Macquarie Island's trades team is gearing up for a busy year of renovation and reconstruction. About 400 tonnes of building materials were delivered on RSV Nuyina's annual resupply voyage in May and extra tradespeople are on site to install temporary accommodation pods and overhaul the cramped and dingy living areas known as Garden Cove and the Bunkhouse.

The work itself is straightforward. Getting materials there is anything but.

“This project is really a logistical operation,” Macquarie Island Modernisation Program Lead, Paul Farrow, said.

“The construction techniques are quite simple. But the ship to shore logistics and the constraints with weather and wildlife and dealing with the Southern Ocean are very problematic.

“I can't emphasise enough how difficult it is.”

The accommodation pods, which will house five expeditioners, had to be craned from RSV Nuyina onto Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo (LARC) vessels and then driven through the surf to the station. They’ll take about ten weeks to install and include laundry facilities and quiet rooms.

The pods will mean people living in other accommodation blocks on station will be able to spread out across two rooms.

 “This is a trial this season,” Mr Farrow said.

“We'll get them up and running and then assess the feedback. What worked? What didn't work? Then we may go on to potentially install another one or two complexes.”

Asbestos removal training

The work is complicated by the fact all the old buildings are riddled with asbestos.

When pulling out old materials, workers have to be kitted out in two full-coverage protective suits with a respirator.

When they finish the shift, they have to move through a decontamination unit, where fibres are vacuumed off, they shower and their protective clothing is discarded into a bin at the other end.

All contaminated building materials are double-bagged and stored in line with Australian standards before being shipped back to Australia for disposal in deep burial sites.

It’s not a small problem. When the accommodation block known as Hass House was renovated last year, about 17 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated material was removed.

“All our tradespeople are trained up in asbestos removal," Building Trades Supervisor Cameron Lea said.

"Carpenters complete high-level training so they can deal with all types of asbestos.

“Other trades do the B-class training, which lets them deal with asbestos sheeting, so they can help the carpenters if required.”

Three of six field huts being replaced

Three of the island’s six field huts, used for wildlife monitoring and other science projects, are also being replaced.

During resupply in May, helicopters flew building materials to Brother’s Point and Bauer Bay so tradespeople could start construction of the new huts over summer. The field hut rebuild program will be carried out over the next three seasons. 

The huts are tiny and old – some date back to the 1960s – but they have a certain charm and some long-time expeditioners are sad to see them go. 

“I’ve stayed in all of them and they are certainly unique but the ones being replaced are really in need of an upgrade,” Mr Farrow said.

“A lot of people have a soft spot for Green Gorge and that one’s staying.”

This phase of the modernisation project will run for about four years and will set the station up so it can support the next phase - the construction of a completely new station at the southern end of the isthmus.

“The first phase is to stabilise the current station and replace all the critical assets that are at end of life and a danger for operational environmental reasons,” Mr Farrow said.  

 “Then the second phase of the project, with the additional funding we’ve received from government, is to build a new station south of the current one.”

The new station project, allocated $371m over nine years in the last Federal budget, will be built at the southern end because it’s slightly higher.

“In nine years, we’d hope to have a state-of-the-art station that can support science in the sub-Antarctic for decades to come,” Mr Farrow said.

“Importantly, it will offer a standard of living for expeditioners that’s appropriate for a Federal Government installation.”