And so it began. Farewelling the Jarntimarra-1 team from the very place Sir Douglas Mawson had left to explore the Antarctic, my sense of disappointment at only being able to join them in a week and a half in Arkaroola was tempered by a quite exhilaration that this was the first real step for our Australian Mars odyssey.
I had arrived in Adelaide from Brisbane the day before ready to meet everyone, with little sleep during the previous 48 hours putting together various details. Things had been coming together well, it had been a wonderful team effort. Our senior support party with vehicles arrived on time at the Adelaide city hotel, and I met John, Bev, Allan, Beryl (Bev and Beryl being sisters), Bill, Rhonda and Rex for the first time. It was only a few months ago that I had purchased a Westprint map, read about the company owners on the back and telephoned John to gauge his interest in JNT-1. His enthusiasm and support had helped bring us to this point. Upon arrival they handled the organised chaos with a relaxed, deliberate ease pointing to their many years of outback tour experience.
I'd bumped into Jennifer outside the hotel the previous morning. Returning from a session of a conference she was reporting on for a client, she had been juggling the constant telephone calls and discussions with journalists wanting to know about JNT-1. The word was getting out - the South China Post had run a story! We had a good laugh at that. I did a couple of interviews accompanied by Jen and she showed me the Jarntimarra-badged drinking bottles, before returning to the conference. I crawled into bed to catch a couple of hours of sleep...
Later I was excited to meet Carol and Larry, who had come out of their 18 hour flight to Australia from San Francisco surprisingly well. Fortunately they were able to spread out over a number of spare seats. Jen put Carol to work immediately with a telephone interview while Larry and I chatted about his background.
Jonathan Clarke then arrived with Michael West from Sydney, shortly after James Waldie arrived from Melbourne. Michael carried a bag of Jarntimarra T-Shirts which became our team uniforms.
With everyone excited to learn more about their team mates, we walked to the Adelaide University Geology Department and met Vic Gostin, Mark Bishop and James Leydon. Vic was enthusiastic and invited us to a student barbeque marking the last day of semester. We mingled and talked further over some snags and the local brew, before heading into the Mawson Theatre to prepare for the public forum Jen and Vic had organised.
The forum was a great opportunity for me to learn more of Carol's work and perspective, as well as the Mars geomorphologic work of Mark, a Doctoral student of Vic's and now lecturer at the University of South Australia. Mark is one of only a handful of Australian academics who has had the opportunity to undertake direct Mars research - I hope we will see many more in the years to come. A primary goal of JNT-1 is to grow this scientific community, providing the nucleus for the space exploration group within a hoped-for future Australian space agency.
We returned to the hotel rooms where James showed us the seamless MCP glove he had been working on with Paul Webb in California, and Jon pulled out some of his geological maps of the route before we all hit the sack.
The day of departure was hectic, with arrival of the support party and placement of stickers on the side of the vehicles. We managed to relax, however, with a long morning breakfast at the South Australia Museum followed by a briefing from myself, Jonathan and John. I distributed a booklet containing some relevant information including the Jarntimarra Database and reiterated our objectives, while Jonathan followed up with some discussion of how he would lead the team on the road and tips such as the importance of hydration and avoiding snakes. John explained some of the camp rules such as the environmental importance of burning toilet paper, which can last for years in the dry outback.
Some members of the team then wandered around the museum while Jonathan, James, Michael and myself tested the satellite phone. The phone worked well, we just had trouble sending and receiving email, which would allow daily field reports to be returned for the website. We fiddled for some time before I decided to buy an interface cable that eventually solved the problem. Jonathan and I made a quick dash to a map shop to fill a couple of minor gaps in data available to the team on the road. Finally, Graham arrived in from Perth and explained how he'd needed every last minute in the lead up to gather cadastral (land ownership) information that would allow the team to readily consult with land owners on the road.
Following some final photographs, the team got away just 15 minutes behind schedule on a beautiful Adelaide morning, fully equipped, fully experienced and fully enthusiastic about the adventure ahead.
I then had an opportunity to explore a wonderful Mawson exhibit at the SA Museum. The parallels between the life, work and interests of Sir Douglas, our efforts and the journey to Mars were absolutely uncanny. Mawson is truly an inspiration not just to Australians but surely to Mars advocates the world over - highly educated yet practical and at his best in the field, with an unbending will and determination, and a precise, analytical and scientific mind. He sought to understand the hostile Antarctic for the benefit of science but as a mining engineer and geologist was an advocate of well managed of resource utilisation for the benefit of society. He exposed himself to the perils of the Antarctic and prevailed.
His geological laboratory was the Flinders Ranges and he inspired and mentored dozens of leading scientists who have helped make central Australia one of the world's most important paleo-geologic provinces for understanding the first life on Earth. Mawson was a Mars pioneer ahead of his time, he would have been very pleased to join Jarntimarra-1.
The Expedition Party: