Australia's legendary polar hero Sir Douglas Mawson survived an epic Antarctic ordeal after he deliberately starved his surviving sledging companion to death, a new book suggests. Mawson's defining feat was to survive a 560-kilometre ice trek in 1912-13 that killed his two fellow explorers, Belgrave Ninnis, who fell into a crevasse with much of their food and equipment, and Xavier Mertz, who died in the struggle to get back to home camp. The man who was pictured on the first $100 note may have calculated there was insufficient food left for both him and Mertz to reach their base, after the loss of Ninnis and most of their food, said Melbourne-based historian David Day. Day suggests that Mawson put himself and Mertz on to starvation rations, calculating that his companion would succumb first, and leaving Mawson with enough food to make it back. The book, Flaws in the Ice, also says that a weakened Mawson may have boiled and eaten Mertz's flesh in an effort to gain strength. Day told Fairfax Media he began examining the Mawson legend closely when questions arose in his mind while writing a history of Antarctica, and he decided the accepted account of the man was no longer tenable. ''He'll always be a legend for what he did,'' Day said. ''But he was two dimensional, and now he's three dimensional.'' It remained to be seen how his book would be received, he said. ''People are sensitive about their heroes.'' Other leading Mawson specialists rejected the claims surrounding Mertz's death, despite what was said to be a need for a critical reassessment of the stoic geologist who fathered Australia's Antarctic exploration The claims are based on analysis of Mawson's records of the the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-14, as well as newly available diaries of other expeditioners. The central drama of the whole expedition came with Ninnis' sudden death and the two survivors' desperate attempt to reach the safety of other expeditioners at Commonwealth Bay. Mawson and Mertz were forced to use a makeshift tent, and eat their Greenland huskies, whose protein-rich meat and toxic vitamin A-laden organs were steadily poisoning them. Mertz was the first to succumb, on January 8, 1913, with Mawson attributing his death to ''weather exposure and want of food''. Flaws in the Ice said among questions raised by this death was the extent to which Mawson was responsible for their plight. ''Had Mawson come to the terrible conclusion that there was only sufficient food for one of them to get back to the hut alive?'' Following Mertz's death, Mawson increased his rations in the hope of gaining enough strength to complete the journey. ''This gives credence to the theory that Mawson had put himself and Mertz on starvation rations in the hope that Mertz would succumb before he did. ''Now that Mertz was dead, Mawson did the opposite of what he had done when Mertz was alive. Instead of drastically reducing his rations whenever he was confined to the tent for a day, Mawson now increased his rations … so he would have the stamina to go on.''