This week at Casey: 31 January 2020

This week at Casey Comms tells us about the way it used to be and our winter FTO explains what happens during travel training

VNJ Casey

VNJ Casey is the call sign name for all radio communications going in and out of the Casey Station Communications Centre.

In 1988, present day Casey station was opened, however communications in 1988 were vastly different to those that are provided at Casey station in our present day.

In 1989 the “Code Book” that was published for the “Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions” gives us a brief insight as to what expeditioners in those days used to communicate.

The original book is still stored at the VNJ Casey radio room. Simple in theory, the first half of the book breaks messages into themes such as - field journeys, sea ice, misunderstanding, blizzards and holidays, to name a few. With such varied themes, expeditioners of the day would have been able to construct both work reports and personal messages to loved ones.

Each phrase is then allocated a five letter code. The instructions read, “Codes may be used instead of phrases when preparing telex messages,” implying that expeditioners were still permitted to use plain language if required. However, the codes were more efficient.

The second part of the book is dedicated to decoding messages, where the codes are listed alphabetically – so that when the expeditioner received a block of 5 letters, they could quickly reference its meaning.

Moving forward to 2011, VNJ Casey introduced a dual screen communications monitoring console system which visually displays multiple channels from multiple radios. The system, still currently in use, includes a touch screen interface, and voice recording playback, all encased in a purpose built high quality steel cabinet. Short voice radio messages are sent to planes, boats and around station, and if required VNJ Casey can make satellite phone calls anywhere in the world. Longer messages can be typed and sent via e-mail, in the same you would send e-mails from your personal e-mail account.

The present system has served the station well for many years. However, we are all excited about the future console that is in the process of being integrated as we write this article. It will be ergonomic, fast, efficient and all encompassing. The new console's capabilities will offer a similar service, with a few added intelligent features, all wrapped up in a single touch screen monitor, microphone and headset.

The building is abuzz with a dedicated two-person installation team toiling to ensure that the system is installed and tested to the highest standard, working with the core communications operators every day. It is an exciting time to be here during these changes, and I cannot help but wonder what the future radios and interfaces may look like during the next upgrade whenever that may be.

One big question though - once the new console is officially online and the old cabinet is removed – what will we do with all the extra space?

- Casey Communications Team

The original ANARE Code Book
The original ANARE Code Book
(Photo: Brad Machin)
A closeup of the Code Book cover
A closer look at 1989 technology
(Photo: Brad Machin)
Encoding message page in the Code Book
Encoding message page
(Photo: Brad Machin)
The decoding message page in the Code Book
The decoding message page
(Photo: Brad Machin)
A desk with three monitors
The present console setup
(Photo: Brad Machin)
A desk with telephone and a computer
The new communications console
(Photo: Brad Machin)

All aboard the travel train

The summer kicked off with a perpetual spell of fine weather that allowed all of the wintering expeditioners to undertake their field training which is delivered by the field training officers (FTOs). With a combination of survival training and field travel training being undertaken together over two nights and three days, they really got bang for their buck.

Survival training gives the expeditioners the basic skills to survive in the Antarctic if there was an incident, i.e. a vehicle breakdown, unsafe travel conditions, or the very unlikely occurrence of an injury in the field. Part of this training includes sleeping out for one night in a bivvy bag which replicates the shelter that would be available in a survival situation. All expeditioners carry a field pack when travelling off station which holds the minimum contents for survival in a realistic scenario. After completing this part of the training most expeditioners gain the insight to make every decision possible to avoid having to use the bivvy bag again! 

Field travel training can be more rewarding for expeditioners as it gives them a chance to explore their new surroundings, and to possibly get off station for the first time since arrival. At Casey station this is done on quad bikes which allows the individuals to make independent decisions and understand the terrain for themselves. Throughout the two days we show expeditioners travel routes, navigation skills with GPS and compass, how to assess hazards, learn about weather patterns and their affects, hut use, vehicle recovery, basic search and rescue skills, and much more! The end result is having expeditioners who are capable of traveling in the field for operational and recreational purposes, allowing them to see more and more of the incredible place we will be living for the next year.

The next part of our training is delivering search and rescue (SAR) skills to the team so that as a station we can stand up to respond to any incidents throughout the year.

Flynn Jackman, Casey FTO 

Expeditioners and quad bikes on the ice
Expeditioners chewing the fat after drilling for sea ice depth which indicates…
(Photo: David Wright)
Two expeditioners on the ice
Bill and Mark admiring the view from Robinson ridge after learning how…
(Photo: David Wright)
An Adélie penguin walks across the vehicle tracks in the ice
A curious Adélie penguin visits during a snack break. Penguins will often…
(Photo: David Wright)
quad bikes parked in front of a field hut.
The trusty steeds parked in front of Robbo’s hut. This is one…
(Photo: David Wright)
A group of expeditioners on the ice
Layers stripped after walking up the hill from Shirley Island. With temperatures…
(Photo: David Wright)
A bivvy bag with occupant set up in the snow
Inside the bivvy bag ready for anything. Note how bright it is…
(Photo: David Wright)
Panoramic view of sea ice with Peterson glacier beyond
Taking a walk on the sea ice with Peterson glacier beyond. Notice…
(Photo: Nathan Grace)
An expeditioner on top of a ridge
An expeditioner exploring new heights on Robinson ridge
(Photo: Will Holstein)