Tradition marks the longest night

Casey signpost and Aurora australis
Dark winter nights showcase the fantastic southern lights (Photo: Gordon Tait)
Expeditioners in historic clothes sit around a table with serious faces while a chef presents a fish on a platterExpeditioners at Casey enjoy a Midwinter meal and toast absent friends Expeditioners and digger working on the swimming holeExpeditioner taking an icy dip

Midwinter, or winter solstice, has been a traditional time of celebration in Antarctica since Mawson’s heroic era of exploration 100 years ago.

There are several traditions which mark Midwinter in the Australian Antarctic program. Expeditioners at the three Australian stations Mawson, Casey and Davis cut a hole in the sea ice and some hardy souls indulge in an icy swim. A celebratory dinner of many courses is highlighted with messages from friends and loved ones far away. A concert or pantomime performance such as Cinderella is also a tradition dating back to Mawson’s day.

Expeditioners on Macquarie Island held a historical recreation of the first recorded Macquarie Island Midwinter Menu. The menu, from 1959, was discovered in station archives and was put together by Chef O’Keeffe of that years expeditioner group. Current chef Justin Chambers recreated the meal, which included such delicacies as roast pork, crumbed sausages and sardines on toast, and served it to expeditioners who dressed in Antarctic gear reminiscent of the heroic era of exploration.

Station leader Jacque Comery said that expeditioners were excited to be able to honour the history of Midwinter celebrations.

“We wanted to show appreciation of the significance of Midwinter's Day by remembering what it may have been like for those early expeditioners. It’s quite different in regards to the access to creature comforts that we have these days,” she said.

Staff at Australian Antarctic Division headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania participated in a Midwinter memorial ceremony for Australian Antarctic personnel who have died in Antarctica, and hosted a reunion afternoon tea with several groups of expeditioners who were part of the Australian Antarctic program decades ago.