Bears on Ice — Tales of Adventure

Bears on Ice — Tales of Adventure

No, not polar bears!  Geobears!  What are those you might ask?  Years ago a student saw a geography activity in a book and shared it with me at school.  I launched my “Geobear” program over 17 years ago, and it’s been a great learning experience for both my students and myself throughout the years.  Each year we send out small stuffed bears identified with a name tag and instructions.  Those bears (which students name) travel the world and send us information about the places they visit.  In 1999 I sent out a message through an Antarctic network, asking if anyone would like to take a bear along on an adventure.  Little did I know what was to come.

Gordon Bain, working for the Australian Antarctic Division in Tasmania, volunteered to take a small bear on his voyage South that season.  I mailed “Brownie” off to him and our adventure as friends and colleagues in education truly skyrocketed.

Gordon wrote back to the class that school year, and sent wonderful photos of Brownie getting involved on the ship, the Aurora Australis (named after the Southern Lights).  Gordon’s notes and photos taught my class so much about Antarctica and the Australian stations, and about being transported to Antarctica by ship. This was very different from the military plane I had flown to Antarctica on just the year before.

We learned through the eyes of our little bear and our new friend, Gordon (look for Brownie in Gordon’s pocket in the photo below).

Gordon with Brownie in pocket

Brownie helped with navigation on the ship.

Brownie with map

Brownie accompanied Gordon as he went ashore to visit each station.

Gordon with Brownie

The voyage stopped at the four main stations run by Australia:  Casey, Mawson, Davis, and Macquarie Island.  The purpose of the voyage was to resupply and deliver fuel to Mawsone, deliver some supplies to Davis and Casey and some ‘heavy lift’ items to Macquarie Island.  They also backloaded highpriority cargo, retrieved expeditioners from all four stations heading back to Australia, delivered some wintering expeditioners to Mawson, and supported marine science activities while in transit.

Welcome to Davis

Brownie at Casey sign

Brownie at Mawson bust


LINKS to the Australian Antarctic Division and the different stations:

Brownie returned to our classroom, sporting a new outfit thanks to Gordon and friends on the Aurora Australis.  Brownie’s new clothing was made of fabric from an old polar parka.


The adventure with Brownie was fun for Gordon as well, and he volunteered the following school year to take another bear on a voyage for the 2000-2001 austral summer season.  That bear was Berkley.  Berkley immediately made “friends” with another stuffed animal, Oz Gold…representing Australia’s recent honor of hosting the Summer Olympics.  The two bears not only learned about life on board the Aurora Australis, but they got into some pretty big adventures along the way. 

Here are some of their antics and experiences.  All of this taught my class (and me) more about the voyage, safety, medical concerns, science and Antarctica!

While on their voyage South, the bears spent a lot of time with Gordon learning to get their sea legs and finding out where things were located on the ship.  At times, they’d gaze out at the ocean and look for wildlife and later icebergs.

Bears, Gordon, Binoculars

Sometimes they viewed the ocean from the vantage point on the bridge.

Bears on Bridge Compass

While other times they looked through the window.  Can you spot the icebergs in the background?

Bears Gazing out Window at Icebergs

Training sessions are a part of every voyage.  Berkley and Oz Gold had to attend these trainings along with Gordon. 

Gordon and Bears in Life Jacket

They are being very attentive bears during this training exercise on the helicopter deck of the ship.

Practicing Rescue Skills on Ship

Good thing they paid attention, because they needed these skills later on in the voyage when on the ice.  In this photo they are truly “bears on ice.”

Bears On Belay

Berkley Dangling From Rope

Berkley and Oz Gold found that using crampons helps grip the ice while walking.  And, using an ice ax is also important in this environment.

Bears Examining a Crampon

Bears With Ice Ax

Sometimes Berkley and Oz Gold were a bit naughty, and in this case they found themselves in a bit of trouble. Gordon found them in the freezer!  Now they were “bears IN ice.”  The containers were cut away, but the bears were still covered in frost and ice.

Bears IN ice

It was time to call in the ship doctor for a consultation.  Thank goodness there was excellent medical care on board the Aurora Australis.  My gosh, the little guys could have been hypothermic! (when the body temperature drops dangerously low)

While the warm bath was prepared, the doctor took Oz Gold’s temperature in his ear.  

Bears Having Temperature Taken With Thermometer

Next Berkley and Oz Gold were thawing out in a warm bath and an IV was started to give them fluids to prevent dehydration. The doctor was checking Berkley’s heart with her stethoscope.  Doctors also massaged their extremities to increase circulation.

Bears and IV

When the bears were clean and dry, they were tucked into a hospital bed for rest and further observation. 

Yes, these are just stuffed bears, but it does demonstrate how the doctor on board would take care of a real patient.  We had a good look at the ship’s medical facilities, thanks to Berkley and Oz Gold.

Tucking in the Bears for Rest

Berkley and Oz Gold visited each science laboratory on the ship.  Marine biologists were actively pursuing research projects while the ship was in transit.

Bears in the Science Lab

In this photo the bears are investigating a sediment trap used by scientists to collect particles in the water column of the ocean.

Bears and Science3

There was always time for a snack on board the Aurora.  What’s that Vegemite stuff?  It’s an Aussie favorite and you spread it on your bread or toast.  Oz Gold loved it; Berkley wasn’t convinced.


Before going ashore to Davis Station, Gordon (and all going ashore) had to clean out his gear and wash off his boots.  This is done to minimize the risk of carrying in contaminants. 

Gordon Cleaning Jacket

Gordon Cleaning Boots

Sometimes passengers were flown off the ship by helicopter.  The area shown below is the helicopter deck of the Aurora. 

The Helicopter Deck on Ship

Berkley tried to hitch a hide, but was discovered and taken off the helicopter.

Berkley and Helicopter

Finally, at Davis Station…68 degrees south latitude; 77 degrees east longitude.

Bears and Gordon at Davis

While at Davis Station, the bears got to say god-bye to legendary dog “Stay.”  Stay was being kidnapped (this is just a joke between stations) and taken secretly from Davis to Mawson Station.

The Dog Named Stay and Bears

I’m adding one last photo for this blog, but there are more photos to be found in the “Bears On Ice” drop down menu on the home page of my blog.  This photo below is perhaps one of my very favorites.  Gordon taught us so much about a totally different way to get to the ice…by modern day icebreaker. Many thanks, even years later, to Gordon, who still inspires me to keep learning and sharing with my students.

For more information on the Aurora Australis, visit:

Teachers, there are many resources to be found at:

Bears and the Aurora

11 responses to “Bears on Ice — Tales of Adventure

  1. Not only did I learn a lot (as usual), but I got a lot of giggles out of this posting. It’s heartening to know that there are so many folks out there all over the world filled with the spirit of learning and fun. Blessings on your work – and those of your colleagues!

    • I know Ann…isn’t it cool to see a person who isn’t necessarily in the teaching profession, teaching SO many people through the eyes of these geobears. And, when Gordon retired, he spent several years going into schools and doing educational outreach about Antarctica. I got a grant and donated a box of books, videos, and teaching materials to teachers in Tasmania, Australia. Gordon added to that and secured other teaching materials and called it “The Ice Box.” It was a great way to spread the word about Antarctica and science. I have a HUGE “Ice Box” collection of my own at home…ready for people to borrow if they want to. I use much of it in my own classroom. 🙂 I love Gordon’s spirit of learning…and ability to spread that enthusiastically to so many others through the bears and his outreach work. 🙂

      • I am thinking you might be just the person to help me find grants to write for A to Z. That’s going to be one of my projects when I leave Illinois.

  2. Have to love those geobears! I remember learning about several of these little travelers when I heard you talk about your first visit to Antarctica, Betty. They still inspire.

    • Thanks Christine! It is so inspiring to me to meet people like Gordon, who can engage learners of all ages through the antics of small stuffed bears! He engaged the people on the Aurora Australis, and in turn they engaged my students and now all of you through the blog. What a gift he’s given us all through Brownie, Berkely, and Oz Gold. 🙂 Happy New Year!

    • I KNOW Gordon had fun! I was so anxious for every new post from him…what escapades were the bears up to now? What a unique way to teach everyone about life on the ship and bases or science in Antarctica! I’ve got those three little bears in a place of honor at my house, and he has replicas of the “gang” at his house. 🙂 Love you!

    • Hi Cassie,
      I know, they were SO creative. Over the years I have so many funny photos or stories from the geobears project. I still have the ones Matt and Ryan took while they were deployed! I need to find a good way to display all of the ones I kept…a good project for “someday.” Love you!

  3. I remember doing these when I was in your class. It was so great receiving information about where the bears are and what they are doing. Maybe I can start something like that in my own classroom

    • Hi Erin,
      It was fun to read your comment…I’ve been sending out geobears for a long time! Yes, you should get it started it your classroom. What level are you teaching? I’d love to visit your class when I get home. 🙂 Cheers from your old (not old, former) teach!

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