Things currently happening with Casey's electricians, Brenden, Hank and Aaron

A day in the life of an Antarctic wintering Sparky

Having come from an industrial rather than domestic trade background, I'm less familiar with a shovel than some of my fellow trade workers on station. However, even they are more used to shovelling dirt and swearing at the rocks, as opposed to shovelling snow and swearing at the ice.

Around much of the station, insulated pipes carry heating water and potable (drinking) water, and errr..... "used" water to the waste treatment plant. These pipes are surrounded with thick insulation and a special heating wire called a "heat trace" to stop the water from freezing.

Once a year in what we like to call the "Summer" season – i.e. when it rarely drops below negative 10 degrees – all electrical controls and terminations are inspected and adjusted to be ready for the long winter ahead. Some of these are exposed clear of the snow, while others must be dug down to. They are often hidden like pirates’ buried treasure in the midnight shadow of the moon (except our "midnight" shadow in summer is still caused by the sun). Electrical tests and adjustments are simple – finding the terminal boxes is not!

Snow is an interesting thermal insulator in some cases, melting from with the minimal heat from the pipes and refreezing to form an underground cavern around them.

There are also the monthly and annual fire detection tests. No month would be complete without 22 announcements over the radio of: "All station, all station – fire alarm test in the <insert building name>, do not muster." This is often responded to with cheeky remarks along the lines of, "Are you guys doing fire testing this week?" or "Do I muster?" Don't underestimate simple humour. Winter is an 8 month season down here – anything to break up the day-to-day sameness helps!

Did you know Casey's accommodation and living quarters have a total of 319 smoke and heat sensors? Hank and I do – because we had to test every single one of them last month! Next annuals are the Tankhouse and Meteorological Balloon Building. Aaron is doing the annual explosion protection inspection so we'll palm that job off to him!

It's not unusual for breakdowns (of equipment … not people) to be seen as exciting. It breaks the monotony of the regular inspections and forces us into 'problem solver' mode. (The only one not excited is Aaron, who seems to be on call during the vast majority of bad weather events – days that are super cold or super windy from the south, which wreak havoc on generally reliable but ageing building systems.)

Restoring power after an outage is possibly the most time-critical task we face. Without cooling water through the generator engines, they bake in their own heat. Without heat for the station's water supply, it irreversibly freezes. Whenever there's an outage, the Diesos are chomping at the bit to restart the engines and get the cooling water running, but they won't do it until the Sparkies determine that there is no electrical issue preventing it from happening safely. Despite or possibly even due to the pressure to restore generators, HV Ring Main and heating water circulations, the proficiency required makes it one of my favourite jobs – as long as it's not just before morning tea time!

-Brenden Sainty (Electrician)

And now, some Icy-Creamy News ...

Midwinter is now in the past. With the sun rising further in the sky, and for longer each day, the prospect of winter's end is slowly morphing into reality.

Putting things into perspective is still paramount to a harmonious station and the Australian Antarctic Program. Although winter days are getting longer, work still needs to continue for most here at Casey until at least early November… Counting backwards this equates to just over 100 days.

In order to complement the magnificent arrivals of the penguins and seals back to our surrounds in September-October, our very own internationally acclaimed chef has devised a culinary way to help count down this exciting period. One hundred days of ice-cream!! That’s right, Justin is creating 100 different flavours to excite, stimulate and challenge our palates.

This week's creations have been:

  • Madagascan Vanilla, Rosemary and Honeycomb
  • Toasted Coconut and Lemongrass
  • Double Espresso and 70% Dark Chocolate
  • Nepalese Masala Tea and Fresh Ginger
  • Naval Rum and Passionfruit
  • Peanut Butter and Homemade Strawberry Jam

What wonderful and creative combinations will appear next week?