Communications Antarctic style

Keeping us connected

When people found out I was heading to Casey Station I was asked two questions. The first: “why?”

My answer was always why not, it’s the chance of a lifetime.

The second question: “what will you be doing down there?”

All I was able to say was communications. I was pretty vague with my answer because I wasn’t sure myself what I’d be doing in Antarctica, but now I am!

Basically the Senior Communications Technical Officer (me) maintains any device you watch, talk with, or listen to (wise words from another Comms Tech). This means everything from telephones/radios, GPS units, video conference units, computers/printers and x-ray machines just to name a few. If something stops working on station we have to get it working again with what we have available. There are no service calls here.

Over summer, Casey is a pretty busy place. Station population peaked at around 118 this season. With a mixture of trades and science people, it was enough to keep the comms team very busy. The summer comms team numbered five, comprising three Communications Operators (Robyne, Amanda and Rachel), one Information Technology Officer (Brendan) and me.

The Communications Operators handle all the day-to-day radio and telephone traffic. Keeping in touch with any field parties, aircraft in the Casey area, and a deep field camp that was 133km away drilling ice cores to study climate change. They also handled all other queries that came from any source.

That left Brendan and myself to handle all the technical aspects of station life which included helping expeditioners to connect their personal devices to the Casey networks. We both provided technical support to the science teams on station and also the media team when Dr Karl and BTN from the ABC arrived on station for a short visit. The whole of summer was a blur, with lots going on, and with every flight there was always some new development to deal with.

At the end of the summer season we said goodbye to the summer crew as they flew back north to the warmer weather, fresh fruit/vegies and long showers, and I took over the role of the Communications Operator. This required liaising between the incoming Airbus 319 flight and Melbourne air traffic control, and providing positon updates and also clearances to arrive and depart from Wilkins Aerodrome.

Once the last flight left, the comms team went from a group of 5 people, who I couldn’t have been without over the summer season, to just myself for the next seven months, in a total winter team of 29. Now I juggle all three hats of Comms Operator, IT guru and Comms Tech. Luckily my colleagues are all very patient when it comes to dealing with the comms guy that hides up in the Operations building.

Over the last 5 months I have met a lot of very interesting and talented people from all corners of the earth. It has been a fantastic experience so far. I have also missed out on a lot back home, with the birth of a new grandson to my mates wedding, but I know that everyone at home understands this is an opportunity of a lifetime.

I have seen penguins and seals in their Antarctic environment, which very few people get to experience, and also witnessed Casey’s extreme weather, from beautiful clear days with positive temperatures to high winds (above 150km/h) and freezing temps (-15 C).  I can only imagine what other amazing experiences are yet to come.


Getting to know a Casey expeditioner — Leigh Stevens

Name:  Leigh Stevens

Nicknames:  Lethal

From:  Dubbo, NSW

Previous seasons? Nil

Job title:  Electrician and brewery slave

What did you do before your joined the AAD? Electrical Supervisor at Tritton Copper Mines

If you were not an electrician what would be your dream job? Anything involving live music

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south? It’s the first and the best so far

What do you like to do in your spare time? If not getting off-station then chilling out in the Red Shed, watching movies in the Odeon, reading or socialising in Splinters Bar

What song sums up your Casey experience so far? The Cowboy Junkies: To Live Is To Fly. I discovered it in the station CD collection. It really captures the mindset it takes to embark on a journey like this, and the trade-off of leaving loved ones behind for opportunities of a lifetime.

What actor would play you in a film version of our 72nd ANARE season here at Casey? Jack Black. A few similarities between us. I reckon I have him for height though. He might just have me for talent.

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit? Carhartts and thermals. It would be a very different experience without either of them.

What is your favourite book / movie (or both) and why? Could be any one of about four books by Ben Elton. Clever, amusing, genre-hopping and with a fair dose of social commentary. The Blues Brothers: classic comedy with a cracker of a soundtrack.

What is your typical ‘Slushy FM’ genre? Do you have a particular favourite? Any type of rock: hard, classic, pub, alternative, indie, grunge, Aussie, folk. As longs it’s played by a band with instruments, I’ll probably like it

Describe your Casey experience with:

a sight: Looking out over Newcomb Bay every day on the way to and from work. It changes with the wind.

a smell: The brewery. As the resident slave, I spend a lot of time in that place. The product’s good, even if the smell isn’t.

a sound: The wind. The howling and rattling when the wind picks up and it’s gusting over 60 knots.

a feeling: When taking in the sights and the feeling of being so lucky to have been chosen to come and experience this.

a taste. Mint Slices. I will be heading back to Australia with quite a habit.

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

“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see” — Mark Twain