Midwinter celebrations at Casey were almost derailed by very high winds. Witness the spirit of our expeditioners as they cope with aggressive weather and freezing water! Did they push on?


Midwinter is the most important day of the year in Antarctica, a cause for celebration as it marks the point at which daylight starts to get closer (or last for longer) and with it the promise of summer and its relative warmth and the return of wildlife.  While increasing numbers of people are lucky enough to experience Antarctica in the summer, either through work or the burgeoning tourism industry, experiencing an Antarctic winter is still something that is restricted to very few.  And midwinter day is that point in time when we can sit back and know that we have lived in this most hostile of places, through the worst of what it has to offer.  And like any decent holiday, it is also a time for expeditioners to loosen up a little, exchange the odd gift and remind each other of just how awesome this place is before we knuckle back down to work again. It may be midwinter after all, but that still leaves  over three months before the conditions will allow any summer people to come in and join our community.

At Casey, our celebrations for midwinter started with a BBQ in the workshop on Wednesday evening. A long sheet of plastic, a makeshift goal and ice hockey pucks made using the local conditions, water and egg poaching rings provided the entertainment with Mark G demonstrating prowess with the custom-made hockey stick.  Just to remind us why we were celebrating, the weather picked up and we had 90 knot winds and blowing snow during the evening.  Yep, midwinter!

On Thursday morning we had a late brunch before our video hook-up with the other stations and head office in Kingston.  Our planned swim had to be postponed because of the weather.  Our feast was planned for 3:30pm, with cocktails and canapes in the bar at 2.30.  The canapes and cocktails were so good we were a little late getting into the mess, but when we got there, chef Gav (and his helpers) had produced a wonderful meal for us including duck fettuccine (with freshly made wattle seed pasta), seafood medley tartlets,  Midori lime and mint sorbets, dukkah crusted lamb racks and lobster and hollandaise topped beef fillet among all sorts of other goodies. We enjoyed a trio of berry cheesecake, white chocolate and Sambuca mousse for dessert and an extensive cheese platter to finish. The station leader’s wine cellar was raided and everyone dipped into their own supplies to find their best bottle for the occasion.

During dinner, RSVPs to our invitations were read out, colleagues remembered and gifts were exchanged. Jason and Sheri had brought gifts for everyone from home, Jeb had crafted us all leather keyrings with commemorative centenary inlays and Phill had made everyone a beautiful hand crafted replica ice axe mounted on a timber backing. Mike had also created an exact replica of the signpost outside the Red Shed mounted on a spirit barrel and engraved with the names of the 2012 wintering crew. Mike presented this to Station Leader Mark H on behalf of the whole team. It is a fantastic piece much appreciated by Mark. A few speeches were then made and some excerpts from midwinter diaries of 100 years ago and 25 years ago (the first midwinter at the preset Casey Station) were read out.

The late start to the meal meant that our 8:00pm planned showing of the midwinter pantomime was put back a little, but all agreed that it was well worth the wait.  The station put on a performance of Snow White and the Seven Tradies, partly written, directed, produced, edited and starring local thespian and comms tech, Andy.  With Bri putting in a starring performance as the wicked stepmother, Stu as the mirror, Gav as the hapless Snow White, Misty as Prince Charming, Mike as The Woodsman and Dave & Craig as Met Fairies, not to mention the seven tradies. The show had the rest of the station in stitches and wrapped up the day's formalities perfectly.

We wound down with some dancing and singing and no small amount of laughter.

Friday meant there was some work to be done. The station doesn’t run itself and the weather prevented us still from having our swim (or doing much else outside for that matter). But we had a roast pig on a spit in the workshop for dinner and a modified curling competition to keep us amused.  Andy (with some help from Dan) had manufactured ‘stones’ out of ice with timber handles and these worked very nicely on our ‘ice hockey’ surface from Wednesday evening.

Saturday finally brought with it some nice weather and Jason, Dan, Misty and Stu headed down to the sea ice to prepare our swimming hole.  By 11.30 we were all briefed and ready to go.  Doc Sheri was a little apprehensive about the whole concept but as one after the other the expeditioners made it into and out of the water with no apparent ill effects (but with a fair amount of screaming and cursing) even Sheri found the whole thing a lot of fun. Some mulled wine awaited us back in the Red Shed (thanks Brewmaster Jeb) and various low impact activities were chosen for the rest of the afternoon. The spa and sauna were very popular.

Saturday evening brought Stu’s Single Malt Whisky Appreciation Extravaganza, in which we all dug deep and found a wide selection of single malt whiskies and handed them over to Stu. Stu (our resident Scot) then gave us presentations on the history and types of whisky, provided tasting notes and a video explaining the proper way to taste whisky (quite different form wine) and walked us through a tour of the various whisky distilling regions of Scotland. We had a couple of glasses of whisky as well (in moderation, of course).  Very enjoyable evening and we all learned quite a lot as well.

Sunday saw the finish of our midwinter celebrations.  With the weather improved, Dave, Jamie, Mark G and Andy headed over to Wilkes for a short ceremony to scatter the ashes of one of the previous station leaders — Dick Saxton.  In the middle of the day, we enjoyed a champagne brunch, put on by Doc Sheri and in the evening we watched some of the footage and photos from the preceding few days before deciding we were all too tired to watch The Thing and needed to get some sleep before heading back to work in the morning.

Our midwinter celebrations were a great success. Everyone on station contributed and we will all remember this weekend for the rest of our lives.

The midwinter swim

Our traditional midwinter swim was delayed from midwinter day on Thursday until Saturday due to some pretty nasty and variable weather.  Our swim (as well as the one in summer) is governed by very clear guidelines within our standard operating procedures in order to make sure that it is a safe, as well as fun, event. 

Part of those guidelines include the amount of wind we can tolerate and so we had to wait for the 90 knot winds of Wednesday night to get down to something far more reasonable.  On Saturday morning, they had dropped away to only 5 or 10 knots, as close to perfect as we were going to get.  Due to the recent blizzard, the air temperature wasn’t too bad either, hovering just under −20, and the water temperature sits just under −2, the point at which the sea water here freezes.

Preparations for the swimming hole had been carried out earlier in the week but on Saturday morning, in the dark of course, Jason, Stu, Misty and Dan headed down to the sea ice to dig out all the freshly frozen ice and get the site ready, including making sure there were mats leading across the ice to the hole, setting up the ‘caravan’ for people to get changed in and get warm and generally decorating the site to make it feel a little more tropical.

At 11.30 we had a final briefing in the mess and then headed down in Haggs as the sun starting to skim the horizon. We had timed the swim to make the most of the little bit of light that we would get  but, let’s face it, none of us was going to be improving our tan today.

Our station doc, Sheri, had given us all medical assessments a month earlier, checked them again during the week and given us all presentations on the various ways we could get into trouble during the swim.  Despite all of this preparation, she started the event with a very concerned look on her face.  But as things proceeded and we all emerged from the water cold but intact, even Sheri relaxed and everyone had a great time.  Out of the nineteen of us on station, fifteen went in, even DSL Dave, finally convinced that it was worth doing on his third winter down south. And just when we thought all of the wildlife had deserted us for the winter, a Weddell seal appeared in our swimming hole, somehow finding it under the sea ice, which stretched unbroken as far as we could see.

It took us about an hour and a half to all get into the water, pack everything up and get back up to the station where mulled wine and the spa were de riguer for the afternoon.  We were all glad of the experience, but in the end I think most of us agreed that the midwinter swim is something a person only needs to do once.

Remembrance ceremony for Richard Saxton

On Sun 24 June 2012 a service was held at the memorial hill at Wilkes Station to fulfill a request by a past OIC of Wilkes, Richard (Dick) Saxton.

Richard was the OIC at Wilkes in 1963 and developed a passion for Antarctica from an early age. He applied for the position after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper which started a long term association with the Australian Antarctic Division and continued through to include an outstanding record of 30 continuous years from 1974 to 2004 serving on the Council of the ANARE Club, including 2 years as President.

During the year, Dick led two field traverses (Autumn 6 Apr–11 May and again in Spring 28 Sept–8 Jan, 1964).

As recognition of his undertakings for ANARE, the ANCA named Saxton Ridge in his honour. The site was plotted from ANARE air photos taken in 1956.

Saxton Ridge is a mountain ridge just south of Thomson Massif in the Aramis Range in the Prince Charles Mountains.

The intention was for the service to be conducted on midwinter’s day, 21 June 2012. However, due to bad weather, this was postponed until Sun 24 June 2012.

The day started out clear but cloud diminished the brief appearance of the sun as the group arrived at Wilkes.

After the reading of poems, a brief history of the 1963 year was given highlighting some of the major achievements and events of the year. This provided all in attendance with some insight to how different living and working in Antarctica is now compared to Richard’s year.

A eulogy was recited and under a stiff breeze, Richard’s ashes were scattered over the site. A minute’s silence was observed followed by the reading of a poem by Sir Douglas Mawson that poignantly ended the service.

A copy of the station log together with a DVD of the ceremony has been made that will be sent to Richard’s family on the first mail opportunity next season.

Misty’s Mad Minute introducing Mark G

NAME: Mark Grainger

ROLE ON STATION: Met Tech & Met Observer

OTHER APPOINTMENTS:  Hydroponics, Fire Team

What is the 1 thing you enjoy most about your current job? The opportunity to work in Antarctica.

Why Antarctica? The place, wildlife and the people that also want to be here. I’ve been interested in Antarctica since childhood.

What did you give up to come to Antarctica? Hugs from my daughters. I was also in the process of renewing my pilot’s licence.

Any work lined up on your return to Australia? I have an ongoing job as a Met Tech with the bureau (but not doing weather obs).

What other occupation would you have if not an electronics technician? Working in the aviation industry, most likely flying. 

If not at Casey this year, what else would you be doing? Working as a Met Tech in Tasmania, flying and travelling.

Hobbies at Casey? Photography, learning French.

New hobbies for home and the future? Get back into flying.

Buying any large toys on your return home? I’m buying a car now so that will be waiting when I get back to Tas.

Holidays planned? Possibly UK and Europe or elsewhere in the northern hemisphere.

The Red Shed is burning down and you are only have time to save one thing? A camera — or am I supposed to say “my survival pack”?

Which other Antarctic station would you like to visit? Mawson. Macquarie Island is subantarctic but I’d like to visit there as well.

What are your taste buds craving most? Bananas.

One item you wished you brought down? Bananas.

Your favourite hut? Bananas, sorry Jack’s. Also like Browning for the location and Wilkes for the hut size.

Favourite Antarctic wildlife? Snow petrels.

Most important thing you would take on a jolly? Camera.

Favourite summer highlight? Visiting McMurdo and Scott bases en route to Casey.

Antarctic highlight? Watching the AA depart at the end of summer.

Winter highlight so far? Discovering that snow petrels also winter in Antarctica.

Name 3 people you would like to invite to the midwinter dinner? Too many to mention and I don’t want to pick only three.

If your life was a song, which one would it be this week? The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night.

Favourite day of the year? Midwinter’s.

Favourite place in the world? The beaches around Eddystone Point.

How do you have your jalapenos? Whole, fried. Choo choo!

If comms could download one Olympic event for us to watch this year, any request? If Roy & HG revive The Dream, then any event they are commentating on.

What is the first thing you will do when you return to Australia? Sit on a warm sandy beach and eat bananas ‘til I’m sick.