it filled the space where the onboard toilet had been. This meant that for four months, through the roughest seas, toileting meant leaning over the ship’s sides. Through morse code communication Ed also picked up weather information, which was invariably bad, but when circumstances allowed, he did what radio operators traditionally did, and offered haircuts.

Dr Jon Stephenson AM  Expeditioner / Climber

With a Doctorate in Geology, Jon worked for UNESCO in West Pakistan, and while there, climbed to within 500m of the summit of the then unclimbed K2, the world’s second highest mountain. Jon then led several Antarctic expeditions and in 1958 was the first Australian to cross the continent and reach the South Pole. In 1963 he accompanied Grahame and Warwick on their ill-fated first attempt to summit Heard Island’s Big Ben, narrowly escaping with his life. He was unavailable for the second attempt two years later, as he was busy establishing the Department of Geology at James Cook University in Queensland.