This week at Macquarie Island: 19 May 2017

This week at Macca, we feature a day in the life of senior mechanical supervisor Lionel and get to know senior Bureau of Meteorology observer Matt Westbury.

Macquarie Island - A day in the life of senior mechanic, Lionel Whitehorn

A day in the life of the senior mechanical supervisor generally starts early, with breakfast around 0600 hrs, then off to the main powerhouse to start daily observations and some maintenance. The day tanks need to be filled with fuel and the engines checked for normal operation as well as some cleaning and a host of checks in and around the building to ensure there are no fuel leak, oil or water leaks. Constant awareness for weather damage and animal damage is a priority. Both can be unexpected and unforgiving in this remote and extremely severe environment.

Then off to the workshop and fuel farm. Here again are routine checks to ensure the integrity of the fuel storage facility and that no animals have managed to get into the enclosure overnight. The same checks are required for all the machinery and flammable goods buildings. Especially important after storms and unusually cold weather.

These daily inspections nearly always turn up some jobs that need attending to, either immediately or that can be put on a list to be completed in due time.

After these checks it is then time to commence management and administration tasks. These include but are not limited to checking correspondence, the daily work list and any prearranged commitments for the particular day, both work and community based.

After those are put in order it is a matter of prioritising the major tasks for the day and starting work on them. Such things as servicing and repair of vehicles, machinery and equipment and fuel transfers. The weather comes into play here as some tasks are too difficult or dangerous in some weather conditions.

The role of a station mechanic is a dynamic one requiring tolerance, initiative, stamina and above all determination.

A list of tasks are compiled in a system called Maximo where the mechanical section at Kingston head office compile an annual program, spacing the workload over the year. Maximo also include jobs raised locally.

This record keeping and management is crucial for the complete coverage of the equipment on the island and smooth operation of all the components in the mechanical section. Importantly this system allows for the planning for a maximum economic life all the vehicles, machinery and equipment.

At 0900 hrs, the powerhouse is visited again to complete the logging of the last 24 hours of statistics for power consumed on station, fuel consumed and maintenance needed to achieve that.

Then, back to the workshop to continue on with the tasks for the day.

Some of these are station and socially based such as meetings, presenting information to management and participating in managing station operations. Equally important is supporting any area which may need help in trades, science or community life aspects.

Qualified trades people and expeditioners need to be trained in machinery and and vehicle operation and fuel supplied to services for heating, rubbish and waste material processing.

During the day there are brief stops in work for meal breaks. Then, in the evening more attention to the powerhouse to monitor its operation and wellness.

At the end of the day, all machinery is parked away from the weather and animal interference for secure storage overnight.

It is now about 1800 hrs and tea time where the station gathers for the main meal of the day, where we unwind to discuss the days work and have a general catch–up.

After dinner, there is one last trip to the powerhouse to ensure it is operating well for the night and compile more statistics of the day’s operation. This is around about 2100 hrs and that, under normal circumstances, is the end of a day in the life of the senior mechanical supervisor.

Lionel Whitehorn, Senior Mechanical Supervisor

A shed full of machinery and equipment
Machinery shed
(Photo: L. Whitehorn)
A photo of the powerhouse building with seals lying in front.
Macquarie Island powerhouse
(Photo: L. Whitehorn)
Two men standing outside a mechanical shed in high vis outfits.
Senior mechanical supervisor Lionel Whitehorn with his station leader 'apprentice' for the…
(Photo: A. Turbett)
The view from Inside the Macquarie Island powerhouse, pictures of machinery.
Inside the Macquarie Island powerhouse.
(Photo: L. Whitehorn)

70th ANARE winter expeditioner profile: Matt Westbury

Name: Matt Westbury

What is your occupation on Macca? Describe the main responsibilities of your role on the island.

Senior observer with the 'Met team', along with Kerri and Emry we perform a rostered daily program of surface observations, upper air observations and ozone measurements. I am also responsible for the general management and reporting for our observation program.

What are your secondary / community jobs on Macca?

Assistant tide gauge checker–outer, boating support, station clown.

Where are you from?

Hobart has been my home for the past 25 years.

What is your normal job back in the 'real world'?

I am a long–term employee with the Bureau of Meteorology and have worked in many different roles and workplaces across the country.

Have you been to Macca or other Antarctic stations previously?

I first wintered at Davis in 1989, then a summer at Macca in 1992 with three other round trips down south.

What was your main motivation in coming to Macca for 2017?

Having had such a great experience previously on Macca over the summer I’ve always wanted to spend a full year and experience the full cycle of weather, wildlife and station life.

List some of your favourite aspects of life on Macca so far:

Living on an isthmus and having the open ocean to your east and west only separated by a few hundred metres of land.

Elephant seals lolling around, grunting, sparing and smelling as only they can do. Penguins waddling down the road, giant petrels flying overhead, the wind and weather in your face and all this is just on the short walk to the met office.

Heading off down the island for an almost 'Jurassic park' like adventure and knowing that at the end of your struggles will be a cosy hut and a Fray Bentos steak and Kidney pie for dinner.

Awesome meals and having a laugh with all the great people living the dream on this wonderful island.

What are some of the most challenging things about living on Macca?

The lack of 'elevator music' in the communal bathroom.

What Macca animal do you feel represents you best and why?

I’m sure my children would say the elephant seal for reasons I won't disclose.

What is the one thing you miss most whilst on the island?

My family and mowing the lawn.

What do you NOT miss about normal life whilst on the island?

Cars, traffic and the media.

What do you like doing outside of work on Macca?

Exploring as much of the Island as possible.

Becoming best friends with the station gym – SkiErg exercise machine

Learning a third guitar chord.

Name your go-to snack whilst out in the field?

There aren’t any snacks that I won't go to.

Identify your favourite piece of AAD (Australian Antarctic Division) – issued kit?

Gum boots, especially when around elephant seal ablution areas.

One thing you wish you had packed but didn’t?

A cowboy hat.

Is there anyone you would like to give a shout-out to back at home?

My wonderful supportive family who are vicariously living this adventure with me.

Two people walking with mountains in the background.
Matt Westbury enjoying the spectacular landscapes during field familiarisation training.
(Photo: M. Westbury)
A man sitting on the couch playing a guitar.
Matt Westbury - guitar hero!
(Photo: A. Turbett)
A seemingly smiling elephant seal lying on vegetation.
Matt Westbury aka 'The Smiling Elephant Seal'.
(Photo: M. Westbury)
A few seals lazing outside of the meteorology office.
A few 'locals' outside Matt's Bureau of Meteorology office.
(Photo: M. Westbury)