When diesel mechanic Matt Travaglini was a small boy, he spent a lot of time fixing things in his grandfather’s workshop and listening to his Antarctic adventure stories. It made such an impression that’s he’s now living that life himself as an expeditioner at Davis station.

“My grandfather’s recollections of traversing over the continent with bulldozers pulling sleds and skiing with the huskies drew my interest and had me wondering what adventures Antarctica might hold for me,” Matt said.

“Over the years I learned it wasn’t only the recreational trips and the work but also the shared experiences and people skills he developed working in such a remote environment.”

His grandfather, Albert Bruehwiler,  went to Antarctica as a plant inspector five times between 1982 and 2008, mostly to Mawson research station but also to Davis and Macquarie Island.

He was awarded the Antarctic Medal in 1993 for his work with the mechanical maintenance team and for "showing great compassion, wisdom, tolerance and understanding of the demands of living in isolation".

Problem-solving in the workshop leads to a job on the ice

“The last time I went to Macquarie Island in 2008, Matt was at an age where he could sense what was going on a bit better,” Mr Bruehwiler said.

“I showed him photos and the year book and he showed a real interest.

“When he was younger we spent a lot of time repairing things in my workshop and when we came up with a solution, I would tell him about a critical situation down south when I had to find a solution.

“I knew when he started his apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic he would become a person who would be in great demand down there.”

‘You wouldn't be allowed to do that now’

Mr Bruehwiler’s stories may have been an inspiration but they also illustrate how much things have changed in the past 40 years.

In the 1980s and 90s there wasn’t recognition of the importance of a gender diverse workforce, or the focus on expeditioner safety that there is today.

“I’d only just arrived and we were driving up to a fjord in midnight sun and the guy who was with me saw some open water in front of us and said: ‘Hold on, that’s no good, we need to turn around’ and before I knew it we were sinking,” Mr Bruehwiler said.

“We went into 15 metres of water with the whole Hagg (an ice tractor). We got out through the escape hatch and radioed where we were, and within half an hour the helicopter came and got us.”

Within a few weeks, Mr Bruehwiler and a group of divers came up with an ingenious plan to refloat the Hagg by welding 44-gallon drums together and then attaching them to the vehicle and filing them with compressed air.

“Back then you would experience extremes that could be extremely dangerous,” he said.

“You wouldn’t be allowed to do that now.”

No contact with family for months at a time

What amazes Mr Bruehwiler most about the modern Antarctic experience is the communications capacity.

In his day, you could be out of contact for two or three months at a time.

“In 1982 when I was on Macquarie Island, you’d have to book a radio phone call and even if you booked two months ahead, if the meteorological conditions were suitable, it didn’t happen.

 “I find it amazing every time I get a message from Matthew or a photo, sometimes he sends a few in one day!”

Mr Travaglini applied to work in Antarctica after completing his heavy diesel mechanic apprenticeship and was accepted on his first attempt.

“I’m currently completing a summer at Davis station and loving it!” he said.

“My advice to anyone who is curious about working in Antarctica is put in the application and experience it for yourself!”