Reflections on the winter

Tagging Out

October, what? When did that happen? How can it only be two weeks until the first flight arrives to bring new faces and to take familiar ones away?

You all know the saying, “time flies when you’re having fun”, and time has certainly flown by here. That’s one potential explanation for the blur that has been nearly 11 months so far! It’s hard to believe that we have begun working through a list of tasks to prepare for the arrival of our replacement Expeditioners, and are also excitedly awaiting the arrival of the first Adélie Penguins, who will soon begin constructing accommodation for their prospective partners. Winter is over? Yes.

My task today is a fairly menial one – make up 120 new name tags for the 77th ANARE contingent to hang on our ‘tag board’. This board is used to account for the whereabouts of personnel on and off the Station, with the tags representing individual people. As I work through the list of people, printing and affixing the labels to the tags, I find that they represent so much more than just names. Among a few familiar returning legends there are a lot of new names, with their associated job titles, and I imagine the experiences they are about to have, and wonder what sort of bond they will all form. After all, this is how our tight knit Antarctic family began…just a list of names.

The people whose names now adorn these tags come from all walks of life, from all over the world, they have different interests and skills, and they all have stories to tell. Antarctica has drawn them together. I see the Field Training Officer names, and I think of all the great times off station, and learning search and rescue skills. I see various trades and think of the sea of orange hi-vis around the café in the mornings, hanging out in the workshops learning new skills and shooting the breeze. The banter between different trades to establish who is indeed the most skilful. I see Doctors and take comfort in the expert care that we are provided here, and that has been put to the test through our Winter occupation at Casey. There are pilots and ground support crew that delivered us to some remote locations for weather station maintenance – a highlight of my time here. There are chefs who have been crucial in the maintenance of moral and provided some truly memorable feasts, and some amazing personal birthday spreads, including my own 50th! I see the names of my own replacement from BoM and think of all that they will experience.

As I stare out the office window at the light across the icebergs, I am struck not by the familiarity of the vista, but by the way that it seemingly changes every time I look up. It’s still not a view that I can just glance at. I find myself staring out for much longer than a brief pause. There are a few seats in the café along the windows where you can really take in the view while further expanding the waistline. I will miss that. Sitting having some toast and watching seals basking on the ice is something not to take for granted.

So I now hold in my hand a bag of small red and white tags, with names, but looking at them my mind is filled with memories, individual and shared, and I am smiling. It will be a sad day when I lift my own tag from the board for the last time, but I am also longing to see loved ones back home, and I will step off the plane in Hobart with a great sense of pride for what we have achieved here. I will be eternally grateful for this experience and the incredible people that I can call my friends.

Bruce Dening

Met-Tech / Observer - Casey Station