Long-lasting celebrations for the longest night of the year

Casey's midwinter celebrations 2022

It wasn’t that long ago when the 75th ANARE winterers assumed responsibility for Casey station on 23 November 2021. Similarly the shift from summer to winter seasons seems like only yesterday – when in fact this coincided with our last departing flight back on 21 March 2022. Time flies by fast when you’re having fun, so it came as no big surprise that Midwinter would be upon us before we knew it. And it arrived quickly.

20th June - The swim

We have been blessed with unusually moderate weather here at Casey of late – which meant that while some were still shivering from their (last) summer swim, accepting the challenge to take a dip in the middle of winter appeared, at first, less daunting. After offering many sacrifices to the weather gods (courtesy of our Bureau of Meteorology team), the day before Midwinter turned out a cracker to grab a beach towel and head down to Casey’s wharf.

The swimming hole had been prepared two days prior, mostly by our diesel mechanics and plant operators but with many spectators watching as chainsaws cut through the 60-80 centimetres of sea ice. As the square hole took shape with ice blocks being lifted and dragged away, it wasn’t long before a local Weddell seal popped its head out of the water, either to quality check its surroundings, or offer its future services as a life guard.

So with the hole being ready and ‘swimming day’ recording a balmy -10 degrees Celsius (with only a minimal breeze present), there was no excuse to delay the inevitable. As expeditioners congregated in the wallow of the Red Shed, trepidation was evident – even for those that had done winter swims in previous years. All were ferried down to the wharf before positioning themselves on the sea ice, with each expeditioner surveying the -2 degrees Celsius water that was welcoming them. Surfboards positioned, music on, with many cameras readied, the first expo braved the water. After around 10 seconds, they arose from the water - somewhat relieved and paving the way for others. As the procession progressed, each member handled the uneasiness in their own unique way but it was fair to say that everyone enjoyed ‘their moment’ – with much accompanying banter and humour thrown in.

This was a fantastic prelude to Midwinter’s Day, reminding all of the privilege they share as a wintering community in Antarctica.

21st June – Our winter solstice

With the swim complete and many of Midwinter’s pre-preparations done, the station was ready to celebrate. Many were still reflecting on ‘yesterday’s achievement’ while final decorative touches were made – accompanied by much hype in the kitchen. Others were wrapping their Midwinter’s gifts (another tradition where each member makes a gift on station for a randomly selected peer). Finally, some milled around and perused the international station greetings stuck on the walls.

The annual Midwinter’s hook-up (with Kingston and other stations) started the day’s formalities. We then had some photos taken before easing into the day’s culinary events – broken up into three phases that represented ‘the past, the present and the future’. The first (pre-dinner) session focussed on the history that Antarctica is famous for, including a rundown on intrepid explorers from times past and the station’s earlier years. Our upper wallow area was set up with many old trinkets, a chronological timeline of the history of Antarctic exploration and old photos adorned the walls, and the 1950’s movie Blue Ice was played in the background. And of course, Midwinter is all about the food – our past theme was accompanied by plates of inviting nibblies.

We then transitioned into dinner, where the present theme featured. This was first preceded by the exchange of Midwinter gifts around the dinner table – where all expos were keen to witness the unveiling of presents. As these were unwrapped, it was evident that amazing skills, ingenuity and significant time had been invested in manufacturing these offerings. With smiles on faces, dinner began, accompanied by messages from home – which included over an hour of video footage, edited together from various videos sent by friends and family. Some were hilarious, while others were emotional, reminding all that as far apart as we might be, our loved ones were still close by our sides.

After a sumptuous and filling meal, we retired to our bar, known as ‘Splinters’, where an impressive assortment of desserts awaited. Soon after, Casey Productions presented the pantomime "Cinderella" – or at least a partially-recognisable version of this story! With many lines forgotten and many impromptu lines delivered, our gallant performers entertained the masses (and themselves) before music and post-dinner cocktails. And to top the day off, we were then treated to a cloudless sky that produced a vivid aurora display. What a fantastic way to end what was already a comprehensive day of unforgettable events.

A heartfelt thanks to our 75th ANARE team for making Midwinter's such a memorable and fitting day. Having now experienced this milestone, our expeditioners will reflect on this day for years to come. And with the 21st of June now behind us, the adage “winter is coming” has now been replaced with “summer is coming”…

-Dave Buller, Station Leader