A day in the life of an Antarctic carpenter

Damian Love, Macquarie Island 2005

I’ve been interested in the Antarctic and subantarctic since I was a child growing up with the stories of my father's friend, who was involved with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.

In 1985 my brother ventured south as a diesel mechanic and, while bidding bon voyage to the Ice Bird in Hobart, I decided I wanted to go to Antarctica too. So I began to steer my career in that direction.

I gained my qualification as a carpenter through a four-year carpentry and joinery apprenticeship at Box Hill College of Technical and Further Education. The training included concrete construction, steel work, form work, and domestic and commercial building and maintenance. I then undertook further studies in building and construction, safety, rigging, scaffolding, management and supervision, and gained various plant and equipment licences.

I’ve worked in many sectors of the building industry including housing, multi-storey and resort construction, and directed my own company, which specialises in property management and maintenance in Melbourne.

In 1998 I achieved my goal when I spent a summer at Mawson and a winter at Casey. From 1999 to 2002 I spent two summers and a winter at Mawson, where I was involved in the wind turbine construction. I'm now working at Macquarie Island.

For a tradesman, working in Antarctica or the subantarctic provides a great opportunity to learn about the scientific work that Australia conducts and to contribute to the achievement of our country's scientific goals.

The projects I have been involved in give me great satisfaction, especially when the results are published. These projects have included the Penguin Monitoring Programme at Béchervaise Island, the Amery Ice Shelf hot water drilling project, and the Prince Charles Mountains Expedition of Germany and Australia.

As a carpenter at Macquarie Island I’m involved in a range of activities, including:

  • replacing doors and furniture
  • repairing storm-damaged buildings
  • venturing out into the field to maintain field huts
  • coordinating cargo and personnel at resupply.

Indoor maintenance is a priority in the colder months and so my skills at plastering and painting are called upon.

We only get one resupply a year, so stock inventory is of the utmost importance. As there is no local hardware store from which to purchase additional stock, some improvisation may be required if the correct materials are not available.

Because of the weather, work days need to be carefully planned. If the weather is clear then priorities may change in order to do outside work. If the weather is bad, or the conditions change quickly, outside work may need to be postponed and other jobs attended to.

I have a few other duties, the most interesting and important of these being fire chief and theatre nurse. As fire chief I’m responsible for fire management strategies on station. In such a remote location, it is important to be able to deal with any emergency response as it occurs, and this requires that I conduct routine checks and ongoing maintenance through the year.

As a theatre nurse I assist the doctor with any medical problems that may occur. I am also on the boating team, search and rescue team, and during resupply I’m involved with cargo and logistics management.

I feel privileged to be living in this unique heritage area. From the station we can see elephant seals, Hooker’s sea lions, fur seals, gentoo and king penguins and an abundance of other bird life. The chance to live and work with a group of people from varied backgrounds and experiences has also enabled me to learn more skills and work within a team environment.