This is my second run at being a plumber in Antarctica. So, what reasons could someone possibly have for wanting to spend a second season on the ice? For me one of the main draw cards is all the days you get to spend down here doing anything but plumbing. Not that I hate plumbing but the variety here certainly keeps things interesting.
What other jobs can a plumber find themselves doing in Antarctica? Well, in my first season I tried my hand at being a lay surgical assistant. Helping out with anaesthetics on station after two weeks training in an operating theatre at a Hobart hospital is not really something I ever imagined a plumber doing as a part of their job. Neither was spending a week filling holes on an ice runway. Making a mix of ice, water and snow to be smoothed off with a shovel, strong enough for an Airbus to land on.
This season I’ve found myself as part of the search and rescue team, which has its perks. A bit of ice cliff climbing earlier in the year really makes you feel like an Antarctic explorer. Although Mawson probably wouldn’t have lost his shoe halfway up the cliff.
There are obviously the more mundane jobs, like slushy days spent washing dishes and Saturday mornings cleaning the station. One role I certainly don’t miss from my previous season is being the station flag officer. Trying to pull a flag down when a blizzard rolls through can be treacherous, any lapse in concentration and the Australian flag will end up wrapped around a penguin 200 kilometres away. Luckily as a seasoned expeditioner I knew to leave this one for our station mechanic Stu.
Yesterday was another of those not plumbing days. As it gets colder and darker in winter, the sea ice in front of station grows. Soon it will be thick enough to drive a Hägglunds on, the easiest and most comfortable way to see Antarctica in winter. In preparation for this our station mechanical team taught us all how to pull a Hägg out of the water just in case it was to fall through the ice. Setting up a series of winches, ice anchors and metal tracks we pulled the 4.5 tonne vehicle up a snow bank giving us all an appreciation of just how hard a task it would really be out on the ice.
So whether it be measuring sea ice thicknesses, patching a runway or even pulling down a suspension bridge. These are the days that stick with me after a season in Antarctica and must surely make it one of the strangest plumbing jobs around.