Two hundred kilometre per hour winds, the winter solstice celebrated, and holiday fun at Casey this week. Plus, a midwinters dinner of epic proportions, and not to be missed. (WARNING: do not read if hungry)

Blizzing in the balloon shed

This week started with a blizzard (winds over 100 knots and 200 kilometers per hour with nil visibility) which left the outside of the balloon shed clean of snow. This is great as the normal situation is that the duty observer has to dig out the balloon shed door in order to launch the morning balloon.

However, this blizzard had a surprise in store for us. While there was no snow on the outside, the balloon room itself was full of tons snow which took Stewie and Gunny most of the day to move, and that was with the aid of a Herman Nelson (industrial heater). The facility was rendered safe by isolating the hydrogen gas and disabling the fire alarms.

Typically, a following blizzard 24 hours later filled the shed up again but this time it was Steve and Dan who cleared the snow.

Unfortunately the midwinters swim has had to be delayed due to weather (and the blizz blowing away most of our sea ice and depositing a greater than metre thick layer so we could not see what remained).

What came first

At Casey, we started our midwinter celebrations with a delicious brunch in the Wallow — partly to allow the dining room to be decorated and table set for our dinner due to start in the late afternoon, but mostly to keep out of Eddie’s way as he made those last minute preparations.

Our brunch delivered the necessary to last until the afternoon’s feast — bacon, eggs and sausages along with croissants, Danish style pastries, Bircher museli, winter fruit compote, freshly made yogurt, fruit juices, and banana smoothies.

We quietly demolished that, then set about getting everything prepared, including ourselves. With the swim delayed for a better day, many took a dip in the hot pool set up outside the front entrance to the red shed. A frosted beard was cultivated by some to look the part.

We then dressed and congregated for photos in our finery, complete with glass of bubbly, to start the formal proceedings of the day.

Midwinter festivities

Midwinters, the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year —  on the 22 July the sun starts returning and before we know it we’ll have 24 hours of daylight. How quickly the seasons change down here!

Back to midwinters, this is the biggest celebration on the Antarctic calendar, an event that all here celebrate in varying ways, regardless of what country people are from or on what part of the continent their base is situated. It’s not just Antarctica where midwinters is celebrated either, especially by those people who have been fortunate enough to have summered or wintered on this magnificent continent previously. Every year hundreds of people attend midwinters dinners all over Australia with the biggest being held in Hobart, Tasmania — over 200 guests attending. Many friends are reunited, stories swapped and tales told. It’s nice to know that many of our friends are celebrating at home as we are celebrating down here.

As a general rule at Australian stations, and indeed for us here at Casey, this year midwinters 22 June encompasses a huge day. In fact, we saved some earlier public holidays and made ours last five days. The day is started with brunch, followed by a dip in the ocean (weather permitting), a meal that often goes on for hours interspersed with readings, poems, toasts, messages from home and the like, and in the late evening some locally produced entertainment often followed by the screening of that quintessential Antarctic movie, ‘The Thing’. This year we also threw in a midwinter olympics — ‘The Red Shed Games’ — comprising various events from mini golf and carpet bowls in the red shed to curling and ice hockey using ice pucks and curling ice (stones).*

Despite Scotty’s birthday, post-dinner entertainment by Elvis and Roy, games, movies and so on, the most anticipated event of our five days of celebrations, spoken about for months in the lead up, is the midwinters dinner. This year was no exception, taking months of planning, weeks of preparation and several days of prep time including the day itself. This year our chef at Casey, Eddie, did an outstanding job preparing our ten courses, although we only got through nine (we ran out of time and stomach capacity). It was an event to remember for years to come. Below are some photos of the day that will better sum up our event, so I’ll sign off and let them do the talking.


*to be reported in next week’s edition of ‘This Week At Casey'.

Extreme viewing of The Thing

We watched the 1982 classic ‘The Thing’ after our midwinter dinner and the somewhat riotous entertainment that followed — a chance to wind down from the events of the day (despite this not even starting until around 0100 in the morning).

We did intend to follow the first film with the new version but most were snoozing at the end of the first one so we decided to leave that for another evening, as we had a few days leave still up our sleeves.

On Monday night we decided to brave the — 22°C temperatures and visit the stunning outdoor cinema carved into a bliz tail (snow accumulated in the lee of buildings) at the end of the red shed by none other than our resident plant operator Cary Collis.

We picked a tier and settled down to watch with some more prepared than others. I know I had a thermarest, an aerobics mat, a hot water bottle, a thermos flask, a freezer suit, two woollen blankets, several scarves, my rabbit-skin Mad Bomber hat, thick socks and glacier boots, and finally warm gloves (plus chocolates and a drop of Baileys to add to the coffee) — the only things showing were my eyes.

It was the perfect setting — the slightly rough ice that served as a screen fitted in well with the Antarctic scenery depicted in the movie, adding a three dimensional effect. And to top it all off there was an aurora overhead to add atmosphere.