A long held dream: diesel mechanic heads to Antarctica

Man in high visibility vest with laptop in mechanical workshop
Mike Clements (Photo: G. Ratcliffe)
Group of diesel mechanics, large vehicle in the backgroundA range of machinery and vehicles in workshopExpeditioner servicing a generator in the power houseCrane and expeditioners working at Casey fuel farmGrader pushing snowVehicle being repaired with large heater equipped attached

13 September 2007

Mike Clements first wanted to go to Antarctica when he saw an ad for a senior diesel mechanic in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1978.

It's taken him twenty years to realise his dream and finally head for Casey on Voyage 2 next month, with a roundabout route leading him to many countries along the way.

The possibility of going south inspired him to take up an apprenticeship as a mechanic when he left school. However the lure of racing proved too tempting a diversion and in his own words, became an all consuming passion until the late eighties.

Wanderlust returned but instead of Antarctica, he headed for warmer climates and worked in the remote southern highlands of Papua New Guinea. Over the next 15 years, periods in northern Australia working in remote indigenous communities were interspersed with contracts in Ethiopia, Chad and Mozambique.

Mike considers himself lucky to have undertaken mechanical training in the days when it had a more general focus than the specialisations so common today. He has developed versatile mechanical skills and feels comfortable with a range of work, whether it be vehicle and equipment maintenance, water pump manufacture or well construction.

A Plant Inspector responsible over the summer for 3 other diesel mechanics on station and 2 at Wilkins Runway, Mike won't return to Australia until late in 2008. This will be an exciting year with the impending introduction of intercontinental air transport and Mike's role will be a challenging one.

Despite the breadth of his experience, additional training has been essential. On station, the mechanics work with the electricians to maintain the power house, with relevant skills taught prior to departure. All the diesel mechanics for 2008 have now obtained a certificate in power generation.

The Australian Antarctic Division has also provided training in specialised mobile crane operation, a significant upgrade to Mike's existing ticket, as well as JCB telehandler, Hägglunds vehicle maintenance and Caterpillar loader handling. A full week of Caterpillar training will familiarise all the mechanics with the equipment they will be operating down south, particularly those involved with the Wilkins Runway facilities.

Managing large mechanical workshops with remote crews, and providing training when required, has been a major aspect of Mike's work in isolated areas, experience he believes will serve him well in Antarctica:

I am looking forward to getting to Casey. Professionally I have always got a kick from making something from nothing, so the prospect of remote work and 'making do' with limited resources is appealing.

On a personal level, this year will fulfil a long-held interest to visit Antarctica. I am also looking forward to the community aspects. In the normal work world, you are just lumped together because of your professional skills, but in Antarctica, people are selected for their social skills as well. I think sharing the experience of this year with such a select group will be very rewarding.

We plan to follow Mike's progress throughout the year, so stay tuned to these web pages for updates through 2008.