This week we try and share with you just some of the fun and festivities of midwinter at Casey.

Station update

Well, it’s done. Midwinter is over and now we look to the return of the sun, and eventually packing up and going home. A fabulous day (or days) had by all here on station as I hope you will be able to tell from Scotty T’s story and the photos to follow.

Midwinter was not just a celebration, but also a time of reflection and what it means to be here in this extraordinary place at this time of year. Some of that was echoed in my speech for our midwinter dinner; an extract of which is provided below.

Now station life has quickly returned to normal routine; we’re back into the Red Shed renovations, the maintenance teams go on providing power and water and treating our waste (although that didn’t really stop), the Diesos continue fixin’ stuff and countin’ stuff (they’re loving their annual stocktake), and the rest of us keep on with our winter tasks.

Next is to look to our traverses to Law Dome and Cape Poinsett for work on the automatic weather stations (when the weather’s a little warmer). Weeks of planning, preparation and training for what back home would be a half day’s drive from Canberra to Sydney. It shows what a wild place this is.

Here’s to the next four months, and, in the words of Captain Scott: “what room for doubt is there that we shall triumphantly weather the whole term with the same general happiness and contentment”.

Rebecca, Casey Station Leader

Casey’s Midwinter report

Midwinter celebrations kicked off on Friday 15th, with the official opening of the new Casey bar, Splinters II. The Projects team had been working hard to meet this target since winter began, and the night was marked with Dom (chef extraordinaire) putting on a burger night for dinner, followed by a group beer tasting in the new bar. 2 Dogs Brewing Co. had put together 12 different boutique beers for the Casey family to taste and rank according to colour, aroma, and taste.

This night also marked the start of our ‘Ultimate Expeditioner’ competition. The competition was put together by Troy and Bec and designed to test the skills and knowledge of the Casey crew and crown an ultimate champion. The competition kicked off with a quiz. Expeditioners were split into four groups, and their knowledge tested on everything from Aussie music, Antarctic facts, sports and knowledge on our fellow expeditioners. Over the following week, expeditioners would also work their way through a darts, pool and chess comp to establish the overall victor!

Tuesday 19th saw the toughest (arguably mentally ill) of the Casey crew brave the sub minus 15 degree temps to take a swim in a two metre by two metre hole that had been cut into the 800mm thick ice as part of the midwinter tradition. This usually happens on midwinter’s day, but due to the weather forecast looking unfavourable, it was moved forward.

The swim itself was painful to watch, but undoubtedly more painful to participate. There were some primal moans and groans as people tried their best to cope with the −1.8 degree water. The frigid water, unfortunately, was just the beginning of the pain. Exiting the water to the −15 degree air temperature was another test of an expeditioner’s stamina. Needless to say, the 30 metre dash to the adjacent hut was made in record time, where heating and warm clothes were a sight for sore eyes.

Midwinter’s day, the 21st of June, marked 237 days on the ice for most of the wintering crew. The day started off with a video hook up with Kingston for a memorial service to pay respects to expeditioners who have lost their lives on the Antarctic continent and sub-Antarctic islands. It was a solemn reminder as to how dangerous this place can be.

We proceeded to have brunch, which our brilliant chef Dom had put together for us. A selection of bacon, eggs, brisket, and pastries were on the menu.

The afternoon was filled with the continuation of the ultimate expeditioner comps, with ‘friendly’ darts, pool and chess matches held as people worked their way through the draws. There was also an ice hockey match held in the mess, utilising makeshift plywood hockey sticks and a piece of ice as a puck.

As the afternoon came to an end, we all donned our best suits/dresses and met in the new bar for some pre-dinner drinks, and the traditional exchange of midwinter gifts. From stools, to boom boxes, walking sticks to dog/cat costumes and more. We were all amazed at some of the creations people had put together for the occasion.

Once our gifts were exchanged, we made our way to the dinner table, which we had moved to the newly built first floor. Dom had again gone above and beyond with his meal preparations, and we were spoiled with a delicious three course meal. The whole crew could not express enough their thanks to Dom for the efforts he had put in to cater for the night.

At the end of the meal, the traditions continued as we were read some of the replies to our midwinter invitations sent to various friends, family and celebrities. A lot of laughs ensued when hearing some of the excuses as to why they could not attend. There were also various video replies to add to the night, with a notable mention of none other than the one and only Russell Coight, who had put together a clip especially for us!

Then it was time for the pre-prepared video entertainment, the ‘Sounds of Penguins’ video clip involving the entire station and then some comedy skits, ‘LetterCasey', based on the Canadian comedy ‘LetterKenny’ which many on station have enjoyed watching this year. Great entertainment, although the bloopers were probably the best!

We saw the night out with a few drinks and a dance party in the new bar.

A great night (great week even) was had by all. Lots of laughter, lots of good times, and a few days to recover at the end of it, as we look forward to seeing the return of the longer days and making the most of our remaining 130 days on station.

Scott T

Casey’s Midwinter in photos

Station Leader Midwinter address

When preparing this speech for tonight… I asked myself why?

Not why do I have to make a speech… and yes, I promise it will be short (a short speech is a good speech). But why is midwinter so important to us? And why do we take part in these traditions?

Yes, it’s the winter solstice, we now see the lengthening of the days, and return of the sun, the warmer weather, the PENGUINS, and eventually, in about 132 days, the planes!

It’s been a day celebrated by druids, pagans and those most particularly in the northern hemisphere for eons. Some of those traditions we celebrate here; others like the Japanese soaking in baths of fruit, the druids kissing the stones of Stonehenge, the terrorising of small children by Krampus — the half demon / half goat — in Hallbrunn, Austria, or entering a lottery to absorb the first rays of light in Ireland’s Newgrange burial mound I’m glad we’re not celebrating today… although the fruit bath does sound quite nice.

But more particularly for us, midwinter has been a celebration from when the first Antarctic expeditions spent a winter here on the ice. As recognised by Captain Scott during this expedition in 1902:

Until now, the black shadow has been descending on us; after this, day by day, it will rise until the great orb looms above our northern horizon to guide our footsteps over the great trackless wastes of snow. If the light-hearted scenes of today can end the first period of our captivity, what room for doubt is there that we shall triumphantly weather the whole term with the same general happiness and contentment?

After dinner we make speeches, but instead of making a speech Bowers bought in a wonderful Christmas tree… Tied to the end of each branch; candles, sweets, preserved fruits, and the most absurd toys… Titus got three things which pleased him immensely, a sponge, a whistle, and a pop-gun…

(Not a speck on our gifts!)

Mawson’s men celebrated too. He freed them from their duties for the day (he was known to be a hard task master):

In the evening the hut is adorned with flags, all the men are dressed in their least dirty cardigans and neck cloths, the table groans under the weight of the festive fare, and they enjoyed a wonderful meal followed by toasts… and speeches… and then the musical and dramatic program…

So from those earliest days we see why today we get dressed in our finest, partake of fine food and drink, exchange gifts, and to put on some form of highly questionable entertainment.

But, I think the return of the sun and following the traditions of our predecessors is just part of the story of why we celebrate mid-winter…

I think we celebrate because this day marks the day we can truly call ourselves Antarctic expeditioners.

Today (with the other few hundred people on this continent at the moment) is the day we join the ranks of those who have also spent a winter in this harsh, unforgiving landscape… where to come is to risk your life (as we saw from the sobering role call this at this morning’s memorial service). And where we are totally isolated from all others, especially our friends and loved ones.

We join the ranks of those awe inspiring people who came before us and who we’ve read about since childhood — Mawson, Shackleton, Dumont’ D’Urville, Amundsen, Ross, Scott, Wilkins, Wilkes…. so many. And now we can add our names to that list.

Today our names go into the history books, the 71st ANARE!