The stories of a summer start-up


I knew I wanted to live and work in Antarctica when I was just an ankle-biter.
I didn’t really know how, but I knew about the why.
I think Sir David Attenborough is at least partly to blame.

I wrote to the head of the Polar Medical Unit before I’d even started medical school asking how to get a job in Antarctica.
That was 13 years ago.
I was told to go to Med School and learn some things.
So that’s what I did.

I emailed Polar Med again when I was a keen-green-student.
Same question, same answer; "Finish medical school and learn some things."

When I finally started working as a junior doctor I emailed Dr Jan Wallace. She had just returned from one of her winters and was preparing to go back again - this time to Macca (Macquarie Island). Back in Melbourne we met for brunch and she filled me to the brim with tales from the South and about her extended Antarctic family. More than the penguins and the ice, it was the close-knit community that filled these stories and my dreams.

I applied to Polar Med again...
...And again.

I didn’t really believe that I might ever have this privilege until I was actually standing on the ice at Wilkins last week.
And here I am, grinning ear-to-ear, with my Antarctic family.

I don’t have to explain why.
We all already know it.
I can see it in your smile.
I can see it in your stride.
And I see it in the cheeky twinkle in your eye.

My compass has pointed South, towards the ice, my whole life.

The why simply isn’t a question for me; it’s part of every fibre of my being.

Every single person I have met at Casey has already astounded me with their warmth, openness and generosity.
It’s going to be a wonderful summer and I can’t wait to get to know each and every one of them.
Thanks especially to Polar Med & Dr Jan - I can't believe that I now get to work alongside you!

- Dr Liv

The long way to Wilkins

Being deployed two weeks earlier than expected had a lot of surprises.

I was selected as a member of an early insertion team to assist with the Wilkins airfield operations. Two days notice to pack, repack and phone calls home to loved ones.

We flew into Christchurch and found ourselves in a long queue of expeditioners bound for McMurdo station. After a lot of delays we had to wait another week. It gave us a little time to explore and experience the Christchurch region and the strength and resilience of its people.

Landing in McMurdo we yet again faced rescheduled flights and more delays. McMurdo is an interesting station resembling a small country town. The population when we arrived was around 400; when we finally left it was over 800. A mix of old and new buildings, quirky little coffee bars, assorted gyms, activities galore and vehicles of every description. It was a nice place to visit and very friendly, but after a week it was nice to finally be headed to Wilkins via Casey.

- Dean Ahern

The day I achieved 'Expert' She-Wee level

The excitement was building as I was handed endless items to take with me on my overnight survival training in the Antarctic wilderness. Sleeping bag, bivvy sack, compass, food ration packs... and then I was handed a squashed funnel-looking device and a drink bottle with a "DO NOT DRINK" sticker on it. Turns out this is how I was to urinate for the next 24hours!

Challenge accepted! As was suggested, I had a practice run in the shower. It seemed easy enough. I was feeling ready for the real deal!

Soon enough, after hiking for a few hours I was ready for my first attempt. Standing up, fully clothed to urinate is a very unnatural feeling. I was thinking, "if I get this wrong then my thermals, hiking pants and probably socks would be wet and cold for the rest of the hike." I finally relaxed enough to get the job started. Unfortunately I hadn’t turned the funnel to point in a gravity friendly direction. Instead it was bent in an upwards curve! By this time I was too far along to physically stop, so I had to contort my body into a 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' shape to be able to catch the contents! Not a drop was spilt on the snow or my clothing.

She-wee attempt 1: Successful, with room for improvement!

She-wee attempt 2: By this time the temperature had dropped below zero, therefore I had more layers of clothing on. The challenge had just increased fivefold! I unzipped the extended fly on my survival-issued outer layer overalls. Even though my four layers underneath didn’t have any extended fly access, I managed to utilise my She-Wee as designed and declared my second She-Wee attempt successful!

The real challenge lay in my third attempt – bedtime! I slept in thermal pants inside a sleeping bag liner, inside a sleeping bag, inside a bivvy sac, directly on top of the snow. Getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom wasn’t an option, so at 3:30 am when I woke (it was still light as it never gets dark at this time of the year) it was time to attempt using my She-wee inside my sleeping bag! I knelt inside my sleeping bag with the water bottle labelled "DO NOT DRINK" placed carefully between my knees. I had my best concentration game on because I knew if I made an error right then, the rest of my night was going to be horrendous!! I kept my heightened level of focus until I had safely screwed the lid of the bottle on tight and it was safely out of my warm, dry, delightful-smelling sleeping bag!

I lay back down to sleep and couldn’t wipe the large smile off my face. Here I was camping out on the snow in the Antarctic wilderness with penguin colonies nearby, 24 hours of sunlight, but none of that compared to that very moment when I declared myself an expert level She-wee user!