Lights, camera — Macquarie Island

At first glance you may think that someone working in a production office for television shows such as House Husbands, Angry Boys and Lonely Planet, would have little in common with a subantarctic station leader.

But Esther Rodewald’s experiences in the world of film and television sound perfectly suited to her new role as Macquarie Island Station Leader.

“Working in a production office you have to answer lots of questions, research how to do things — such as chartering a plane or moving people between camps — and then manage those logistics,” she said.

In fact, Esther’s self-described perfect day sounds much like a station leader’s lot.

“I’m used to jobs where you can’t be in a set routine because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. I enjoy figuring out how to do multiple things at once, and working with a team to achieve a common goal.”

People and travel are also a big part of what drives Esther. In her early career, not long out of the Sydney College of the Arts, she worked as a Production Coordinator for the iconic Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. With a small cast of three and a young, energetic crew, they travelled around Australia — on a “family road trip” — to shoot the low budget film.

“Relationships get quite intense quite quickly, but then filming ends and you go back to your real life. You might not see people for years, but when you do it’s like a family reunion and you just pick up where you left off.”

As someone who “gets excited if a job comes with a boarding pass”, Esther has spent a lot of time living in one-horse towns, but also big cities such as London, New York, Havana, and Paris. For her most recent film, a psycho-thriller called Berlin Syndrome, she spent two months in Berlin.

“When you go to a place to work you see it very differently to a tourist,” she said.

“In Berlin we stayed in an apartment and caught a train to and from work. We did the grocery shopping. We met the locals and visited their homes and got to see how they lived.

“You might miss seeing some of the iconic sights of a city, but the place across the road knows how you like your coffee.”

While the only coffee on Macquarie Island will be the do-it-yourself kind, Esther is looking forward to the remoteness and simplicity of being 1500km from the hustle and bustle of city life and the relentless expectation of an online presence and 24 hour connectedness. In fact, it was a trip to Iceland with a friend that got Esther thinking about Antarctica.

”After the trip I googled Antarctica and ended up on the Antarctic Division website, which just happened to be advertising jobs,” she said

While she was initially uncertain about the application of her skills to the station leader role, a chat to a former station leader soon convinced her.

“He said that scientists sound a lot like actors — because when you’re talking about priorities, everyone thinks that what they’re doing is the most important thing that has to be done today. So as a station leader, you have to be the person that balances all those things,” Esther said.

The challenge is a drawcard for Esther, who revels in being amongst people who are passionate about their work and who actively contribute to their own success and the success of what they’re engaged in.

Esther is also excited by the prospect of seeing wildlife, particularly penguins, and getting in tune with the seasonal cycles of the island. She’s looking forward to engaging with her team and the work that they do. And she’s happy to be part of a family of “13 new best friends”.

While Esther is very much a behind the scenes go-getter, when you next watch Pricilla Queen of the Desert, look out for the waitress in the red wig.

Wendy Pyper
Australian Antarctic Division