Find out what a boilermaker does on an Australian Antarctic station

What does Tristan do all day?

Well, that's an interesting question. I will honestly say I don’t make boilers! (oh, the shock). I haven’t made a boiler in all of my career and probably won't for the rest of it either. If I don’t make boilers, what do I do?

This year has seen me erect structural steel in the Davis utility building for the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP), and in the still under construction new emergency powerhouse, as well as a myriad smaller more unique jobs. The WWTP is an amazing piece of equipment but it suffers, like many things down here, from being constrained by the building it's housed in, meaning access to various things has been somewhat problematic in the past.

The Australian Antarctic Division designed and had fabricated locally in Tasmania, a mezzanine structure that would simply sit over the existing WWTP. After transporting the pre-fabricated pieces down to station, it was up to me to see to its construction as erecting this structure was one of my projects for the season.

Getting the steel erected presented numerous challenges, but as with all things down here the wintering team pitched in and it was thrown up in no time. Once constructed I had to redesign several elements to work with the existing obstructions and even had to fabricate some components from scratch. The end result means the plumbers now have a new, shiny, very sturdy and, most importantly, safe platform above their WWTP when they need to conduct their regular maintenance.

While I have these larger projects to do over the season, I am constantly being sought out to assist the other station members with repairs, modifications or even fabrication of various things. From modifying an older model air filter bracket for a skidder, able to accommodate the new model filter, through to just recently making a part from scratch for the large mixer in the kitchen. These jobs inevitably start with the phrase "I'm wondering if you can fix this?" and more often than not with me replying "Yeah, I reckon I can do that".

Although these jobs are generally small in size they can have quite an impact if they can’t be repaired. Simple things like machining a hollow-threaded nylon grub screw for a safety switch on the mixer in the kitchen, allows our chef to continue making fresh bread nearly every day. Fabricating a small landing out front of the emergency vehicle shelter allows far easier and safer access. Not always big flashy projects but never-the-less important in keeping the station running as smoothly as possible.

It is definitely not your typical boilermaker position, where you might be cutting/grinding/welding all day, every day, as I’ve done in previous jobs. It does take a bit of getting used to for sure. But I for one absolutely love my job down here. It’s something I don’t think I’ll be able to top once I return home. So who knows, I might be game enough to come back in a couple of years*?

*Once I thoroughly warm back up of course

Tristan Smith

Davis Station boilermaker summer 2019-2020, summer + winter 2021-2022