Gateway to Antarctica

Australia’s most southern aerodrome

Wilkins Aerodrome is situated about 70 kilometres from Casey research station on the Peterson Glacier. As the glacier is constantly moving, around 12 metres per year, the Aerodrome co-ordinates are adjusted every year. Heavy earthmoving equipment is used to shape the ever-changing ice that the runway is situated on. 

The team at Wilkins recently conducted 12 weeks of runway construction to make sure that the runway meets the needs for operations into the next 10 years, along with maintaining CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) specifications which are required to meet the certification needed to operate the runway.

During the construction phase, a normal day consists of a pre-start meeting at 7:30am. This is used to assign the day’s tasks to the expeditioners and rehash any safety related matters. The team then pre-starts all the machines required for the day to allow them to warm up to operating temperature.

The machines usually required for construction include a grader, bulldozer, loader with Gjerstad (hydraulically operated front blade) and loader with snow blower attachment.  As the grader peels away large chunks of ice, the loaders work in unison to move the ice away from the runway to a predetermined distance. Whilst this is happening the bulldozers are hard at work moving the snow and ice further away from the runway edges.

The team breaks for lunch at 12:30pm. During the morning, the Wilkins Camp Support officer has been hard at work preparing a nutritious and delicious meal for the expeditioners.  Lunchtime runs for an hour, then it’s back into the machines for the afternoon shift.  At around 5:30pm all the machines are fuelled up and parked ready for the next day.  Dinner is served at 6pm.   After dinner, time is your own to read a book, watch a movie or catch up on personal administration.

As the season neared the end, construction was completed for the year and the team started preparing for the flying season.  On a typical flight day one person must wake up at 2am to start weather observations.  The rest of the team wake up around 5am to conduct a runway condition report, flag up, hoist the wind direction indicators and position all equipment ready for the flight. 

If the weather is stable and the aerodrome is open, the flight will be given permission to land.  After the aircraft is safely positioned on the apron the team works hard to disembark all passengers and unload the cargo.   Once everything is unloaded the outgoing passengers and their bags will be loaded onto the aircraft.

Operational checks are then completed on the runway and the plane is given the ok to take off from the Aerodrome Manager.  The expeditioners then work for another couple of hours packing up the runway before heading back to the mess for a hot meal. Working as an expeditioner at Wilkins Aerodrome is a very demanding job, but it is also very rewarding when you achieve the safe turnaround of large commercial aircraft.

Reece Parker
Wilkins Aerodrome Plant Operator

Getting to know a Casey expeditioner — Simon White

Name: Simon White

Nicknames: Whitey

From: Brisbane, Queensland

Previous seasons? Davis 14/15 and 17/18, Casey 15/16 and 18/19, Mawson 16/17

Job title: During my first three summers I was employed as a Summer Station Plant Operator. The last two seasons I have been Station Supply Officer at Davis, and now Casey sharing the role with Lauren B from the RAAF.

Describe your role in two sentences: In short, my role is to contribute to the successful completion of the myriad of science and infrastructure projects on and off Station. The other part is to maintain the Greenstore throughout summer.

What did you do before your joined the AAD? My previous work has been in the construction industry, mostly spent in remote areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory, and Western Australia.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey? My most favourite part would be that I’m sharing this great experience with a group of people that are here for much the same reason. And that is to live and work in this amazing place with all its challenges.

If you were not a Station Supply Officer, what would be your dream job? An Antarctic helicopter pilot to give me an even better view of this land. 

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south? Casey is a hive of activity during the short summer season, as it not only has the annual resupply by ship, but also air cargo transport support thanks to the RAAF. Consequently, Lauren and I shared some long days making sure all the incoming and outgoing cargo found its way to its final destination. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? I always enjoy the opportunity to venture out to some of the small research huts maintained by the tradies. They’re all placed in a variety of locations at each research station in Antarctica, all with fantastic views to take in.

What song sums up your Casey experience so far? Antarctica by Midnight Oil (Blue Sky Mining)

What actor would play you in a film version of our 72nd ANARE season here at Casey? Michael Fassbender 

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit? My balaclava for when the wind is up.

What is your favourite movie and why? The modern version of Coriolanus by Shakespeare. A timeless story, with a fantastic performance by Ralph Fiennes.

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite? I don’t have one favourite genre. My collection includes the 60’s through to the present. I’m not stuck on any era as long as there is a decent rhythm and the music keeps me entertained.  

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste. A sight would be the iceberg-laden horizon with the sun rising. A smell would be the nearby penguin rookeries. A sound would be the crash and crunch as ice breaks away from a glacier. A feeling would be when the moisture from my breath freezes on my moustache on a crisp −15 wind-chill morning. A taste would be the superb Sunday morning brunch served up by our fantastic chefs on station.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with? That’s a smell that will outlast religion, by Kenny

Something people may not know about you: I like cats.