Living at Mawson

A group of expeditioners surround a sign at Mawson that reads “It’s home, it’s Mawson”
Wintering expeditioners at Mawson. (Photo: Kate Kloza)
A lone Adélie penguin walks in between the docked Aurora Australis and the station during summer.A tall wooden sign featuring many smaller plaques with town names pointing in the direction which they are located.Played side by side is table soccer and dartsTwo expeditioners consider a book in the Mawson libraryAerial photo of Mawson buildingsMale expeditioner tending to a beer keg in front of a hand painted Nunatak Brewery Mawson signA group of fluffy emperor penguin chicks and their parents at Auster rookery

The longest continuously operated station in Antarctica, Mawson was established in 1954. It was named after Australia’s most significant Antarctic explorer, Sir Douglas Mawson.

Mawson is a particularly favourable location for a station, with excellent access to the hinterland and surrounding coastal waters, together with a harbour sheltered from ocean swells and with a depth reaching 90 metres.

During the ice-free period usually experienced in February, a ship may anchor within 100 metres of the station. Barges carrying the cargo take only a few minutes to travel from the ship to shore.

Living at Mawson is very comfortable. Everyone lives in the main accommodation building (the Red Shed), in modern air-conditioned single-room dongas (Antarctic slang for bedrooms). The Red Shed also houses the surgery, lounge, kitchen, and dining room.

The ablutions facilities in the Red Shed consist of two communal bathrooms and a number of smaller bathrooms, which are shared by those in the bedrooms closest to them.

The local ‘supermarket’ is substituted by a walk-in cupboard called ‘Woolies’, where all expeditioners can browse the shelves for soap, linen and other household requirements.

When blizzards inhibit fieldwork, the Red Shed has indoor climbing, a home theatre, a library and several communal sitting areas for expeditioners to pass the time. There is a small gym in the Green Store, as well as sports equipment for volleyball and badminton and a range of cross-country ski equipment. A spa and sauna is also available.

All expeditioners contribute to the day-to-day running of the station. Rosters are set up for Saturday duties that may include vacuuming the living area, shovelling snow, cleaning the cold porches etc. Expeditioners are rostered-on to help the chef out in the kitchen (‘Slushy duty’) to help feed the station.

Expeditioners have private bedrooms and share a bathroom between three people. Before the summer melt, water is scarce and therefore all expeditioners are limited to two-minute showers every second day.

The station is a listed heritage site: more than a dozen early buildings which predate the 1980s rebuilding program are considered historically significant.

Mawson has a summer population of approximately 24, with about 16 remaining over winter.

Depending on weather and sea-ice conditions, it takes about 10 to 12 days to reach Mawson direct from Hobart by ship.