This week is all about midwinter and what it means on station.

Midwinter’s week

And so here we are, a group of 19 expeditioners, some of us too hairy to be recognised by family members, but all of us yet too rare not to go down in history as 71st ANARE Antarctic Winterers! A milestone event reached…

You would think the weeks by now in our Antarctic suburb the Vestfold Hills would have become routine by now. We still complete the usual tasks, keeping the place operational and science happening, responding to alarms at random hours that something or somewhere has got cold or a tomato plant has fallen over in hydroponics, but last week it was all hands on deck for our midwinter celebration.

Everyone found a role in the previous week setting up for the event, whether it being making and sending out the invitations, food and dinner service preparation, getting the guitar riff down for the nights performance or cutting a hole in the ice for a swimming pool (I'll come to the swimming pool later). But a busy climactic build up to the southern hemisphere’s winter solstice was justified.

The big day started in the morning with a video hook up with Antarctic Division headquarters in Kingston for a memorial service. There is a great history of service and many stories of people who have come and gone to this great place, here we remember those who passed away in Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic.

We then had an amazing brunch cooked by our chef and his slushy assistants, not that they weren’t busy enough getting ready for the big dinner later. Sadly our midwinter swim was called off at this point because it was ‘too windy outside’ but don’t worry about the cold! There were a few people secretly happy about this, but more on the swimming later.

All back in the cinema room again, this time it was a joint videoconference. We could see on our big screen all the other Australian Antarctic stations and Kingston headquarters. Our director Nick Gales conducted the ceremony at HQ as we went through the annual awards and a message from the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, where yours truly got a mention, wow! Then a sweep around the stations where all got to hear how everyone is celebrating. You do end up in your own bubble down here sometimes and this was great to kick-start the afternoon seeing the bigger party. Everyone left with a bounce in their step, off to iron their suit or dress.

We met in the social area for the evening with canapés served. Everyone was looking very posh in his or her dinner attire, which is surprising, as no one had seen a hairdresser in eight months. Then our three star gourmet chef Rocket served up a feast fit for a king. A few toasts were made and everyone enjoyed the port and wine. Now with everyone a bit lubricated it was time for the show, our local band and a few talented people got up on the stage to perform. As the night went on and song requests came in, it was the job of different people from our team to come up for their shot in the limelight. But no judges were in the crowd that night, no one planned to give up their day job for a life on the road with a band, it was just good fun had by all.

An epic week for all at Davis.

Terry Barrell

The Midwinter Swim

It’s a bit of a tradition down here that in the middle of winter we cut a hole in the one metre thick sea ice and make a plunge pool. We used chainsaws, an ice drill and a bit of muscle from an excavator to construct our inviting icy entrance to the Antarctic ocean. We had to keep the hole/pool open for a few extra days until the wind dropped down enough so no one turned into a popsicle when exiting. On Monday the wind was down to eight knots and the temperature was up to a balmy −15˚C. The swim was on.

So previously in a warm room we were shown the mandatory safety video and presentation of what happens to your body in very cold water. Our confidence did not waver and consent forms were signed. But now on Monday here we are, all standing out on the sea ice looking down at the icy blue Davis Plunge Pool.

We place a small heated mobile hut called the RMIT van next to the pool to serve as a changing room. Out you come in your bathers into the fresh air of the Antarctic (−15°C) and step over to the pool. There is no gracious way into the pool except quick. Sticking a toe in to test the water is a sure fire way to feel dread, as the water is −1.8˚C. One by one out we came and in we went, people’s faces and utter concentration as they surged for the ladder and out of the pool for the warmth of a towel and the RMIT van, words and breath are completely stolen from your mouth. It’s surprising how quick you are to recover once dried and changed, then you get to come back out and watch your friends go through the same perils, which is cause for great laughter and applause.

Terry Barrell