Australia Day at Davis

Squirrel helicopter at Davis helipad.
Squirrel helicopter at Davis helipad. (Photo: J Smith)
Australia Day soccer match in full swing on Davis beach.Some expeditioners go for a dip during the Australia Day soccer match on Davis beach.Cricket at Davis on Australia Day 2003.

26 January 2003

Contrasting projects reached fruition on Australia Day, January 26th, thanks to marvellous weather. This summer Davis is certainly living up to its reputation as the Riviera of the South. The Australian and Aboriginal flags barely fluttered beside the ANARE pennant in the sunshine.

Soccer and cricket pitches had been lovingly prepared, on the beach and by the workshop. On my way to breakfast, from an upstairs window I could clearly see the soccer field just above the tide-line. The only possible fly in the ointment, a large one, happily had returned to sea – the first of the elephant seals which gather in late summer to moult. Wildlife takes priority, so if it was still there we would have had to move.

The games would start at noon. Earlier activity on this fine morning took the form of helicopter-borne science. The forecast was good so there were plans to fly the helicopters to Amery Ice Shelf. All four could be used so long as two returned to meet the Twin Otter flying in from the mountains in late afternoon. This plane can no longer land at Davis because the sea-ice has gone, so it will put down on snow thirty kilometres away with helicopters providing a shuttle service.

The four glaciologists and a geologist were at breakfast. Two would be heading to some remarkably exciting ice, where recording devices had been placed astride a vast, rapidly growing chasm that will result in an iceberg 30 kilometres wide breaking away from the ice shelf any year now. A Field Training Officer was going with them for safety, to explore for crevasses with an ice axe, securely roped to the hovering helicopter.

Others were to adjust and download electronic equipment and collect scientific gear from separate sites. All tasks had to be completed before the next ship arrives. This sunny day could not be wasted.

Watching the squadron depart felt like being in a Battle of Britain film. Over the next few hours their progress could be followed through reports from each helicopter every 15 minutes. The radio room had a busy day.

By noon the beach was becoming crowded with players, supporters and photographers. The soccer teams were Australia vs the Rest of the World, with the latter having the obvious talent, from Serbia, England, Holland and elsewhere. The rules were a little elastic, and refereeing was left to consensus. There were no goalkeepers, with (approximately) seven a side on the field at any one time.

Running in the soft sand was tiring. Two skuas were attracted to the scene and even tried to attack the ball (giant penguin egg?). It was joyous pandemonium. Nobody was injured thanks to the soft pitch although some older members later had sore knees. After an hour, despite the flexible rules, it had to be admitted that Australia had lost, 1-2.

As the teams assembled for a photograph, a Weddell seal surfaced a few metres offshore with a fish, which it quickly swallowed. The rippled sea looked inviting. Suddenly several players removed their shirts and boots and plunged in for the briefest of swims.

Javelin and haggis throwing followed, and a barbecue. The javelins were bamboo canes normally used to mark routes across ice. They wobbled badly and were hard to propel. Throwing the haggis was even harder; we didn't have the genuine article, and thin rubber pharmaceutical devices were used instead, filled with some nameless viscous fluid and swimming in a pail of oil. Their shapeless form, slippery surface and vulnerably thin membranes ensured that many broke or went astray in the throwing, which had to be performed standing on a fuel drum.

The cricket saw Australia again face the Rest of the World. The umpires wore white coats, and the scoring was conducted by a trio seated in the back of a ute, at a table with a vase of plastic flowers, glasses, and a bottle of champagne. A large sign draped across a piece of heavy machinery proclaimed Davis cricket ground.

Everyone had both a bat and a bowl. Local rules were imposed capriciously, and the scorers didn't keep accurate totals, but none of that mattered. The stands were full of raucous, bare-chested Aussie and Barmy Army supporters, and everyone had a great time. In the end it was clear that Australia had won, even though nobody knew the real score.

Meanwhile, news from the southwest was good: the helicopters were flying the scientists around safely with only minor delays. By the time the Twin Otter was on its way to us, their complex program was complete and they were themselves homeward bound. Four tasks of remote, difficult science had been completed as triumphantly as the outdoor sporting program.

Back at Davis, the judging of the Davis logo competition came next. Most expeditions like to design their own logo. This year's was to be selected by open competition. There were seven entries. After long deliberation, the judges announced the winner: a design featuring five accommodation containers each bearing one of the letters D A V I S, with a friendly Adélie penguin to one side. The final events of the sporting day were the darts and pool finals, held in the bar.

The Twin Otter found a good snow ridge to serve as a ski-way, where the ice plateau meets the northernmost Vestfold Hills. Two helicopters flew there with two expeditioners to erect a tent, and to bring back the three Canadian aircrew. They are old friends, having been here for several weeks in November before they left for the PCMEGA expedition.

The reunion provided another happy note on which to end a memorable Australia Day. Tomorrow we all go back to work: unlike Australia itself we have no public holiday. The weather forecast is again good, there is much work to do, and we cannot waste any of these lovely Riviera days.