Music, weather, plumbing and science — it’s all happening at Casey!

Summer music at Casey

While at Casey this summer season I’ve been keeping an ear out for music in the corridors, the Music Corner, the Wallow, the general bar area of the Red Shed and even in the emergency vehicle shelter where the music and dress-up gear is stored on the mezzanine floor. Other than the small instrument we carry in our throats, we see a small variety of stringed, percussion, key board and winds instruments, much of which is owned by the AAD.

But if I were to be asked what is more important in people’s lives at Casey — language or music, I would have to say the former. I’ve just been reading through a book on this matter:

“Who Asked the First Question? The Origins of Human Choral Singing, Intelligence, Language and Speech” is a book on human evolution and the origins of human choral singing. It was written by Joseph Jordania, ethnomusicologist and evolutionary musicologist, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne. The book was published in 2006 by “Logos”. The book discusses the origins of choral singing, and more broadly, the origins of music and many related issues, including origins of human intelligence, language, speech, etiology and cross-cultural prevalence of stuttering and dyslexia. As a continuation of his 2006 book, Jordania published another book in 2011, ”Why do People Sing? Music in Human Evolution which is mostly dedicated to the role of singing in evolution of human morphology and behaviour.

But, back to Music at Casey. We get a variety of music coming from the Slushy Movement, a group of people (actually all on station) who were given the right to select the station music (transmitted through Casey’s VNJ radio) for a day — ie. 8am to 6pm. Apparently Sir Douglas Mawson decreed this 100 years ago!

So who on station is creating music, what are they playing and why?

Phil Marthick (electrician) — guitar, harmonica

Trev Crews (communications technician) — harmonica, guitar

Jeb Browne (electrician) — harmonica, Jew’s harp

Jamie Lowe (building services supervisor and plumber) — drums, guitar , keyboard

Mark Hunt (station leader) — banjo

Rhian Davies (mechanic) — harmonica

Bec Miller (scientist) — keyboard

Tim James (weather observer) — harmonica

Greg Hince (scientist) — guitar keyboard

Zbynek Malenovsky (scientist) — guitar

There are many reasons for music at Casey. The main ones are a desire to learn music notation, re-honing of lost skills and rehearsing what been learned, all for family and friends here on Station and back home. When I asked people on station about their music I received some interesting responses including the following:

Greg Hince:

“ I suppose you could say I am a musician in the RAN, having joined in 1989 as Trumpet, French Horn player and vocalist. I have performed both in defence and civilian bands at events from dinners and weddings through to major concerts and public events such as Carols by Candlelight, AFL Football matches and V8 Supercars. Highlights have been performing and touring overseas with bands in the Philippines and the USA, and singing the National Anthem prior to an international cricket test match.”

Mark Hunt:

“My goals are to be able to (1) play a passable version of dueling banjos with one of the guitarists down here by the time I go home, (2) play the banjo part of Little Lion Man, (3) to play well enough that I can surround my future grandchildren with music without other people complaining about the noise and (4) maybe one day to serenade my wife, though I don’t know that the banjo was the best choice of instrument for that — maybe I need to move onto the Mandolin for that one.”

Bec Miller:

“Music has always been a big part of my family life and among my most treasured memories. I learned piano from age of 6, and double bass from 13 (classically trained). I have played bass with a range of amateur theatre companies and community orchestras that allowed to tour Europe three times. Music was a really important part of my Casey 2011–12 experience — from Carols by Candlelight on Christmas “eve”, to jam sessions in the Red Shed, the EVS and even at Robbo’s hut on field trips, I loved the way the music brought people together. Since being home from Casey, where I was inspired by the many talented and versatile guitarists on station. I have started guitar lessons, am playing more piano, and have picked up my bass again.”

Jamie Lowe:

“Both my parents had musical interests, Mum played a little piano, and Dad was and still is, a jazz drummer. While I was growing up, I guess I just thought it was normal to have a drum kit and a piano in the house… .but now I realise how lucky I actually was to have access to these instruments. And at school I met one of my biggest influences, my music teacher, Monty Mumford. Since then, I've been lucky enough to play with some great artists such as Geoff Achison, Dutch Tilders, Erik Culberson in the US and some fantastic local musicians in Melbourne. Nowadays, I guess my favourite genre is blues, and funk… feel good music to me is why you do it… it’s good for the soul, and why I will keep doing it as long as I can.”

Tim James:

“I have been playing the harp for about 15 years… don’t think I’m very good, but love to have a go. I prefer to play the blues because the 12 bar sequence is pretty easy to get your head around once you've been doing it a while, but will have a go at anything if someone is strummin’ a guitar. It’s much more enjoyable when others are playing alongside, I think.”

As well as the plethora of instruments being played on station there was no shortage of voices and we had high hopes of enrolling people in the inaugural Georgian Antarctic Choir. Names (and voices) high on the list for the choir were:

Aaron McKechnie, Jorg Metz, Lewis Firth, Beck McWatters, Bec Miller, Greg Hince, Fiona Fry, Zbynek Malenovsky

Unfortunately, because of the transience of much of the population at Casey over summer, the Casey Choir didn’t quite get off the ground as we had hoped but three events did bring us together in song, both to listen to others and to enjoy singing ourselves. The station experienced some world class polyphony through:

1. Christmas Wallow by Candle Light.

2. Polyphony Video Concert featuring Gorani, Men in Suits, Spooky Men’s Choral to name a few.

3. Karaoke Night.

Casey Station enjoys its music in all of its forms and rumour has it that with the arrival of the last wintering expeditioner on the ship this week, the wintering crew will have the delights of bagpipes to complement the rest.

How’s this weather then?!

During the summer at Casey we have been lucky enough to have many people give up their time to tell us about their work and their experiences both in Antarctica and elsewhere. Memorable seminars and slideshows have included Mick Eccles talking about his experiences with the United Nations in places as diverse as Somalia and Afghanistan, Iain Field regaling us with tales (and facts) about elephant seals, their travels and their sex lives, and Jorg Metz giving us an appreciation of Gorani choral history and its modern interpretation in Australia.

Over the past six weeks we have also had a lecture series presented by our summer weather forecaster, Annalise Pearson, helping us to understand the weather systems around this part of Antarctica and to interpret the information that the forecasters and the observers provide for us. As well as being interesting, this is really useful for expeditioners, particularly those of us wintering, as we need to be aware constantly of the weather and how it is changing in order to stay safe.

The lecture series culminated this week in an explanation of the ‘hydraulic jump'. Over the summer, significant deviations of the weather from the forecasts (and generally strange weather) were often explained by Annalise as being because of the hydraulic jump as systems moved down the plateau. A few of us thought Annalise was making this up. But apparently not, as we all found out the other night when our progressive exposure over the past weeks to pressure systems and coriolis forces, rising & falling air and the effects of temperature on pressure all came together in an understanding of what exactly a hydraulic jump entails. Well, we all pretended to understand anyway.

Thanks to everyone for giving their time over summer to entertain and inform us, especially Annalise who persevered with us for so long.


Of the various trade groups on station, the plumbers are probably the most mysterious and feared. Since the resupply in December we have had four plumbers on station and they have a multitude of important tasks. Let’s face it, without the plumbers there is no water and no sewerage works, no waste disposal and no recycling. Lack of any of these can make for a very unhappy station, but when a single group controls all of it… well that’s the sort of power that the station leader can only dream of.

Not only were the summer Casey plumbing team in a pretty strong position because of their role on station, but they were a very experienced group as well. Bob Rowland has been down for his ninth summer south and Rob Lemme is in his third season, having wintered during 2010 at Davis. Rob Thorne will be staying on for winter — his fifth winter in Antarctica. The fourth member of the plumbing team, Jamie Lowe, is in his first summer south and is taking on the building services supervisor role for the coming winter.

Led by Bob, known on station equally for his uncompromising wit and his boundless energy (as a young man in his seventies), the plumbers strike fear into the hearts of other expeditioners with comments like “so we need some help to clean out the waste treatment plant on Wednesday” and “well I could do that for you if you can go clean out the grease trap”.

Over the past four months, the plumbers have been very keen to test the resolve of the novice station leader — Mark. This started during his first week on station when Bob generously took time out to show Mark the waste treatment plant and gave him the opportunity (shamed him into) opening, poking and stirring every possible object and item in the facility. Following this were adventures in grease traps, sludge tanks, a major repair to the main sewage pipe and many other “fascinating” jobs. However the gold standard in plumbing assistance on station is the end of summer clean out of the waste treatment plant where the solid waste residue (known as scum) is removed from the tanks by shovel and placed in bins for return to Australia and environmentally appropriate disposal. Mark thought he had cunningly avoided this ‘opportunity’ by rostering himself on for slushy in the kitchen on the designated day. But the plumbers very generously found someone else who could fill in for him so that he could spend the morning at the waste treatment plant, covered head to toe in personal protective equipment (and eventually in other stuff) and wielding a shovel.

Mark said later that the experience was ‘unforgettable’ and that he had learned ‘more than he could ever have imagined wanting to know about human waste'.

In appreciation for his efforts over the summer, the plumbers appointed Mark as a trainee and presented him with a special shirt. If rewards are valued according to what they cost to earn, then Mark will treasure that shirt for the rest of his life.

The plumbers do a great job on station, providing us with extraordinary comfort considering where we are. The fact that they are also such a good natured, generous and ****-stirring bunch of characters makes life here an enormous amount of fun.

Thanks guys for your efforts over the summer.

The science lab update

Inspection of the Casey Science Building and cutting of the ribbon for the updated ASP, Physics & Chemistry Hall of Fame.

Mark Hunt (SL) and Dave Davies (DSL) made an end of season Casey Science Building inspection today and the ribbon was cut, opening the ASP, Physics & Chemistry picture gallery. (Thanks to Dan & Brad for making it possible.)

Space and Atmospheric Sciences (ASP)

Going automatic: Australia’s ASP observatories

The year 2001 marks a turning point for the Atmospheric and Space Physics (ASP) program. For the first time for many years (since 1957 for Mawson, early 1980s for Macquarie Island) there are no people wintering at Mawson or Macquarie Island whose primary role is to support atmospheric and cosmic ray physics research.

Despite this, the ASP program is alive and well at both stations, as well as Casey, which will go automatic in future. Autonomous equipment will enable continued logging of essential data under the control of ASP personnel at Australian Antarctic Division headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania. Standard riometer and magnetic pulsation observations will continue at all three stations, as well as fluxgate magnetometer observations at Casey, all-sky imaging at Casey and Macquarie Island, and cosmic ray observations at Mawson.

The automation program, which implements a recommendation of Australia’s Antarctic Program Beyond 2000 (1997), puts ASP at the leading edge of instrument automation. The program was aimed at continuing collection of essential data from each station while reducing operational costs to allow resources to be diverted to major programs at Davis, including the Lidar project.

Read on to learn more about Casey’s Riometer — just west of the Science Building:

A riometer (relative ionospheric opacity meter) (30 MHz) is an instrument used to quantify the amount of electromagnetic wave ionospheric absorption in the atmosphere. As the name implies, a riometer measures the ``opacity” of the ionosphere to radio noise emanating from distant stars and galaxies. In the absence of any ionospheric absorption, this radio noise, averaged over a sufficiently long period of time, forms a quiet-day curve. Increased ionization in the ionosphere will cause absorption of radio signals (both terrestrial and extraterrestrial), and a departure from the quiet-day curve. The difference between the quiet-day curve and the riometer signal is an indicator of the amount of absorption, and is measured in decibels. Riometers are generally passive radio antenna operating in the VHF radio frequency range (~30 MHz).

The Riometer was developed in the mid 1950’s by scientists at the University of Alaska who were researching the radio propagation effects of aurora. At times aurora resulted in complete failure of long distance radio communication to planes in the Arctic - a matter of considerable concern to the US Air Force at a time of tension with the Soviet Union.

Jorg GH Metz, Laboratory Manager