The secrets of the clean air lab, tales from the Labyrinth and featherbed, and another visit from a rare friend.

Secrets of the clean air lab

Science has changed a lot over the years here at Macca. Over winter it is now largely automated projects, requiring only that regular checks be done by either Comms or Met to make sure everything is running smoothly and sending the required information back to wherever it needs to go in the world. As a guesstimate about 25% of our current internet bandwidth is used for this background traffic.

The clean air lab is a little wooden building at the southern end of the station that is one of the places where this science technology now lives. There are multiple projects going on here that our Met staff keep tabs on.

One of these is a CSIRO project that samples the air to monitor greenhouse gases, as the Antarctic region is well located to measure global background changes in these gases. The CSIRO background air monitoring network is the most comprehensive and long-running in the southern hemisphere.

From Macquarie Island they sample at a rate of approx one cylinder per week, so that’s 52 very carefully packed samples that need to be sent home at the end of the year for further analysis.

The Labyrinth and the Featherbed

Helen and Alison embarked on a short field trip last weekend to christen the Featherbed Track for 2016. We headed over the hill to Bauer Bay Hut on the west coast — Helen on a beautifully windless Sunday and Ali the following windy, squally day.

On Tuesday we did a short local walk to the labyrinth just to practice getting our feet wet. The labyrinth is an area of rock stacks among lush green which really fits the over-used phrase ‘like something out of Lord of the Rings'!

The following day saw the official opening of the Featherbed Track — 1 June. The track is only open for two months of the year — for the other 10 months it is occupied by nesting wandering albatross and by giant petrels. The featherbed itself is a broad coastal strip of wet, almost floating vegetation — in its best spots you can gently bounce and see the concentric green ripples run out from your feet without actually seeing water. But there is always the danger of a little too much weight in one spot causing a very wet breakthrough. There is virtually zero chance of getting home with dry feet.

So four hours of carefully picking where the feet go but rewarded by a beautiful, wild west coast walk.

There is an unfortunate amount of jetsam which washes up on the west coast — this year green plastic twine seems to be the most frequent, but also PET bottles, floats and other varieties of waste. So we arrived back on station with outside pack and jacket pockets bulging with plastic — at least leaving the featherbed a little cleaner for the next trip!

Also, further to our story a couple of weeks ago on Macca’s historic attempts to acquire trees, the Island does collect trees in a more passive fashion. Trees as marine debris washed out of rivers or off beaches, perhaps from South America, and drifting the Southern Ocean until they find a new haven on Macca’s west coast. Bauer Bay beach has a few worn and weathered specimens.

Helen Cooley and Alison Skinn

Another visit from our Hooker’s sea lion

Our kiwi friend was back to visit us again last Friday — this time appearing on the other side of the isthmus and taking a stroll all the way from north to south, before finding the tussocks he wanted to nap in. Wildlife Ranger Marcus verified it was the same sea lion by comparing his scar. Wonder where he’s been since we last saw him?


Avid readers of our missives will have heard mention before of ‘doctor’s track', usually with about as much enthusiasm as one has for one’s least favourite medical procedures. This is the track that takes us up on to the plateau from the station and is quite a climb, although always worth it.

Local legend has it that it is called ‘Doctor’s Track’ after a certain Medical Officer down here one year who wanted to live at Bauer Bay hut and walk to work at the station every day, creating more than enough traffic to have the track named after him. Clearly a healthy individual, since even at a sprint this would be about a 90 minute walk each way. In order to keep him in touch with station in case of emergency, a phone was required to be run to the hut.

Station log 11/6/64

Gadd and Stair to plateau relaying telephone wire.

Station log 10/8/64

Purchase assisted Lodwick installing Bauer Bay telephone line from new Nissen to poles on Tent Hill.

And from 'This week at Macquarie Island’ in March 2014, a quote from Rodney Champness, radio supervisor in 1967:

I was at Macca in 1967. An expeditioner, probably the radio supervisor, laid Don 5 telephone cables (ex WWII) from the base to Bauer Bay. His intention was to provide automatic telephone comms from Bauer to the main station by the automatic telephone system at the base. However the insulation was perished and the phone didn’t work despite all his work. I doubt that it was done in 1966, maybe 1964 or ‘65.

No mention of the doctor though, so not sure of the truth to that part of the legend. We still rely on radio for our field hut ‘skeds’ on the island so the phone idea didn’t take off. The original phone itself was found in 1991 and is now mounted in the Mess.