A hillbilly carnival, serious tank work and a ministerial visit this week at Casey station.

Ministerial visit to Casey

During the week, Casey was fortunate to host a visiting group of VIPs, including our federal Minister the Hon Tony Burke, and key departmental staff. The VIP group flew in on the first A319 flight for the season to Wilkins Aerodrome. Several group members, including Labor, Liberal, National and Greens Senators and the Hon Julie Collins (Federal Member for Franklin) – Members of the Senate Standing Committee on the Environment and Communications and the Joint Standing Committee on the National External Territories – had an opportunity to see the aerodrome operations and experience what the Antarctic environment is like for those of us working and living here.

Minister Burke and a smaller group continued to station and spent two days getting to grips with station life and the science and support activities undertaken by the Australian Antarctic program at Casey. The visit provided an excellent opportunity for expeditioners to speak with senior departmental leaders, as well as the Minister. 

On the final evening of the visit, the Minister made a short impromptu speech after dinner outlining his appreciation of the work being done in Antarctica and its critical role in national and international environmental management, science and policy development. His words were very well received.

Casey hillbilly carnival

Last Saturday night, Caseyites raided the station’s dress-up supplies, donned their best Carhartt overalls, brought out the rubber chickens and (replica) sawn-off shotguns and headed for the fair. 

After a dinner of dagwood dogs and southern fried chicken the sideshow games began. A darts game that doubled as a way of relieving workplace frustrations, tin can skittles and pig’s head tossing started the night off in fine form, while everyone washed down their dinner with snow cones and ice cream from Luke’s ice cream stand, and drank some of Jarrod’s mysterious concoction in jam jars.

For those that were still hungry, or who were just overcome by the usual Casey competitive spirit or the need to publicly humiliate themselves, a doughnut-on-a-string eating competition followed. Much was expected of Craig, the wintering hot dog eating champion, especially as he’d been putting in some serious late night training sessions recently. Sadly, carrying the hopes and dreams of the winterers proved too much for Craig in the end, being beaten by summerer Cam. It was a controversy-filled win, however, as doughnut eating is usually considered to be a non-contact sport, although not so in Cam’s book.

Face painting, stick pulling contests and Sheri’s fortune telling tent entertained the crowd until the band was ready for their debut performance of the season. Jamie, Dan, Matt, Cam, Steve, Marie, Louise, Bec and Bec stuck to the country theme, playing some classic Australian songs, before Bec and Matt performed a French Canadian folk song. They mustn’t have been doing it quite right, as Vince, the only real French Canadian on station, jumped up to lend a hand.

Matt and Vicky then tried (almost!) in vain to teach the unruly mob a couple of square dances and the King and Queen Hillbillies were decided. It’s not sure which of Dan V. and Luke was the Queen and which was the King in the end though. Mick’s kissing booth didn’t receive too much business during the evening though – perhaps he would have had more takers if there hadn’t been the offer of free cold sore cream with kisses.

In true Casey 2012 fashion, the night descended into yet another competition, with an impromptu game involving strength, teamwork, agility and a matchbox started up. The game looked like it had the potential to keep the competitive people of Casey entertained all through the night, with no team willing to concede defeat despite wearying muscles. Finally an intervention order was issued and the Hillbillies could hit the dance floor to end the night.

Grouting the tank

Well it’s taken a couple of years but finally the number one tank in the Casey tank house has been re-grouted. There are three tanks that supply water to the entire station. During summer, although the population is high and the water use commensurate, we are well into ‘the melt’ and there is plenty of available free water to pump into the tanks. However, during the winter when the station water needs are much lower, access to water is much more difficult and the melt bell is used to eke out a small but constant supply. It is therefore important that all three tanks are available and full at the start of the winter period.

Whilst grouting the water tank may seem like a fairly simple exercise, it does require a significant amount of planning. And this is Antarctica after all. Nothing is easy down here. The tank is a designated confined space and therefore a range of safety measures needed to be implemented. Appropriate scaffolding was constructed to facilitate access and the roof of the tank was removed to assist with both access and ventilation. Fans and hoses were installed to create constant airflow and gas detectors were used to monitor the atmosphere in the tank whilst personnel were working. A hoist was set up above the tank so that a rescue could be performed if anything went wrong and breathing apparatus qualified expeditioners (as well as the BA itself) were on standby at all times to monitor the situation and be ready to respond should an emergency arise.  Of course mandated personal protective equipment was at hand and worn/used by all expeditioners involved in the work.  

Grouting was completed during the week and after a little finishing work and some cleaning up (lots of cleaning up) the tank house will return to normal and the spa and sauna will be open again for use.