Another busy week at Casey with flights, visitors, survival training with a blizz and we meet Antarctic first timer, carpenter Chris Fitzgerald.

Station update

Casey is up and running for the season.

Another busy week on Station with both a C-17A flight bringing cargo and a small group of Defence personnel to see flight operations at Wilkins, and an A319 transferring a group of Chinese via Basler to the Chinese station, Zhong Shan. Also on the A319 were a group of parliamentarians, some round tripping and some heading down to Casey for a quick visit, to view Australia’s Antarctic infrastructure as part of their remit on the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories. They have been given a great Antarctic welcome with a busy schedule of building visits, including (lucky them) the waste water treatment plant… a must see site on the Casey tourist trail!

Two more lots of survival training have also been undertaken, with quite an exciting adventure in a blizz for one group; lets just say they really practised their survival skills (see Scotty Clifford’s story for a recap).

After the blizz on Thursday/Friday (the first for our season) the weekend weather was beautiful, providing the opportunity for quite a few lucky people to travel across the sea ice to Shirley Island to visit our neighbouring Adèlie penguin colony. The penguins are busy preparing for the arrival of their chicks, with much frantic rock stealing activity underway in order to build suitable nests.

The weekend was capped off by our first formal Saturday night dinner. Glenn and the chefs excelled themselves with a delicious spit roast lamb and suckling pig, finished off with a delicious dessert with a custard that may have had just a tiny smidge of Baileys as the special secret ingredient.

Now we sit poised for the next plane arrival, hopefully bringing our new bus, Priscilla

The Survivalists — survival training in a blizz

It was a Thursday morning as we ventured down to the Casey field store. Today was the day 10 lucky expeditioners were to commence their Antarctic survival training. For most, this was to be their very first taste of the true Antarctic experience away from the the comforts of station life.

Survival training at Casey is completed over 24 hours. The morning consists of theory about appropriate layering of clothing, survival pack contents and packing, as well as compass, map and GPS navigation. The afternoon consists of an off-station trip to Shirley Island to complete practical sessions in sea ice travel and navigation. The evening consists of ration food cooking plus the famous sleep in our reliable bivy bags AKA ‘chip packets'. It’s all designed to prepare us for survival in unpredictable elements of Antarctica.

After dinner, we all retired to bed for a restless sleep, with nothing more than a bivy bag, sleeping bag and 1cm foam mat for comfort. We were grateful for the calm weather and warm temperatures this friendly continent was offering for the evening.

Little did we know…

It was around midnight when we received our first gust of wind, this came as a bit of a surprise as we were only expecting 25 knot winds for the evening. I poked my head out of my bivy to see there was only a small amount of blowing snow around the place, nothing to worry about as this was as predicted. As I lay in my bivy for the next hour I noticed that these winds were increasing. In curiosity I poked my head out my bivy again and could only see white. Ahh! Here it is, right on cue, true Antarctic survival weather — a blizzard!

After some strenuous but careful navigation through the blizzard with our throw line ropes from our survival bags we managed to retrieve everyone safely from their bivy bags, which were scattered around camp. With the relief of having all people accounted for in the survival camp polar pyramid tents, we set to the task of awaiting the rescue team from station.

With visibility of less than 1m and winds gusting 144km/h the first rescue attempt by Hägglunds was hampered by difficult terrain and was forced to return to station. After some strategic radio chatter and GPS coordinate communication, the Hägglunds set out from station along an alternative route. Thirty minutes later we finally heard the best sound in the world, a diesel engine idling outside and a friendly voice at the front of our tent door after an exhausting 8 hours of waiting.

We all piled into the back of the Hägglunds guided by our friendly rescuer one by one, each jumping inside and lunging at the hot blackcurrent and chocolate which had been prepared for us by the station; perfect for the energy replenishment we all required after such a long night in the cold.

After some precise Hägglunds driving by our other friendly rescuer, guided only by GPS, we arrived back on station around 10 am to a heroes welcome — survival training complete in true Antarctic survival style!

Scott Clifford

5 mins with the 71st ANARE crew: Chris Fitzgerald

Name: Chris Fitzgerald

Nicknames: Fitzy

From: Blackheath, Blue Mountains

Previous seasons? This is my first

Job title: Carpenter

Describe your role in two sentences:

I am on the infastructure maintenance team this summer season which entails anything from moving an x ray machine for the doctor to repairing and adjusting fire doors.

What did you do before your joined the AAD?

I am a self-employed carpenter working locally in the Blue Mountains. I usually work by myself on quiet domestic jobs back home. It’s a big change to be working with so many other great people on a complex and fascinating Antarctic research station.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey?

Driving in Hägglunds and looking at the amazing view of icebergs floating in the ocean.

If you were not a carpenter what would be your dream job?

Carpentry is pretty close to a dream job for me, however I wouldn’t mind mixing it up one day and re-train to be a mechanic.

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south?

This is my first trip south but the area around Casey station does have many similarities to the main range of Kosciuszko National Park in winter (apart from the icebergs).

I have spent a lot of time in the northern arctic so the 24 hour daylight and cold temps aren’t too much of a shock to the system.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Reading in the sunny corner of the wallow in the red shed on the super comfy chairs.

The library has an impressive range of great books.

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?

Mighty fine tucker and great people.

What actor would play you in a film version of our 71stANARE season here at Casey?

Richard Dean Anderson (Mcgyver)

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit?

The beanie

What is your favourite book/movie (or both) and why?

Da vinci code (book) — Great genealogical thriller, hard to put down.

James Bond, Golden Eye — always a fan of Pierce Brosnan, I love the stunt at the start of the movie where he rides off the end of the cliff top runway on a motorbike and catches up with a pilot–less plane midair. 

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite?

To be honest I haven’t really explored the music system yet as all the music played to date has been fantastic! I do miss Triple J but the quality and mix of the music on station is brilliant!

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.

Sight: The red, blue, yellow and red Hägglunds all lined up and looking tough!

Smell: Culinary masterpieces from the kitchen.

Sound: The gentle drone of the diesel generator at night.

Feeling: Extremely privileged to be able to contribute to Australian Antarctic Program.

Taste: Semi dried bananas.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with?

'Do it once, do it right'