The 1986 Australian Arctic Kayak Expedition and “Australia’s Preeminent Arctic Explorer”

In a remarkable display of alchemy, Earl has turned a 35-yearold expedition characterized by poor timing, dodgy finances, failed leadership and fractious relations among the crew into a crucible from which he alone emerged triumphant as a self-declared guru of modern leadership theory. Presto! Australia’s gift to rudderless captains of industry worldwide and “acclaimed author” of a self-published book that has sold in the hundreds. Consider the following:

Leading this apparently doomed venture is a charismatic young man. But behind his urbane style lies an iron determination: to succeed whatever the odds, or costs, or die in the attempt. He has stipulated that should he be killed, he is to be buried on the shore and the group must continue.”

The quote above is written by Earl de Blonville, about himself.

It is part of the promotion for his unpublished book (2008) and written long after the 1986 Australian Arctic Kayak Expedition had ended. A practical conversation among expedition members about “what if’s” becomes, in Earl’s telling, a Shakespearean synergy of leadership and mortality. Prose like this is the lens through which Earl’s claims of exploration achievement should be viewed; poetic, self-absorbed and mawkishly overblown.

None of the expedition members had anything positive to say about Earl’s leadership. Among the most experienced expedition members, the videographer Michael Boland, describes Earl as a “Walter Mitty” who spent expedition funds like a drunken sailor. Before they even arrived in Greenland, the bad blood between Earl and the other expedition members had become clear.

After arriving very late in the season and after being advised by locals of the danger posed by “piteraqs”, and ferocious winds and weather that seasonally blow off the icecap, Earl led the expedition on. Lulled by some initial good weather, the group eventually were struck by a severe storm, capsized in their sailboat and survived largely by the serendipitous passing of a freighter and the quick thinking and hand held radio of crew members other than Earl. In the tradition of great leadership Earl describes (in his book, Seventh Journey) his own calculations to insure that he will survive, certain that others wouldn’t, when the boat sinks.

Besides testosterone, what would compel Earl, as leader and therefore ultimately responsible for the safety of the crew, to continue on against the strong advice of locals and Earl’s own study of the dangers the weather posed? Apparently, the financing of the expedition was tied to a short-lived government tax-incentive program, designed to help Australians produce media that could reach beyond Australia’s shores. “Marketing Oz” in other words. Simply put, the investors of the expedition didn’t get their tax breaks if there was no film. And there wasn’t enough footage without staying longer with the inherent risk. Lives were risked to avoid an ignominious, tail between the legs return to Australia. The investors, in return, would have just bought the lads a spendy vacation in Greenland. Full stop.

None of those pesky facts have constrained Earl from relentless self-promotion after the expedition as “Australia’s preeminent Arctic Explorer”, filmmaker, leadership guru, speaker, “acclaimed” author, cyberstalking expert, etc. It was apparent to Boland, the videographer, that from the start of the expedition Earl was already canonizing himself as a worthy successor to Gino Watkins.

An Australian Geographic article from 2011, a classic example of self-promotion and disingenuous answers.