Pioneering women honoured in Antarctica

Photo: File.

"They thought I was a feminist, but I wasn’t a f eminist at all… I just liked wearing trousers!"

That seems like a sensible option for Thelma Rodgers who, in 1979, was the first New Zealand woman to spend an entire winter in Antarctica - the coldest place on Earth.

"It was hard going, but I was just fascinated with the landscape, it really enthralled me," she says.

To acknowledge the role that women like Thelma play in making Antarctic scientific advancements, the New Zealand Antarctic Programme has named three science laboratories at the newly refurbished Hillary Field Centre in Antarctica after pioneering female scientists.

Thelma is joined by Pamela Young, the first woman to work at Scott Base (1969/70), and Margaret Bradshaw, the first woman to lead a deep field science event (1979/80). All three women were delighted to be honoured in this way.

Pamela Young’s time in Antarctica began as a field assistant at Cape Bird with her husband, Euan Young. She was amongst the first women to set foot at the South Pole - six women flew to the pole together and linked arms as they walked down the cargo ramp, stepping onto the snow in unison. She was delighted to be there but bemused by the ceremony of it all.

"I simply couldn't think of the spot as that solemn goal to which Scott and Amundsen had toiled.

"Indeed, it seemed just the sort of Pole that Pooh and Piglet might have set out to find and it fitted perfectly into the circus like atmosphere of our own visit," she says.

Pamela already has a 5km long range of peaks named after her in Antarctica, ‘The Young Peaks’, yet when told there would soon be a ‘Pamela Young Science Laboratory’ in Antarctica, she was quick in replying; "I’m quite overcome by that, you’ve made my day!"

Geologist Margaret Bradshaw first travelled to Antarctica in 1975/76 to collect samples for the Canterbury Museum where she was developing the Antarctic Wing. She too has a landmark named in her honour - Bradshaw Peak. She was the second woman ever to receive a Queen’s Polar medal.

"Antarctica has been a very important part of my life," she says. "It’s a magic place to work, especially with deep field parties, where people are highly dependent on each other."

Antarctica New Zealand is delighted to celebrate pioneering female scientists who weren’t even allowed in Antarctica until the late 1960s due to a travel ban on women imposed by the US Defence Force. But Pamela, Margaret and Thelma all said the men they worked with were very kind… once they got used to having a woman on base!

On her first trip to the ice, Margaret remembers a resident male’s shock at seeing her and a fellow female scientist. "We’ve come down here to get away from people like you!" he exclaimed. But Margaret adds that attitudes changed towards women on base and, in the end, men were quick to accept "people like them".

Antarctica New Zealand is thrilled to honour these pioneering women, who have humbly lent their names to Zealand’s southern-most science labs.


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