Up until now, rangering on Macquarie Island has been all about settling in and getting a feel for the island, the landscape and the wildlife. The week just gone has focused on getting down and getting dirty.
A number of maintenance tasks had become apparent over recent times, so Parks and Australian Antarctic Division tradies pooled resources and undertook a quick maintenance tour of some of the huts. Rangers are pretty good with most tasks but even in this far-flung outpost, there are certain skills sets and qualifications required for some jobs.
Dave, the building supervisor, Josh the plumber and myself loaded up the packs with a range of ‘bits and pieces’ and off we ventured. On this occasion, we were lucky to score a boat trip to Brothers Point by IRB as some of the station underwent boating inductions. Normally, a traverse of the east coast takes about three to four hours, so the opportunity to be ferried to our location in just over 45 minutes with heavy packs was not to be declined.
First task to be tackled was some urgent upgrades to the walking track access to the beach at Brothers Point hut. Dave and I got stuck into this task while Josh became acquainted with the finer points of the hut plumbing. In a matter of no time, Dave and I were up to our armpits in mud. A few hours later and we’d successfully spanned the first few metres of mud with timber decking. The task is yet to be fully completed as daylight beat us in the end.
The end of day was a blessing as Dave, the consummate foreman and task supervisor, was keen to make the most of the first of his operational trips off station. Bangers and mash were for supper that night and then we continued on down to Eitel hut after breakfast the next day. Eitel hut, so named for its proximity to Mt Eitel (355metres high) is one of water-tank style huts used by the MIPEP team is located well off the beaten track. Our initial trip plans did not include this location. Instead, we were aiming for a more direct route straight to Bauer Bay, but urgent repairs to the LPG prompted the detour. This gave Dave and Josh an excellent opportunity to be guided through parts of the island not normally accessible.
A glorious sunny day to start made the long gradual climb out of Brothers Point more rewarding with fantastic view of the east coast. After a quick meeting with Nancye and her two hunting dogs, we delivered some mail, had a brief cuppa and passed on some news from the station before continuing on to Eitel hut. Dave was very much relieved when the highest point of the trek was reached and he could start the gentle stroll down hill to Eitel hut. The trip from Brothers Point hut until now was only 2.5 kilometres but it was all uphill! On arrival at Eitel Hut, Josh wove his magic with the LPG repairs. A few photo’s taken of some of the communications equipment, a few handy man tasks by Dave and then we’re off to Bauer Bay for the night.
The track along the swampy featherbed terrain of the West Coast was seemingly endless as the light rapidly disappeared at the end of day. Last light at this latitude comes quickly and it was dark by 5:30pm. The last section of the trek was completed with headlamp and careful negotiation of seal wallows on the approach to the hut. It seems that we started the trip deep in the mud and were going to finish this section just the same! Only a short stroll today with 16 kms in all, but consider for the moment the undulating terrain, the swampy ground, the cordless drills, batteries, assorted stainless steel brackets, compulsory safety equipment and the two kilograms of cheese required for hut ration resupply, we were glad to see the lights of the hut. Coincidentally, Steve from the MIPEP team was working the western portion of this sector and was also staying at the hut for the night. He’d prepared a hearty supper.
Packs off, a cuppa and chat over supper and the most significant and onerous task of this field trip was revealed. Dave, Josh and I were seconded to be judges in the inaugural ‘MIPEP Chocolate Slice Bake-Off’ challenge. The stakes were high as we were presented with samples of two different chocolate slices. One slice prepared by ‘Team Leona', the other prepared by ‘Team Mike'. The Kiwi north versus south inter-island rivalries had even permeated the peaceful island paradise of Macquarie Island. Impartiality on behalf of the Aussie Judges was paramount. Security was tight — the competitors had been ushered away from the judging venue (the real truth is that ‘Team Mike’ and ‘Team Leona', along with support crew Billy and Angela, were actually staying at Brothers Point hut this night, but don’t let the truth get in the way of a good yarn). Score cards at the ready, samples selected, small portions systematically presented to the assembled panel, each portion assessed on taste, texture, desirability and menu suitability — was the cake a dessert style or perhaps better suited to a morning tea with a cuppa? Pressure was intense, votes cast, scores were counted. An appeal by one of the judges was cast on the basis that there could be two first place contenders in respective categories, however the criteria were determined previously and had to be adhered to. There was to be only one first place given! On this occasion, ‘Team Mike’ won by the slimmest of margins with the results being broadcast via the VHF radio after the conclusion of nightly scheds. The judges have, for the moment, been ushered off to a secure facility for their own safety as the result was considered controversial. The claims of vote rigging have been made and a court of appeal has been muted. Once again the real truth is that Leona graciously accepted second place but was understood to have issued a best-of-three challenge!
The next day saw more of the real work being undertaken with the commencement of long overdue repairs on Bauer Bay hut. Josh completed more plumbing repairs, Dave got stuck into some other structural works and once again I became the offsider for the job with repairs to the outside decking. Plans made earlier for Dave and Josh to assist in the monthly Bauer Bay cleanup in the afternoon had to be put on hold; a change in weather and a call from the station leader for a priority task meant a return to station. We’ll be back in the near future to finish the rest of the job!
Chris Howard , Ranger in Charge
Macquarie Island Nature Reserve 2013–14
Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service