We have only been here roughly 8 weeks, but the things we’ve achieved in that short time make the first memories feel more like a year ago. I can still feel the elation that hit me when first stepping off the plane and standing with the group of winterers who had come to pick us up. Sucking in deep breaths of the icy cold Wilkins air, all while watching the first timers of our flight showing the signs of overwhelming excitement over their eventual arrival in the most beautifully, desolate and hard-to-reach place on earth.
We got to station, settled in and completed the 2 week stint of “enhanced social distancing” for COVID precautions, before being able to properly settle in to our new home, and enjoy things like our new rooms in the legendary Red shed: the mess, the cinema, the library, and the bar – complete with darts and pool. Next was handover, walking around for 3 or 4 days in our trade groups being shown around the station and trying to cope with the information overload that was coming our way. Imagine going into a new house and being shown around once and trying to remember where every single item in the house is, that’s kind of similar, except half the items on an Antarctic station are unfamiliar to you, but everyone got through that period without being too overwhelmed, so that was good.
Then came fire team handover – another bout of walking laps of the station – but this time going through every building and getting familiar with the layout, the potential hazards inside should a fire occur (flammable liquids, gasses, corrosives, dangerous tooling etc.), and the firefighting equipment available in the building and its vicinity. This too equated to information overload but we got through that alright, without anyone getting too stressed out or frustrated. Once this was complete we officially had the reigns of the station, the members of the 74th ANARE were dealing with issues as they arose and we had our own fire team online. Finally the remaining expeditioners of the 73rd ANARE could take a beath.
Happening at the same time as station handover and fire team handover was survival training, which is where a group of 3-6 people go for a 2 day walk out into the field with an FTO (Field Training Officer). These people are outdoor survival experts and they take us out and show us how to do basic navigation using map and compass, and GPS so that if we get in to trouble we will have the skill required to report our position to station. They also teach us about the hazards of the Antarctic environment, such as ice cliffs that are so well camouflaged that they almost can’t be seen, and sea ice: identifying when you’re actually on the sea ice as the ground looks identical when everything is blanketed in snow, and how to check the condition of the ice you’re walking on so you don’t end up in trouble and having to use those navigation skills.
Outside of work time, a few groups have been lucky enough to get out to the field huts now which is very exciting for them. the field huts are great as there are interesting things to see at each of them and you get to leave the confines of the station and unwind. We’ve had some great photos from people’s endeavours going up on the wall in the bar, making what is effectively a public photo album of season highlights, it’s a really cool thing. I must give credit to those who came before us for starting this trend though, we are just following suit and keeping this awesome thing going.
Christmas break arrived after a busy first-half of the summer season. We ran a Secret Santa program; normally this would mean people have brought gifts down with them, but this year since a lot of us didn’t have a chance to buy gifts while in Hobart, so we crafted gifts with scrap materials instead. Everyone was very excited to unwrap their presents, both from Santa and family back home. The station’s Christmas decorations were up and the pile of gifts under the tree got bigger every day as people finished off their gifts. Some of the more dedicated expeditioners played Christmas carols in the mess and throughout the red shed when they’ve been doing their slushy (kitchen hand) duties, so it was very Christmassy and exciting down here!
Steve "Muscles" Middleton