Icebergs, adventure and friendships for life: Applications open for Antarctic trades
Have you ever thought about working in Antarctica? Recruitment is now open for the 2024/25 Antarctic season. Electricians, carpenters, mechanics, plumbers, plant operators and information technology officers are among the 36 different roles on offer.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) recruits more than 200 tradespeople every year to help run Australia’s four scientific research stations at Casey, Davis and Mawson and on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island.
Plant operator Tom Gersbach has spent most of 2023 at Casey and the Wilkins Aerodrome, preparing and maintaining the ice runway used to fly expeditioners into and out of Antarctica over the summer months.
He lists some of the highlights of his time down south as "the wildlife, the scenery and the lifelong friendships you make."
"The biggest highlight is definitely the people," Mr Gersbach said.
"I have made mates for life down here. You're surrounded by like-minded people who are all here to experience and soak in this incredible place."
On a professional level, the aerodrome crew had a huge task preparing the ice runway this year, removing "one of the largest snow berms in the runway's history".
“In a professional sense I got a lot of pride and feeling of achievement through some of the big milestones we hit this season,” Mr Gersbach said.
“When we came back to Wilkins after the winter at Casey we had a runway built in record time."
While the work days could be long, the day tripping options more than made up for it.
The plant operator took a boat trip out around the icebergs, visited seal colonies and took a dip in freezing Antarctic waters to mark the winter solstice.
“My advice for anyone thinking of working in Antarctica is do it!” Mr Gersbach said.
“Bring an open mind and make sure you jump on all the opportunities you have to go out and see and do things you'll never get a change to do anywhere else.
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.”
'You're exposed to such a wide array of work tasks'
Mawson plumber, Jess Condon-Bartlett, said it was hard to narrow down what he loved most about his time working at the research station.
“The amazing aurora australis phenomena and living in a tight knit community were two highlights,” Mr Condon-Bartlett said.
"In the beginning everyone is a stranger but then they become colleagues and then friends and now they feel like our little Antarctic family.
"It's a wonderful sense of cameraderie, care and support, I've just found it amazing and wonderful."
In a work sense, Mr Condon-Bartlett said he'd had to deal with problems he'd never have encountered in the outside world.
“Probably the most rewarding thing I do down here is manufacture water," he said.
“At home, you just put a gutter on a roof and pipe it into a tank but you can’t do that here – it doesn’t rain, and everything freezes! Here we make fresh water from a glacier.”
Scott Newman, 36, is an electrician at Mawson and says a highlight has been working on the station’s wind turbine.
“It’s something I never had the chance to work on back in Australia,” he said.
“Coming down here I went to Flinders Island for wind turbine training and now I maintain the turbine at Mawson.
“It’s great keeping the turbine spinning and knowing that some of the station is being powered by renewable energy.”
Recruitment based on personality as well as skills
AAD organisational psychologist and recruitment specialist Maree Riley said the Antarctic roles tended to suit people who liked living in small, remote communities.
“Teams live closely for months at a time and so recruiting the right community-minded people is important,” Ms Riley said.
“We recruit based both on a candidate’s technical skills, but also their personal qualities.”
Chef Claire Moser decided she wanted to work in Antarctica after talking to a friend of a friend, who'd worked at one of the stations as a doctor. When she had the necessary experience she applied and was successful on her second attempt.
Station life was rewarding and challenging in ways she didn't anticipate.
"Living in the Antarctic bubble was simple in some ways and really enjoyable and fun having mates on hand to hang out with all the time," Ms Moser said.
"It also made me incredibly sensitive to the actions and behaviors of others in surprising ways.
"I was told before I came down that 'little things become big things on station', and it's really true. It's a microcosm of society in a tiny, inescapable bubble. It has a bunch of environmental challenges thrown on top of that microcosm, and 30+ unique personalities trying to find their way in that new environment.
"There were plenty of challenges, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
Ms Riley said all the work done by tradespeople at the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations was critical to Australia’s scientific work in the region.
“Our Antarctic research informs global policy on climate change and ecosystem management and the people who keep our stations running are a critical part of that effort,” she said.