This week at Mawson: 27 February 2020

New season arrivals at Mawson

New Residents in Old Mawson Town

There are new residents in Old Mawson Town. While their journey was an adventure in and of itself, they are wasting no time in cracking on to make the town their own and lay the ground work for a productive, fun and safe season ahead.

The journey on the faithful orange roughy (RSV Aurora Australis) through the Southern Ocean was full of milestones, firsts and moments of reflection.

The bag drag and check in was a milestone moment for all – that which we have all sweated over, planned for and dreamed of, transformed magically from an idea to a concrete reality. The moment of no return. The moment of sad goodbyes, for now. And a moment of wide wondrous eyes moving towards an unknown land of hard work, risk, adventure and fun. It is as hard to put in words for those who walked up that gangway as it is to give a sense of perspective to the loved ones left behind. But trust in this simple fact – it is as if time stopped and sped up at once; nothing would be the same for quite a while henceforth.

Once aboard, each expeditioner armed with concoctions, remedies and snake oils braced for the three weeks at sea. Sea sickness only impacted a handful, to the relief of most (particularly myself). Those sea legs came quick and the crew and voyage team made the transition feel seamless, comfortable and professional. Food was at once a comfort, a curse (in its bounty), and a time stamp in a relatively repetitive schedule.

The memorable moments were countless, but key among them were:

-  The diverse Southern Ocean weather – mirror like calm waters to waves crashing frighteningly across the trawl deck and gale force winds raging around us as we hid, deftly stooging back and forth under the relative protection of a massive glacier.

-  Ice bergs – at first from afar, then as far as the eye could see, with the Aurora shrewdly navigated through the hazardous ice labyrinth by the craft of crew and technology.

-  Sea ice! From the first “bang”, “scrape”, “crack,” to the carefully navigated pack and, later, fast ice. The sound from the bow of a dampened thud and muffled crack of the massive sheets of ice being carved by the sheer power of the Aurora’s engines was indescribably addictive. I for one spent hours listening, watching and trying to etch the experience into my long term memory.

-  The critters. Scurrying penguins, lounging seals, graceful albatross and darting snow petrels among them. 

-  And the first sight of land. It was our near neighbours at Davis, their brightly coloured buildings breaking the browns and whites of rock and land. I am surprised the Aurora didn’t lurch to the port side as excited expeditioners rushed to catch a glimpse – some of a new alien land, others of their old home.

-  The uncertainty of getting through the still large tracts of ice barring our way to Mawson’s shores.

-  But then, after three weeks at sea and a full day of full throttle nudging of the pesky sea ice, it was there before us! Home! Still occupied by those we would replace – but our home it was. What a ‘heart in throat’ moment that was.

It was as beautiful as all those that sang her praises had described, and more. A shallow outcrop of rock and her rocky island sisters – punctuating sharp ice cliffs building steeply to a high-altitude ice plateau that is protruded by incredible mountain peaks. An immensity that it will never be possible to capture in an image. A magical dose of clean, cool and obvious air. And clear evidence of an entire continent, buried deep in ice – with its ice rivers, almost as if by a spell, splitting around and to the sides - spilling ice into the ocean and, importantly, sparing the station and its tiny fragile foothold of rock. This was it. It is home. It is Mawson.

After a successful and organised resupply operation, the quick passing company of new friends in the former residents, and an incredibly professional hand-over, it wasn’t long before that last string of the connection to Australia was to be torn. The Aurora Australis – on what may be her last journey – sailed off into the Southern Ocean at 1600 on Thursday the 20th of February. All apprehension that it would be a shock vanished as a palpable sense of joy, calm and peace fell over the remaining population. This is going to be one heck of a year. I have no doubt.

Matt Williams - Station Leader 

Choppy waves of the Southern Ocean
Waves of the Southern Ocean
(Photo: Matt Williams)
Reflection of a ship on the water
Reflections of the Aurora Australis
(Photo: Matt Williams)
the ship entering the ice sheet
The Aurora Australis entering the ice
(Photo: Matt Williams)
Expeditioners holding up flares as the ship departs
Farewell to the Aurora Australis
(Photo: Matt Williams)