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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
An adventurer who never chooses the easy road, Tim Jarvis has undertaken and re-enacted two of the harshest and most extreme Antarctic adventures – Douglas Mawson and Ernest Shackleton’s survival journeys – choosing to do them in the original clothing, with the same gear used a century ago.
Jarvis was born on 7 May 1966 in Manchester, UK. He studied environmental science and in 1996 went on his first major expedition, a 500-kilometre unsupported crossing of the crevassed ice sheet of Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic, facing polar bears among other dangers. A year later, he came to Australia.
In 1999, Jarvis and fellow Australian adventurer Peter Treseder undertook the fastest unsupported journey to the Geographic South Pole (47 days) and, at the time, the longest unsupported Antarctic journey – 1580 kilometres. During this trip, Jarvis carried Mawson’s balaclava, which had been given to him by Mawson’s grandson.
In 2001 he completed the first-known unsupported crossing of the Great Victoria Desert, covering 1100 kilometres in 29 days. The following year he was back in the cold, on an unsupported trek to the North Pole across 400 kilometres of frozen Arctic Ocean, before undertaking the first unsupported traverse of Australia’s Warburton River and Lake Eyre in 2004.
All of this was just a precursor to his two most extraordinary expeditions. In 2007, Jarvis donned 1912 clothing and equipment, and recreated the distance of Mawson’s survival journey, hauling a sled hundreds of kilometres across the crevassed Antarctic landscape. He tried to subsist, as closely as possible, to the starvation rations suffered by Mawson.
After being made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010, Jarvis then recreated Sir Ernest Shackleton’s incredible Antarctic survival journey of 1916. In an open boat not much bigger than a rowboat, using only a chronometer for navigation and wearing the barely adequate clothing of 100 years ago, Jarvis and five other men sailed 1200 kilometres across the Southern Ocean from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Then Jarvis and two others crossed the island’s precipitous mountains, mostly using the gear available to Shackleton in 1916. This historical re-enactment, completed in 2013, earned Tim Jarvis the Australian Geographic Society’s Adventurer of the Year Award.
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