This week at Macquarie Island: 23 December 2016

Merry Christmas to all! This week we welcome a new island resident, hear how Becca has enjoyed her time and catch up on the wildlife activity at Sandy Bay and some works around station.

Stay here for Christmas

Merry Christmas from all of us (picture only includes those who were in the mess at the right time) here at Macquarie Island! We hope you all have a wonderful time with family and friends and don't miss us too much. We shall be thinking of you all.

We had a special guest turn up today so who's playing Santa is now sorted… 

A group of people around the Mess at Macquarie Island
Merry Christmas from Macca - including those not pictured!
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
A christmas decorated dog statue
'Stay Here' found on the island today - in time for Christmas…
(Photo: E. Rodewald)

Reflections on an island stay

It was an overcast and misty morning. We had just spent three days cutting through the unpleasant waves of the Southern Ocean, but were now putting that all behind us, as we had finally reached our destination.

We stepped foot off the L’Astrolabe onto small inflatable rubber boats and began motoring our way to the faint outlines of a green and mountainous landmass. As we approached in silent awe, we began to hear the roars and grumbles of unidentified beasts, and I was suddenly unsure of what I had signed up for. Where were we?

Soon after that, the bouncing white outlines of rockhopper penguins could be seen through the thick fog and I let out a slight grin. Ten metres closer to the island, the shadowy movements of elephant seals, bigger than I could have ever imagined, caught our attention as they chased each other around the shoreline. My cheeks began to burn with a full–face smile, and it suddenly sunk in – we had finally made it to Macquarie Island. This is a feeling I will never forget. Without even having stepped foot on land, I knew the next nine weeks were going to be an absolute delight. And I was right.

One of the highlights during my stay on Macquarie Island happened on a random weekday night. As I was leaving the mess after a late night cuppa to head to my bunk for the night, I took a quick look up at the sky and could see a dim ribbon of green clouds. It was at that point I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep. I quickly ran to grab my jacket, gloves, beanie, and anything else that would keep me warm, and set off to find a dark place. The next three hours were an absolute and utter jaw-dropping experience; the auroras were finally making an appearance! I lay in the sand, surrounded by penguins, and gazed upwards. Green ribbons seemed airbrushed onto the backdrop of the dark sky. Columns of light danced upon the hilltops, sparkling as the ocean does on a sunny day. The aurora’s light pirouetted above my head, warping into all sorts of shapes and figures, like an entry to an alternate universe. In that moment I could do nothing but stare; do nothing but watch and admire the beauty of what was happening before me.

The island in daylight is just as, if not more, impressive. The wildlife alone is enough to make you giddy with joy. A quick walk along the coastline or up on the plateau presents you with seals doing back flips in the water (literally) to pass the time, penguin colonies with hundreds of birds sitting with adorable fluffy chicks keeping them warm, dinosaur–like birds catching the wind currents and soaring through the air in all of their beauty, and everything in between. In any direction you look, there is something worth admiring; something that you can sit and watch for hours on end. It’s in those moments when you realise what a truly spectacular place our world is. And it’s in those moments when you learn how awe-inspiring it is to see the world when not built up with civilisation.

That is not to say that Macca does not have its downfalls as well. We’ve been hit with cold temperatures, hail, sleet, and winds strong enough to literally lift you off the ground for a second or two (as well as make you feel like your fingers and toes are about to break off like icicles). Those aren’t the most fun of times, but it is still a cool feeling to experience (well, at least the first time). It’s not every day you get a leg work out trying to walk 20 metres out the front door!

All in all, I cannot believe that my nine weeks on Macquarie Island are already coming to an end. The time has absolutely flown by, leaving me ill-prepared to head back to the “real world”. How am I expected to commute to work without passing by a group of gurgling king penguins, or chest-bumping elephant seals? It is going to be tough. I’m not sure if I’ll be coming back to Macquarie Island in the future, but regardless of that fact, this place will always have a special place in my heart. The untouched beauty of the island, along with the amazing people I’ve been able to share it, will always and forever be entirely unforgettable. The cooking massacres with Robbie, Jez, Tim and Geoff in field huts, the late night dart championships with Greg, the Tuesday night TV series with Helen, Esther, and Marty, Rocket’s scrumptious (and fattening) vanilla slices… I could go on and on and on, but the point I’m trying to make is, I am going to miss you, Macquarie Island.

Becca McQuillan 

A lady sits on anchor rock under the aurora
Aurora! Becca on anchor rock under the southern lights.
(Photo: Becca McQuillan)
Two weaners in the water at sunset
No better combination than weaners and sunset.
(Photo: Becca McQuillan)
A lady in front of King penguins at Sandy Bay
Never ending supply of penguins on this island. Becca at Sandy Bay.
(Photo: Becca McQuillan)
King penguins at Sandy Beach with penguins and elephant seals in background
Feet to the sky!
(Photo: Becca McQuillan)
A lady in foreground with station and isthmus in background
Overlooking the isthmus and station (and being thankful the uphill walk is…
(Photo: Becca McQuillan)

Sandy Bay visit

Helen and I went for a quick visit to Sandy Bay last weekend to see what was happening on that busy beach… and it's all go!

The beach is full of moulting elephant seals, king penguins – some of whom are still moulting – and royal penguins busily coming and going from their colonies to get some swimming and feeding in: that's a long walk on those little legs!

And over everything, the ever–present skuas are keeping watch for any opportunity…

A picture of Sandy Bay which is busy with wildlife
Busy Sandy Bay
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
Lots of royal penguins walking on a track
Busy coming and goings on the royal penguin trail.
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
Royal penguins heading back to the colony from the beach
Royal penguins heading back to the colony from the beach.
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
A king penguin lying down on the beach with royals in the background
A king penguin lying down on the beach with royals behind.
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
Royal penguin with kelp flies
Royal penguin with kelp flies
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
Hundreds of royal penguins on the beach.
The royal colony is at full occupancy!
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
A royal penguin couple sitting together on pebbles.
Royal penguin couple
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
Royal penguin parents feeding their chick
Royal penguin parents feeding chick.
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
Royal penguin parents with their chicks in the sun
Royal parents with chicks in the sun.
(Photo: E. Rodewald)
Skua sitting up high watching the royal penguin colony
Skua on the watch, overlooking the royal colony.
(Photo: E. Rodewald)

Macca makeover

After the successful VMI re–supply, it was a bit like Christmas; there was all sorts of new stuff to be opened and sorted. Amongst the goodies were the new bar stools and, more importantly, the correct fitting chair stoppers. With the new furnishings in place it was time for the floor makeover. Sparkie Ben and plumber Glenn swapped pliers and plungers for mops and polishers and got stuck into the task of stripping and polishing, and did great job. The floor now looks just like a bought one.

Whilst the guys were hard at work, the kitchen ceiling and walls were given a fresh coat of paint and the tile grout a bit of a touch up. With the mess and kitchen being out of action for the day, chef Rocket provided bacon and egg rolls and a sausage sizzle in the Green Store for smoko (a bit like Bunnings on a Saturday morning). With the paint drying and floor polish curing, it was back to the Green Store for dinner and once again Rocket had a treat in store for us: spit roast, salads and some refreshments. Not a bad way to finish a makeover day. 

Joe Ahearn 

Two men in the mess with a floor polisher
Glenn and Ben ready to get into the floor cleaning.
(Photo: Helen Cooley)
2 men cleaning a floor
Glenn and Ben giving the now clean floor a final buff -…
(Photo: David Barringhaus)
The mess floor all clean
Look at that shine! Well done team.
(Photo: David Barringhaus)
A man carving meat on a table
Rocket carving up the Green Store spit roast
(Photo: Rob Bennett)

Flashback

The Australasian Antarctic expedition under the command of Douglas Mawson, was intended to explore the little–known east coast of Antarctica, make scientific investigation of Macquarie Island and construct a wireless station to operate as a relay to facilitate communication between Australia and Antarctica.

The wireless station needed to be manned and so five men were left to live on the island when the expedition continued south to Antarctica. George Ainsworth, 33 yo, was a meteorologist and the group leader; Harold Hamilton, 26 yo, was a biologist from New Zealand; Leslie Blake, 21 yo, party surveyor and geologist; Charles Sandell, 25 yo, mechanic and wireless operator; and Arthur Sawyer, 26 yo, also a wireless operator.

Initially, they stayed in one of the sealer’s huts, however the priority was to build their own accommodation and within a week of the ship’s departure they had completed the hut that would be their home for the duration of their stay. As well as sleeping accommodation, the hut included a darkroom, laboratory and shower. They had arrived with three hens and some sheep to provide fresh eggs and some meat and their diet was supplemented by local wildlife, particularly eggs and birds. The shipwrecked remains of the Clyde were helpful in supplying the means for a water tank and timber construction materials.

The next priority was to construct the wireless station: a two-roomed hut consisting of an operating room and engine house. There were bunks here for the operators as they often worked late and access back down the hill was difficult in the dark and often bad weather.

Communication with the outside world was established on February 13, 1912 with an exchange of signals with the SS Ultimaroa. From then on daily weather summaries were relayed to the weather bureau in Melbourne and and communication with Commonwealth Bay was established in February 1913.

Once the huts were built, there was time for further exploration of the island for the scientists – Blake was to survey and map the island whilst Hamilton studied plant and marine life and collected as many samples as possible. They had a tent but generally stayed in caves or sealers’ huts and they needed to carry all their provisions as well as technical equipment for the surveying. As time went on, they managed to distribute some stores around the island in small caches, as well as making improvements to the various old sealers’ huts they were utilising, thereby making there lives a little easier.

The year progressed well for the expeditioners and the Aurora made two visits bringing mail and news of the outside world. The men were happy with the year and the work they were achieving, although all were looking forward to going home in April 1913. However, in March 1913 a message came through from Mawson to say that the expedition would be in the Antarctic for another year and so the station at Macquarie was required to be maintained. The men were given the option of leaving via sealing vessel but all elected to stay until their new return date of late November. A proposed resupply via a sealing vessel was delayed so rationing of supplies was required, coal as well as food, and a larger proportion of their daily diet was sourced from what the island could offer. Additional supplies were finally dropped off in mid–August on a ship that also took Sawyer home, as he had become ill. The Macquarie Island team were now reduced to four people for the remainder of their stay.

As promised, the Aurora was back for them in November 1913 and they finally made it home. The ship also dropped off three meteorologists, led by H. Power, who would take over the weather observations and look after wireless operations during 1914: the island was to continue as a weather and wireless base. A year later in November 1914, the Endeavour arrived to resupply the base and changeover the meteorological crew – tragically this is the same voyage mentioned previously: when the Endeavour left the island, she was never seen again with all on board perishing at sea.

The use of the island as a meteorological station was discontinued after the loss of the Endeavour. The ANARE station was established in March 1948 and has been continuously inhabited since then.

And what became of the five AAE men?

(Biographical information from Mawson’s Huts website - Home of the Blizzard)

George Fredrick Ainsworth: enlisted on his return and survived WWI. On his return in 1918, he became a police inspector in Queensland before transferring to the Prime Minister’s department in 1921 as a foreign affairs officer. He resigned from public service in 1924 and became a businessman, working his way up to general manager of various companies until resigning in 1935. He moved to Sydney in 1937 and pursued various interests, including radio talks about his Antarctic experiences and being briefly employed as a meteorologist again during WWII. He died in 1950. Mt Ainsworth at the southern end of the island is named after him.

Leslie Russell Blake: enlisted on his return to Australia and sadly was killed in France in 1918. Mt Blake, just east of Davis Bay, is named after him.

Harold Hamilton: returned to New Zealand and in 1919 was on the staff of the Dominion Museum in Wellington, where he remained until 1927. He then became the first director of the School of Maori Arts in Rotorua, taking a particular interest in the traditional wood carving. He died in Rotorua in 1937. The highest peak on Macquarie Island is named after him.

Charles J Sandell: Little is known of his life after Macquarie, he appears to have fought in and survived WWI. A bay on the west coast of the island is named after him.

Arthur J. Sawyer: returned earlier than the others due to illness. Returning to New Zealand he appears to have enlisted for war service, but spent at least three years in Nauru. Sawyer Creek, south of Green Gorge is named after him.

Sub Antarctic Wilderness by Aleks Terauds and Fiona Stewart and Macquarie Island by J.S. Cumpston were referenced for this post.

Five men in front of a hut
The Macquarie Island AAE team
(Photo: Leslie R Blake/National Library of Australia)
Looking down at the Australasian Antarctic Expedition  hut
Looking down at the AAE hut.
(Photo: Leslie R Blake)
Australasian Antarctic Expedition wireless mast atop Wireless Hill
AAE wireless mast atop Wireless Hill.
(Photo: Charles A Sandell)
Macquarie Island from Wireless Hill showing the AAE expedition hut at the northern end of the isthmus.
Macquarie Island from Wireless Hill showing the AAE expedition hut at the…
Wireless operating hut on Wireless hill with a man standing in front
Wireless operating hut on Wireless hill. Arthur Sawyer standing in front
(Photo: Leslie R Blake)
One of Leslie Blake's maps of Macquarie Island
One of Leslie Blake's maps of Macquarie Island
(Photo: AAD)
The plan for the interior of the hut
The plan for the interior of the hut
(Photo: AAD)
A man stands in a doorway
George Ainsworth, leader of the group
(Photo: Correll/MAC)