Our Station Leader reflects on a year of the 76th ANARE.

A year in reflection

It is the final week of the Antarctic winter at Casey. This time next week, our population will have doubled and our isolation ended. At least we think so, you can never be entirely sure what the weather will do.

Apart from one period of 30 minutes when a much reported helicopter visited, it has been 216 days since we last saw other people. The 35 members of Casey’s 76th Australian Antarctic Program are now pondering the year which has been, and the arrival of new people.

It has been a big year. As a small town in a remote location, we have experienced all the normal activities in everyone’s lives – birthdays, relationships, injuries, social fractures, milestone events. And with modern communications we have also seen the events back home – illness, deaths and funerals, births, weddings, all the global news. Sometimes it has been nice to be away, and other times the distance from loved ones is keenly felt.

On station we have all dealt with the year a little differently. Some of us are well comfortable in our own spaces and some prefer a louder room. We have a reasonable balance between the two and it seems to me everyone has found a place. I have seen wonderful presents made for each other, and praise sung for good work. There is no fat on the winter roster for an Antarctic station so everyone has to contribute and they do.

As the leader of this place, I get nervous when I hear the noise levels go up. Midnight knocks on my door or a phone call from the doctor. Once more unto the breech, dear friends. The challenge of leadership is to manage yourself while taking control of the rest. It is not always comfortable and I’ve not always been successful. A frequent topic has been ‘compromise’ and to keep the community progressing to our end goal, a point in time, we’ve had to ask what aspects of self and behaviour are we willing to compromise over. This has been a fascinating and challenging conversation. I’m not completely satisfied where I have landed with some aspects of this, but I will need a more reflective time to properly interrogate this topic.

One thing doesn’t change about Antarctica, from previous seasons to the books of old: it is the people who make this experience. Icebergs, ice caps, penguins, the eternal summer sun and the bright winter lights of the Aurora Australis (“nuyina” in the palawa language of Tasmania); these are all amazing sites I will treasure seeing, but it is sharing them with the unique humans who choose to come to the madhouse at the end of the earth which makes it truly special.

For now, the summer start-up is upon us. We have cleaned the station, designed new rosters, prepared runways and brought vehicles out of their winter slumber. We have two major and impressive science programs to get moving – the Traverse for the Million Year Ice Core, and the Denman Terrestrial Campaign – and a raft of smaller ones supported year in, year out. We have seen our first penguins of the season and several Weddell seal pups.

Soon our numbers will double and keep growing, and new routines will be implemented. The new season is upon us. Casey is, again and still, the #placetobe.

Ben Patrick, Casey Station Leader, 76th AAP