The Antarctic archaeologist with a 'Polar Room' out the back of his Ōamaru home

by Ellen Rykers / 21 December, 2018
David Harrowfield in his "Polar Room". Photo/Guy Frederick

David Harrowfield in his "Polar Room". Photo/Guy Frederick

Inside Antarctic historian David Harrowfield's "Polar Room" in Ōamaru.

A treasure trove of Antarctic memorabilia fills “The Polar Room” at the back of Dr David Harrowfield’s Ōamaru home. There’s a sledge from the 1957 New Zealand Geological Survey Antarctic Expedition, a stuffed, bowtie-clad Adélie penguin, and a hefty meteorite collected from Antarctica. On every shelf and in every corner there’s a piece of polar history – and a story.

An Antarctic historian and life member of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, Harrowfield has always been a collector. Growing up in Ōamaru, he collected birds’ eggs and butterflies, later switching to fossil fish teeth, which sit in a jar in his living room. Considered the first “Antarctic archaeologist”, he’s been to the icy continent more than 40 times since 1974.

“One of the joys I’ve had out of all my Antarctic work is the people,” says the 78-year-old, who was recognised this year with the naming of Harrowfield Hill on Inexpressible Island in his honour. The hill overlooks a historic site where six men from Scott’s 1910-1913 Terra Nova Expedition spent a miserable winter stuck in an ice cave. Harrowfield hopes to visit the hill in January, when he travels to the Ross Sea as an on-board lecturer for Heritage Expeditions, a role he’s enjoyed performing since 2008.

The Polar Room houses a lifetime of adventures, meticulously recorded in Harrowfield’s diaries and field notebooks. Every guest leaves a message in his visitors’ book, among them an astronaut, a man accused of pinching all the chocolate at Scott Base, and Sir Ed himself, who seemed to appreciate the room’s Antarctic ambience. “I’m quite comfortable here,” he wrote. “I’ve got quite a pleasant glow on.” Sir Ed’s Antarctic gloves now feature in the collection.

Around 12 years ago, Harrowfield donated the bulk of his collection to the Canterbury Museum – and most of the remaining pieces will eventually end up there, too. “I want other people to share it,” he says. “It’s three-dimensional history; the objects have stories to tell.”

This article was first published in the November 2018 issue of North & South.

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