3 September 2010

Davis 1957 Wintering Team

Davis Station, Antarctica 68º35’S 77º58’E

One of the main goals of the 2010 wintering team at Davis has been the on-going work on a new living quarters for the station.  A living quarters houses the kitchen, dining, lounge library and other facilities to make life more habitable for expeditioners; whilst being away from all the modern conveniences taken for granted back home.  The building when complete will provide considerably more space and quality of life for future expeditioners, compared with the current living quarters, which was opened in 1979. 
However despite the (perceived) shortcomings of today’s living conditions at Davis, they are considerably different to those experienced by the initial Davis wintering team in 1957.  This week we look back at the conditions and facilities provided for that initial Davis wintering team.

 

An aerial view of Davis in January 1957
An aerial view of Davis in January 1957
Photo: Phil Law

The need to install a station at the Vestfold Hills was driven on two fronts, first being that 1957 was the International Geophysical Year (IGY) and secondly that it looked then; that at least one of the other 11 countries participating in the IGY was keen to establish a station of their own there.

After journeying from Mawson; the Kista Dan arrived at the Vestfold Hills near Magnetic Island on 11th January 1957.  An aerial recce of the coast was undertaken by Phil Law (the then Director of the Australian Antarctic Division) and Grove, the pilot.  Law noted three inlets and three indentations that could potentially be suitable as sites for the station.  He returned to the ship and at 11pm (24hrs of sunlight in early January) took Dingle, Macey, Stinear, Gallasch and Heidemann in the ship’s boat to examine the shoreline more closely.  None of the sites looked promising initially, but on closer examination of an indentation Law had labeled ‘B’ it was decided that, although not ideal because a lack of water supply, this site could work.

 

Law’s sketch of possible sites for the station. Site 2 is Heidemann Bay, “B” is the chosen location 
Law’s sketch of possible sites for the station. Site 2 is Heidemann Bay, “B” is the chosen location
Photo: Phil Law
From ‘You Have To Be Lucky’ by Phillip Law

At around midday the following day, the first DUKW (amphibious vehicles) landed on the beach, unloaded some cargo and the men cleared a track from the beach to the building site with picks and shovels.  They set up a temporary camp on the beach and brought the hut sections ashore.  Construction of the station huts started in earnest the following morning – 13th January.

 

Naming of the Station in honour of John King Davis 13 Jan 1957 
Naming of the Station in honour of John King Davis 13 Jan 1957
Photo: AAD

As Phil Law states “At 1600 hours on January 13th 1957 work stopped and all hands assembled around a flagpole, which had been strapped to the wall of the first hut being erected, which was the sleeping hut. Phillip Law made short speech stressing the importance of the new station in the IGY program. This was followed by short account of achievements of Captain John King Davis, the singing of God Save the Queen, three cheers and then back to work.”

The station basically consisted of three main huts (sleeping, community and powerhouse – all connected), along with a store, a garage and an aurora observatory.

The sleeping hut

This was the first building erected at Davis and was basically an aluminum-sheathed hut with five single cubicles.  Each had a raised bunk with desk and drawers underneath.  The hut was heated electrically by a heater at one end and the warm air ducted to each compartment at floor level.

Erecting the Sleeping Hut – 13 Jan 1957 
Erecting the Sleeping Hut – 13 Jan 1957
Photo: Bob Dingle

The community hut contained the kitchen, mess, radio room and met office and was joined by a corridor to the sleeping hut.   The five wintering expeditioners basically spent their time in a “living” area that was little more than 15ft by 10ft (14m²).

 

Layout of the Community Hut at Davis
Layout of the Community Hut
Photo: AAD
All the latest appliances for 1957
All the latest appliances for 1957
Photo: Bob Dingle
Radio Operator Alan Hawker at work
Radio Operator Alan Hawker at work
Photo: Bob Dingle

This hut was barely suitable for its intended role: by mid-May snow drifts had sealed off the main access resulting in access via the corridor to the Engine Hut or via the roof hatches.  By September, considerable water leaks were occurring through the walls and roof as the winter snow drifts began to thaw.  Apart from the corridors that joined the Community Hut to the Sleeping hut, another corridor was installed to join this Hut to the Engine hut.

 

Nils in the escape hatch at the rear of the community hut 
Nils in the escape hatch at the rear of the community hut
Photo: Bob Dingle


The engine hut initially housed the two Lister 15kVa generator plants, a small workshop and the station bathroom. 

 

Station bathroom and water supplies in the Engine Hut 
Station bathroom and water supplies in the Engine Hut
Photo: Bob Dingle

Water was obtained in winter by using heat exhaust from the engines to melt ice, and in summer a solar still was used to desalinate seawater.  Fresh water was a major concern and the Chief Engineer of the Kista Dan rigged up a distilling plant with two electric elements.  Bob Dingle (OIC) years later fessed up that alternative methods were also adopted:
“We had a small plywood dinghy on the base with us, and if we saw a little bit of ice floating down the bay, we’d jump in the dinghy and go out and lasso this bit of ice and bring it into shore.  And then take it back to camp and chop it up and put it into the snow melter.  But once we had our first blizzard (and the snow came) we had no problem as far as water was concerned after that.” 
W.R.J. Dingle interviewed by Tim Bowden ABC – 25 Nov 1987

The solar still to produce fresh water from salt water was one of many different methods adopted over the next 50 years to supply adequate fresh water at Davis.  The black cylindrical container with tap and length of hose was designed to store seawater.  Reverse Osmosis is now utilized at Davis to carry out the same task.

 

Solar Still at Davis in 1957
Solar Still at Davis in 1957
Photo: Bob Dingle
Solar Still at Davis in 1958
Solar Still at Davis in 1958
Photo: Peter King
Augmenting the water stocks
Augmenting the water stocks
Photo: Alan Campbell-Drury


The store hut was isolated from the other buildings to serve as an emergency shelter should the main buildings be damaged as a result of fire.

The garage was also constructed away from the main buildings and apart from the storage of vehicles (Fergie Tractor that winter), but also where Met balloons could be filled with hydrogen.

The aurora hut was a perspex-domed observatory located on the slope above the station, housing the all-sky camera for aurora photography. 
 
Auroral Hut at Davis in 1957
Auroral Hut at Davis in 1957
Photo: Phil Law

The balloon theodolite shelter was never considered part of the Station proper due to its distance from the main buildings, but served its purpose through to 1994 when a new Meteorology shelter was commissioned.


 

Auroral Hut at Davis in 1957
Auroral Hut at Davis in 1957
Photo: Phil Law
Main Complex at Davis 1957 
Main Complex at Davis 1957, the right-hand building being the sleeping hut, followed by the Community Hut (Main Access Door showing) and then the Engine Hut (Powerhouse). The Store is some 30m to the far left and the Garage 50m to the far right – Photo looking West
Photo: Phil Law


By the evening of January 20th (eight days after starting), the station was deemed ready for occupation and the Kista Dan set sail for Mawson.  It returned in mid February to drop off Nils Lied who had just completed a winter at Mawson and had volunteered to double up.

The first wintering party comprised of:
W.R.J. Dingle, OIC & Met: Previous winters at Heard Is - 1947, Mawson - 1954 and Macquarie Is - 1956 (Bob Dingle traveled back to Aust from Macquarie Is on the December 1956 relief voyage and six days later was heading south to Davis).
B. Steiner, Geologist: Mawson - 1954
A.C. Hawker, Radio Supervisor: Macquarie Is - 1954
N.T. Lied, Radio Officer: Heard Is - 1951 & Mawson - 1956
W.C. Lucas, Diesel Mechanic: First Winter
 

Davis 1957 Wintering Team: Nils 'Father' Lied, Bruce Stinear, William 'Bob' Dingle, Alan Hawker and William 'Bill' Lucas out front of the Engine House 
Davis 1957 Wintering Team: Nils 'Father' Lied, Bruce Stinear, William 'Bob' Dingle, Alan Hawker and William 'Bill' Lucas out front of the Engine House
Photo: AAD

Their main scientific tasks were carrying out a geological survey of the east coast of Prydz Bay, and conducting meteorological and auroral observations.

The party was not completely isolated, as Beaver aircraft flew between Mawson station (established February 1954) and Davis several times transferring personnel and supplies.  During May of 1957, the Mawson surveyor Morris Fisher spent time at Davis and later on in August, Bruce Stinear was flown 637 km to Mawson to continue his geology work.

 

Beaver A95-202 on the fast ice at Davis 
Beaver A95-202 on the fast ice at Davis
Photo: Bruce Stinear


And finally the 50th team to winter at Davis (it was closed for four years in the late 1960s) wish Happy Birthday to Geoff Brealey – who just happens to be the only one of 25 of us here this winter who can actually remember 1957 (only two were born at that stage).

This page was last modified on 7 September 2010.