When people found out I was heading to Casey Station I was asked two questions. The first: “why?”
My answer was always why not, it’s the chance of a lifetime.
The second question: “what will you be doing down there?”
All I was able to say was communications. I was pretty vague with my answer because I wasn’t sure myself what I’d be doing in Antarctica, but now I am!
Basically the Senior Communications Technical Officer (me) maintains any device you watch, talk with, or listen to (wise words from another Comms Tech). This means everything from telephones/radios, GPS units, video conference units, computers/printers and x-ray machines just to name a few. If something stops working on station we have to get it working again with what we have available. There are no service calls here.
Over summer, Casey is a pretty busy place. Station population peaked at around 118 this season. With a mixture of trades and science people, it was enough to keep the comms team very busy. The summer comms team numbered five, comprising three Communications Operators (Robyne, Amanda and Rachel), one Information Technology Officer (Brendan) and me.
The Communications Operators handle all the day-to-day radio and telephone traffic. Keeping in touch with any field parties, aircraft in the Casey area, and a deep field camp that was 133km away drilling ice cores to study climate change. They also handled all other queries that came from any source.
That left Brendan and myself to handle all the technical aspects of station life which included helping expeditioners to connect their personal devices to the Casey networks. We both provided technical support to the science teams on station and also the media team when Dr Karl and BTN from the ABC arrived on station for a short visit. The whole of summer was a blur, with lots going on, and with every flight there was always some new development to deal with.
At the end of the summer season we said goodbye to the summer crew as they flew back north to the warmer weather, fresh fruit/vegies and long showers, and I took over the role of the Communications Operator. This required liaising between the incoming Airbus 319 flight and Melbourne air traffic control, and providing positon updates and also clearances to arrive and depart from Wilkins Aerodrome.
Once the last flight left, the comms team went from a group of 5 people, who I couldn’t have been without over the summer season, to just myself for the next seven months, in a total winter team of 29. Now I juggle all three hats of Comms Operator, IT guru and Comms Tech. Luckily my colleagues are all very patient when it comes to dealing with the comms guy that hides up in the Operations building.
Over the last 5 months I have met a lot of very interesting and talented people from all corners of the earth. It has been a fantastic experience so far. I have also missed out on a lot back home, with the birth of a new grandson to my mates wedding, but I know that everyone at home understands this is an opportunity of a lifetime.
I have seen penguins and seals in their Antarctic environment, which very few people get to experience, and also witnessed Casey’s extreme weather, from beautiful clear days with positive temperatures to high winds (above 150km/h) and freezing temps (-15 C). I can only imagine what other amazing experiences are yet to come.