This week at Mawson: 9 January 2009

After the holiday season of Christmas and New Year slowing down the virtual presses on the world-wide intertubes, This (Last Couple of) Week(s) At Mawson is now back online with a super-sized combination Christmas-New Year Edition.

Christmas Day

Jasmine prepared an astonishing array of food for Christmas Day, starting with a hot brunch, then a late afternoon feast with a choice of three different mains – duck, ham and fish, preceded by various entrees of such variety and quality that to fully recount them would run the risk of destroying your cherished imaginings, dear reader, of these rugged and adventurous Antarctic expeditioners suffering great deprivations in a harsh and desolate land.

Part of 2008 Christmas dinner prepared for Mawson Station Expeditioners
Astonishing results from hydroponics this week.
Photo: Peter S
2008 Christmas dinner buffet at Mawson Station
Snatched from the jaws of a leopard seal on Christmas Eve by our keen-eyed and lightning-fast plumber, Doug B
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station crew at 2008 Christmas dinner
The Happy crew at Christmas dinner
Photo: Peter S

One of the highlights of Christmas Day at Mawson this year was the Kris Kringle gifts. Inspired by the local environment, Mawsonites eschewed the option of giving pre-purchased gifts and instead revisited the quaint and long-forgotten system of fabricating something with only our bare hands and naked intellect. And what things were made! It soon became apparent why the bar, the gym and the lounges have been so empty for the two weeks leading up to Christmas – and also why we now have no timber, stainless steel, paint or cushion fabric on station.

Part of the dessert buffet at 2008 Mawson Station Christmas dinner
Antarctic Crepes – they look so real!
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioners dressed to impress at 2008 Christmas dinner
Bob and Peter at Christmas dinner
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioners at 2008 Christmas dinner
Mike is speechless after hearing of Doug's leopard-seal adventure
Photo: Peter S

From mirrors etched with Antarctic scenes to embroidered cushions, electronic-spider-web jewellery, a wooden albatross, plaques, picture frames, wind chimes and machined bottle openers. The work was so good we displayed them on the pool table and it was reminiscent of the jolly old days of going to the Royal Show with everyone circling the table, admiring the crafts and wondering how each had been constructed. The effort made was totally inspiring and set the rest of the day off brilliantly.

Textiles at Mawson – A true renaissance!

With the cushion-design season well underway at Mawson this summer, there have been some thrilling and evocative new designs already, but it just gets better. Mike S was the lucky recipient of a personalised show-cushion depicting Mawson's historically significant Biscoe Hut. Biscoe was one of the first buildings assembled here at Mawson station in 1954, and this one-off design is sure to become a valuable addition to any Museum of Antarctic History that appreciates the expressive medium of cushions.

Matt's prolific talent, meanwhile, has expanded the concept of the "show-pillow" into a complete range of functional pillows specially designed for the harsh Antarctic conditions.

And not to be outdone, electrician Barry O announced last week that he was "taking sabbatical leave" from CosRay for 4 days and instead devoted himself to quilting the interior of an S76 helicopter.

Mawson Station Expeditioner showing his Christmas present
Antarctic Hero Mike enthuses about his personalised Christmas show-cushion
Mawson Station Expeditioner insatlling a pillow as seat padding in a Hagglund
Matt with an example of his 'Hägglunds Series' of functional show-pillows
Mawson Station Expeditioner in helicopter
Structure and function intertwined – Barry in the Quilto-copter with his emergency pillow

Speaking of his work after his well-attended Dog Room Lecture Series, "Light Globes and Quilting –The Common Thread", Barry stressed that his reconceptualising of the S76 was not only aesthetic in terms of quilting art, but also functional, in that the interior was now significantly quieter than before and also safer in the event of a forced landing.

"It's a true case of structure and function being not only intertwined, but informing each other's development", said Barry.

"It's a shame that the CosRay upgrade has been confined purely to electronics, as the possibilities in that space are almost unlimited in terms of show-pillows and upholstery in general. I will be speaking to Bob about that later tonight to see whether we can't address that during what remains of the summer work season".

Christmas at Mawson, 1968

Christmas at Mawson was also the 40th anniversary of an infamous incident, the destruction of an aircraft operated by the Soviet Antarctic program. The events followed an overnight stay at Mawson by a team from the Soviet station Molodezhnaya and were recorded in the station log by the Station Leader at the time, George Hamm:

Wreckage of a Russian aircraft from an accident near Mawson Station in 1968
After 40 years on the Mawson Plateau, the aircraft is still visible
Photo: Kym N

Monday 23rd December 1968

Russians awoke at 0800 and had breakfast. Left Mawson in Snow Trac and VW (Beetle) for the airfield. Arrived there about 12.30. They had very crude Herman Melon type heaters – just huge blowlamps for warming up engines. Brought gifts, etc to be taken back to Dr Maksutov at Molodezhnaya. Got engines started and prepared to takeoff. In aircraft with me were pilot, 2nd pilot, radio operator, chief engineer, Soot (interpreter & correspondent) Ware (MET. OIC), Smith (geophysicist). At about 2pm as he was taxying, a strong gust of wind caught plane and blew it up onto slotted dome behind Russian fuel dump. Pilot at last moment revved motors in attempt to prevent total disaster – I had rear door opened and was ready to jump with the others when at last moment he managed to face back towards painted peak and suddenly we broke through a large crevasse – damaging starboard wing and propeller. Great catastrophe – pilot cried, all Russians depressed later sitting in OICery [building housing the Officer in Charge –Ed.]. He told me he might get the axe over this. Thank god he didn't want political asylum. What a day! No sleep – just tried to calm Russians down.

Christmas Eve Tuesday 24th December 1968

Quiet day – slept in very tired – many signals back and forth from Mirny and Molodezhnaya. Russians here quite depressed except Anders Soot – the Estonian who I think would like to stay. Advised their planes from Mokolazev were coming and they arrived at 9.25pm. Both landed at Gwamm which chief Russian pilot told me was a far better landing strip than Rumdoodle. One plane immediately flew back up to the damaged Russian aircraft near Rumdoodle while they refuelled the other at Gwamm. We had to say goodbye to them at 11.30pm as I wanted to (be) back at station for Christmas.

Most enjoyable but disastrous visit. Many souvenirs exchanged –the chief pilot gave me his beautiful fur cap.

This Week at Mawson put our best investigative reporter, the highly-respected Peter H (SL), onto the task of investigating the outcome of this affair. Peter managed to locate and speak to the 1968 station leader George Hamm, at his home in central west Victoria where he works as a surveyor. George continues to be in touch with the Estonian interpreter "Soot"; who advised that the pilot was dismissed from the Soviet Antarctica program and sent to Siberia. His fate beyond that is unknown.

(Editor's note: Some articles and photo-captions mistakenly reference this aircraft as being an Ilyushin IL-2. Students of Soviet aircraft history however, will recall that the Ilyushin IL-2 was in fact a WWII single engine ground-attack aircraft. In contrast, the aircraft now on permanent display in the Mawson Ice Plateau Museum of Antarctic Aviation, is in fact a Lisunov Li-2T, a copy of the American DC-3 which was brought to Antarctica in 1958. Prowling through the AAD image archives reveals that this aircraft is the same one used in 1961 to evacuate the seriously-ill expeditioner Alan Newman from Mawson, for the first leg of a 3-aircraft trip to New Zealand via Mirny and McMurdo stations.)

Evacuation of Mawson Station Expeditioner in December, 1961
Evacuation of expeditioner Ian Newman in December, 1961
Photo: Bob W
From 1964, Mawson Station Expeditioners and ground support vehicles watch a Russian aircraft taxiing
An array of ground support vehicle and the Li-2, on the Mawson plateau in 1964
Photo: Alan C
From 1972, the wreckage of the Russian aircraft from the 1968 accident
The aircraft in 1972, 3 years after the accident.
Photo: Max C

Gunny Grows a Zucchini

After trimming the Mawson hydroponics zucchini plant last week and then cannily switching from "growth" to "flowering" nutrient, Gunny, in a fishes-and-loaves moment on Tuesday, proposed feeding the entire station with a single zucchini.

But the right time for picking is never a simple task. It requires striking that delicate balance between zucchini size and the crucial yet unknowable considerations of texture and flavour. However, on this occasion, it was made even more difficult than usual. In keeping with modern practices to minimise the time between picking and eating, our vitamin-aware and taste-conscious chef Jasmine insisted that the prime time between Gunny picking the fruit and it being in the frypan was to be less than 67 seconds.

A tall order for some perhaps, but with the combined resources of the many multi-skilled personnel at Mawson station, a plan was hatched. With UHF radios at each end, GPS-based timekeeping and an FTO-selected route with many cheering onlookers, the operation was carried out flawlessly, and the nutritious zucchini was delivered by sprint-relay to the kitchen in record time, weighed and then immediately sliced & sautéed.

Time: A medal-winning 48 seconds! Well done Mawson!!

Mawson Station Expeditioner in hydroponics shed with zucchini plant
With the right electrolytes, anything is possible
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioner handing over hydroponically grown zucchini to Station Chef
The all-important kitchen-corner zucchini handover
Photo: Peter S
7 minutes after being picked, hydroponically grown zucchini is on Mawson Expeditioner dinner-plates.
7 minutes after being picked, Gunny's Zucchini is on Mawson Expeditioner dinner-plates
Photo: Peter S

Some interesting calculations.

From our in-house aficionado of this kind of thing:

Gunny's zucchini weighed 1386.96 grams. If evenly divided, this zucchini would be enough for each of the 24 summering expeditioners to consume 57.8 grams of zucchini. Of course, even if the individual measures could be apportioned with such precision, this would still not be an entirely accurate measure, as the zucchini was sautéed in butter with some garlic before serving.

And from our in-house aficionado of other types of things:

Although all squash (and hence the humble zucchini) originate from the Americas, the name 'zucchini' comes from the Italian zucca, meaning squash. The diminutive of zucca is zucchine (feminine) or zucchini (masculine). Therefore zucchini is literally a 'little squash'. It should probably be more accurately called a zucchine as is commonly used in most parts of Italy, as is it the female part of the fruit that we eat.

On the Penguin Front

Just after Christmas, we finally farewelled our penguin biologists Dave & Darren, as they set out across the now-melting sea-ice for their 4-6 weeks of isolation, living amongst the Adélie penguins on Bechervaise island. It may be only three kilometres away but it will be all but inaccessible until the sea ice melts completely and they can be retrieved by boat. To celebrate, we had an al-fresco farewell dinner complete with Antarctic-themed dessert.

Mawson Station Expeditioners enjoying dinner outside
Just like dinner on Bechervaise Island
Photo: Kym N
Mawson Station Expeditioners queue for ice cream
Quantum physicists worldwide are grappling with the theoretical maximum amount of ice-cream that can be contained in a single cone. Mawson Expeditioners do their bit to support science.
Photo: Darren S
Mawson Station expeditioner with his ice-cream
Spence with his ice-cream and Mawson-themed Christmas hat
Photo: Peter S

It was with a tear in the eye, but hearts pounding with pride as the entire station turned out to watch the Beche Boys set out across the ice, manhauling their sleds in true Antarctic Hero style. Mawson would have been proud!

Mawson Station Expeditioners man haul sleds across the sea ice to Bechervaise Island
No journey ever made with dogs can approach the height of that fine conception which is realised when a group of men go forth to face hardships, dangers, and difficulties with their own unaided efforts – Robert F. Scott
Photo: Kym N

As is tradition, shortly after their arrival the Beche Boys climbed to the 52.9 metre summit of Bechervaise island and transmitted a message back to Mawson by semaphore announcing their safe arrival. It read:


And then there is COSRAY.

Tube number 32 of 168, and counting…

Those fancy tubes full of electronic gizzardry looking at Outer Space are getting their long-awaited upgrade. This involves removing some parts of the electronic control units and replacing with new parts – a simple sounding procedure, but unfortunately that means much cutting of rather strong stainless steel. Enter our Diesel Mechanic Aaron, who after experimenting with various steel-destroying technologies, decided to go for the only one appropriate for a Cosmic Ray detector and that is a "Plasma-Cutter", complete with specially fabricated holding brackets and heat deflectors.

Mawson Station Diesel Mechanic working on panel for Cosmic Ray detector upgrade
Aaron wields his plasma-cutter on No. 12 of 168 Cosray panels.
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioner with 100 ton press for use in Cosray upgrade
Aaron with his Kris Kringle gift – a new VLP-1006ZE3C with ZE3410CW electric motor. Just what he wanted!
Photo: Peter S

Meanwhile, back at Mawson

Many of our readers have written in to This Week at Mawson asking for more articles about the Main Generator Shed yearly shutdown, and we're happy to say that it just gets better and better down there. These genset thingies can apparently cause quite a blaze if they burst into flame, so the Hi-Fog fire control system was tested last week. This fancy system creates a nebulised mist of water suspended in nitrogen, distributed in an attractive spray pattern all over the flaming diesel generator.

The scheduled testing may have been just before lunch, yet it was standing room only for the viewing of this fine event.

Testing of the Hi-Fog fire control system
Art meets function in this life-size installation piece
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioners observing the test of the Hi-Fog fire control system
Tradies stunned into quietude by the installation in Mawson's new progressive dance hall (from left: Redbeard, Hotdog and Tones)
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioner following test of Hi-Fog fire control system
Spence celebrates the delivery of 'at least 300mls' of fluid into his lair immediately below the dance hall.
Photo: Peter S

Sunday Pizza Night

Brought to you this week by Tony D'A, with his range of creative and unique toppings.

Mawson Station Expeditioner with pizzas prepared for Sunday night dinner
Living the dream – Tony's pizza restaurant
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioner with pizza
Barry likes fetta
Photo: Peter S

100 years of the Bureau

To celebrate 100 years of the Bureau of Meteorology, a synchronised plaque-unveiling ceremony was held across the Antarctic stations on December 21 supported by a streaming satellite video linkup across 5 sites with a striking realism owing to a frame rate of nearly 1 video frame every 2 seconds. Met Observer Andrew W made a brief but stirring speech and all applauded enthusiastically.

Mawson Station Meteorology staff with plaque commemorating Centenary of the Bureau of Meteorology
The Met boys, Andrew & Gunny with their nice new plaque
Mawson Station Expeditioner with D17 Traverse Dozer
Jeremy celebrated the Met unveiling by overhauling the tracks on the D17 Traverse Dozer

Remarkable Devices at Mawson

Inspired by the number of devices of bafflingly obscure design to be found south of the Antarctic Circle, This Week at Mawson is proud to launch our new regular column highlighting some of these remarkable devices, to be presented each week by a guest writer inspired by what they see.

No. 1 – The Convotherm oven

While best known for its wind turbines, stuffed huskies, and the sparkling meltwater lakes of Gwamm, Mawson is also home to one of the finest examples of industrial catering equipment in East Antarctica: the matched pair of vertically stacked combined heat-steam Convotherm ovens which dominate the "working" half of the Mess.

Developed by innovative industrial engineers Frank Dittman and Werner Schwarzbacker working in a disused dairy in the picturesque southern Bavarian village of Wolfratshausen, the Convotherm uses powerful PC-HACCP software to manage the chef/oven interface via a mode-selectable display apparently developed from the autopilot system fitted to the current variants of the Airbus A-300 series of jetliners.

Control panel of Convotherm ovens in Mawson Station kitchen
The aviation-themed chef-oven interface
Convotherm oven in Mawson Station kitchen
Stainless steel at its most stainless
Mawson Station Expeditioner cleaning ovens in Station kitchen
Mike runs through the daily Convotherm clean & shutdown procedure

Although it may appear to the casual observer that the Mawson Convotherms are hewn from a solid billet of stainless steel, as were the earliest examples, these two ovens are believed to have been fabricated by craftsmen in the traditional Bavarian oven making towns of Huglfing or Weilheim, prior to the establishment of the modern Eglfing works.

However, it's not just style and design: the temperatures and pressures generated within the Convotherm are capable of inflicting serious injury on any chef or slushy foolish enough to disregard the prominently displayed warnings: "ACHTUNG!", the German word for "crocodile".

Visitors to Mawson leave with memories not only of spectacular Antarctic scenery, but also of the red "C" of quality.

Mawson calls for Angelina Jolie to consider family this Christmas.

In a rare show of public unity, the leadership team at Mawson has called for Angelina Jolie to show some compassion this Christmas and reconnect with her estranged father, actor John Voight. Voight hasn't talked to Angelina for five years and has never seen his six grand-children.

Mawson Station Leader Peter H urged Angelina to consider making contact this Christmas. "We are calling on Angelina to make a small step on the start of the reconciliation process", he told reporters yesterday by satphone from Rumdoodle hut. "Christmas is an occasion for families to get together and we feel it is an ideal time for Angelina and Jon to settle their differences and start 2009 afresh".

On a positive note, Peter H offered to send in a team of mediators to facilitate the reconciliation process. "This sad situation can have such a positive ending. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time so I have offered to both parties our top mediation team to aid in this process".

Mawson Station Expeditioners dressed as Santa Claus and his helpers
Mawson's mediation team is ready to leave for the Jolie/Pitt/Voight residences at a moment's notice (subject to CASA and A319 availability).
Photo: Peter S

Although unavailable for comment, Brad Pitt (Angelina's husband) is thought to support the move by Mawson to reunite Angelina with her father. 

Field Training with Hully

Yet more field training and yet more photos:

Mawson Station Expeditioner enjoying the view
Inspired by her field training last week, Jaz excelled herself in the kitchen with this life-size replica of the David Range
Photo: Hully
Mawson Station Expeditioners undetaking field training exercises
Further systematic searching by Bob, Mike & Darren fails to locate the Mars bar lost near Rumdoodle hut last week
Photo: Hully
Mawson Station Expeditioner on field training with fluid containers
It's all for science – Mike conducts ground-breaking research in the Mawson Summer fluid-balance project.
Photo: Bob Sheehy

Mawson Station Expeditioner sketching the view from Rumdoodle Hut
Doug sketches the view from Rumdoodle Hut
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioners hike along at the base of Rumdoodle
Dave G & Hully stroll along at the base of Rumdoodle
Photo: Peter S
Mawson Station Expeditioner hiking down Mt Henderson as the weather closes in
It had to happen – Buckshot finally observes some bad weather as he searches for Darren's sunglasses
Photo: Darren S

And last of all, a reader from Cooktown, Queensland, has requested that we include more photos of refreshing ice, since she is suffering greatly through the hot and humid rainy season in the Far North.

Mawson Station Expeditioners probe the melt stream on the plateau behind Station
Lee & Kym probe the melt stream on the plateau behind Mawson
Photo: Peter S

We hope this helps.

The previously advertised special full-colour liftout section Transport at Mawson, due to be included in this issue, will now appear in NEXT week's edition of THIS WEEK AT MAWSON.