The life of a Communications Technical Officer in Antarctica

How many Comms Techs does it take to change a radio?

There are two Comms Techs at Casey this season, myself and the Senior Communications Technical Officer Jeff.

The role of a Comms Tech is broad. First and foremost, we are technicians, so looking after the mission critical systems such as satellite data and radio comms are our top priorities. Thankfully these systems are very dependable. Satellite data provides a communication lifeline like no other Australian station has had before. With the installation of additional satellite links, operational and scientific data is far more reliable and we can even watch footy, stream Triple J, download some Netflix and call mum on Mother’s Day with confidence. It’s not like home where you can watch Youtube to your heart’s content, but we don’t miss out on too much here.

With satellite communications comes all the associated IT equipment which also makes us IT officers. We look after all the routers, switches, servers, VoIP phones and audio-visual equipment. We sometimes go full service and try to fix peoples' personal tech issues, but only if they’re lucky. Sometimes I can fix their stuff, sometimes not. At least I give it a go, if I’m in a good mood. What are they going to do, take their business elsewhere?!

The VHF radio comms we have on station provide an important line of communication for anyone on and off station. Expeditioners are only ever one push-to-talk away. It also allows the people who love the sound of their own voice to reach the entire station.

A normal progression here is from Radio Technician to Radio Operator. During a Radio Operator shift I can expect to hear from anyone leaving station or arriving at their destination, and to check in with them at scheduled intervals, called ‘Skeds’. I tell them about the weather, they tell me what fun they’re having on their jolly.

Apart from the technical side of being an expeditioner, there are other routine duties to be performed, like being on the fire team, working in the kitchen as a slushy, and there is always a toilet to be cleaned somewhere.

Fire team is not my favourite job. I thought it would be just driving around in the fire truck to and from calendar photo shoots, but it turns out we have to don all the fire safety clobber including the breathing apparatus, and then perform exercises in the cold. I do it to give my fellow expeditioners and loved ones back home some comfort knowing that we do have some capabilities of fighting fires if we ever had to. Yes, part time hero.

We get a good amount of time to ourselves during the week, and the weekend is mostly ours, so there is time to build new skills or pick up old hobbies, exercise the muscles or the grey matter. Scotty goes to the gym after work, Leigh goes for a run on the treadmill for 10 kms, Billy rocks on the guitar, some of us can be found boxing, reading, doing puzzles or playing computer games. Some people forget to stop working which makes the rest of us look bad. For me, it’s learning Spanish. It’s something that I’ve dabbled with before but Chef Claire and I are making a concerted effort to get to novice level by the end of the season. This should make for a great experience next year when I’m sitting under the sun, on a Spanish beach, sipping pina coladas during a northern hemisphere summer.

Happy Birthday B-Rad and Nick. Brad turned 30 this week on the same day that Nicko turned 56 (?!). (Station Leader's edit: Nicko is quite some way away from 56 and Brenno please avoid the boxing class for a week or two after he reads this).

Every day we lose a little bit more sunlight as we speed towards midwinter. We are at a point now where the sun struggles to get up in the morning. It shows its face and then disappears back from where it came like a hungover teenager who smells bacon coming from the kitchen. The sunrises and sunsets are long, which makes for some great photography opportunities. Then once the Milky Way begins to display its magnificence, the auroras sweep by and allow us to take great night photographs. Just looking out of the window each day is a special experience. I feel very lucky.

Brendan (Brenno) Heaver

Communications Technical Officer, Casey Station