At Casey this week we look at survival training that all expeditioners do and find out what the fitters & turners and boilermakers/welders get up to

Survival Training

As a first-time expeditioner to Casey station, I had read about the summer survival training but was a little uncertain what to expect. 

Group 1 had returned a few days before, so during casual conversation, I asked for their thoughts. For the most part it was described as, “an enjoyable learning experience with a night sleeping outside in Antarctica — you’re going to relish it.” These accounts made my mind wander, and I was very excited to begin the training.

The official start time was Friday at 0800. The group of eight expeditioners, including myself, were given theory and practical lessons on map reading, use of map and compass, GPS and radio techniques, and the correct use of specialist outdoor equipment. Additionally, wildlife identification and safe approach distances were advised. All of this was to be applied in the field as a consolidation of the lessons. You could feel the excitement in everyone as we broke for lunch and were given our next timing of 1330 — departure into the field.

As we rambled past the operations building, the Station Leader stepped out from her office to wish us good luck and a safe return. A final radio check, which advised the radio operator that we were leaving Casey station, and the group was officially on their way.

The chilly wind blew into our backs as we walked away from Casey station. However, the Australian Antarctic Division supplied equipment was able to block out the extreme environments, and for the most part it was a comfortable walk down to the penguin rookery at Shirley Island. After “a lot” of photos, it was time to depart — our next destination was to be our sleeping location.

On route, the group did navigation checks with the maps, cross-referenced GPS coordinates, and made the required radio calls. By the time we had arrived at our night location, the wind had eased which allowed us to fire up the fuel stoves and make a well-deserved hot drink. We boiled more water which was added to our Army style dehydrated meal in a bag. 

Re-energised from the break and the food, we set about our next task: digging our sleeping hole. It had been such a fun-filled day — but it was a survival course, and this was the serious part of making sure we would knew how to endure a night outside in Antarctica, in the unlikely event we were unable to return to station.

Firstly, we dug body-sized holes in the ground. The practical fact that if you are below the ground, for the most part, you are out of the wind. Next, was getting ready to sleep, which involved getting yourself and all your equipment inside a bivvy bag — which is best described as an oversized sleeping bag made of nylon material. We had some laughs as we all pushed, pulled, and spun around inside, until in the end we had made it home. 

It was about 9 pm and the sun was still high in the sky. I pulled my beanie over my eyes and found myself falling asleep with a smile on my face.

The next day was an early start. We drank a brew, packed our equipment, and stepped off to return to station. Our training was complete and I certainly believed I had the skills to survive a night out of the station.

Now that I am back, I have people from summer survival groups 3 and 4 asking me what to expect — and I find myself flashing back to my training, and can best describe it to them as, “an enjoyable learning experience with a night sleeping outside in Antarctica — you’re going to relish it.”

Brad Machin, Casey Communications Operator 

BMWs & FTs the makers and breakers

This year two boilermakers and two fitters came down to Casey station (one each summer and winter), to assist not only in the mechanical and infrastructure, but also to aid the many scientists in their endeavours.

Whilst the majority of our work is done in the workshop, there is always time to assist and use our creations out in the field. A prime example of this is when Wayne Bruce (boilermaker) and Luke Dennis (fitter) assisted the NASA scientists by creating unique parts for their underwater robot and helping out in the operation too. Of course when the two boilermakers are out of the workshop, the diesel mechanics love the peace and quiet!

The cold weather here makes welding or any metal working operation outdoors a mission in itself. With any welding job, the piece that you wish to weld needs to be at a workable temperature, which in this case means that it requires to be pre-heated before anything can be done. Also, the metal requires to be kept in a certain temperature range whilst being worked upon, and then once completed needs to be cooled slowly to prevent cracking of the material. This is a long process, for example a small 30 minute job inside the workshop can take hours outside. Hence why we love the heated workshop, much to the mechanics dismay!

Fun facts: The very first boilermaker was Hero of Alexandria 10 AD — c. 70 AD. He was a mathematician and engineer from Alexandria, Roman Egypt. His most famous invention was the Aeolipile, a sphere rotated by steam being given off by a boiler. Other great boilermakers include Omar Bradley (First Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Billy Connolly (Comedian).

The boilermakers have been very busy so far this season, with more and more jobs being tasked each week. The broad variety of the work always keeps them intrigued, with jobs ranging from stainless steel contraptions for the CUB (Casey Utilities Building), stair installations around station, and machinery repairs. Whilst not on the tools and creating a din, Wayne can be found showing off his crane handling skills, as evident over re-supply.

The fitters also have been well utilised, with Bill Santalab heading off to assist with remediation for the summer. Luke has had the pleasure of not only working with the NASA scientists, but has spent many hours on the lathe turning fittings for mechanics and plumbers alike. He has also been able to put to use his rigging skills, not only through re-supply, but with any large lifting operations around station.

Chris Bayly, Boilermaker / Welder