One of our sparkies shares his experience joining the Australian Antarctic Program here at Davis

Old dog and new tricks

What do you do when you find yourself an empty nester and you have thrown your job in after 40 plus years as an electrician and engineer? Go to Antarctica? Yeah. After not taking the opportunity over 30 years ago and having a false start the year before last due to Covid 19 cancelations, I thought it was a lifetime ambition lost. But here I am, (third time is a charm). With the family’s blessing and my wife once again holding the home front together over 5000 kilometres away, I headed off on a new adventure.

August saw me heading firstly to Tasmania and the AAD Kingston headquarters for training in all things electrical at Davis Station and meeting all the people I would be spending the 12 months or so with. Being a bit of a “Jack of all” in the electrical disciplines is needed to keep this isolated community facilities going. So new knowledge was required to be gained in diesel multi-genset powerhouse operation, refrigeration, wastewater treatment, fire systems and so on.

After a couple of months of training and some quarantine in Hobart, I was on a plane bound for Wilkins Aerodrome on the great white continent at the start of November. Wow, learnt about a new level of cold and it was almost summer. A cross country Terra bus trip to Casey Station and the first taste of Antarctic life. After a couple of nights and some favourable weather (soon learnt the weather dictates everything) it was on to a Basler light plane and over to Davis Station 1400 kilometres away. An amazing sight, the curvature of the horizon and seemingly endless white. New people to meet in the way of the existing winterers and into the station handover and discovering what I got myself in for.

The new winter crew all together now, along with the summer crew (including a few winterers staying on), there were more new things to be learnt. Survival training, navigating and the joys of sleeping in a bivy bag in the great outdoors and hiking through the Vestfolds hills. New environment to learn, new routine and rhythm of station life to be learnt. Strange vehicles, facilities and surrounding wildlife to learn about, along with what my fellow expeditioners roles entail. New experiences like 24-hour daylight, weather, sea ice, blizzards and some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. The arrival of the helicopters offered a new way of getting to the job and a new view of the station area limits previously only seen from the ground. The scenery is quite breathtaking when travelling by air out to Whoop Whoop airstrip, the recreational huts for maintenance and other science facilities for repairs and checks.

Now it’s almost 5 months down south, 7 months since leaving home, and our friends from the summer crew have returned home on the resupply ship. There is still plenty to do and many new things to look forward to and learn. Auroras, 0-hours of daylight, growing new crops in the hydroponics and travelling across the sea ice to name a few. I have also been fortunate to help with the penguin moult survey now that the science people (Helen and Patti) have left. No better feeling when hiking through the hills along the coast stopping to count penguins and estimate what stage of moulting they are at, even if they all do look a bit the same.

As with anything worthwhile in life it’s about the people you meet and the shared experiences. This opportunity has allowed me to connect with a great new group of people that I wouldn’t get the chance to meet if I didn’t embark on this journey. I am fortunate to be part of an exceptional winter crew (yeah, even the plumbers) and working with three much younger than myself electricians (Hayden, Matt, Will), who have fantastic knowledge and diversity of the electrical trade, and are teaching this old dog a few new tricks. As we say, “every day is a learning day”, well at least it is down here.

Antarctica may not be for everyone (80% of the folks back home think it’s an amazing opportunity and the other 20% think I’m crazy), and it may not be a fountain of youth, but it is sure a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

Cheers Dave

Electrician Davis Station 75th ANARE