A second visit to the emperor penguins at the Auster colony and not your every day garbage run on station.

A second visit to the emperor penguins at Auster

When I received the news, way back in July 2011, that I would be spending a winter at Mawson, the first thought to flash through my mind was emperor penguins. I had seen photos and watched documentaries but had never actually seen an emperor penguin up close. Fast forward to July this year and finally I had my chance.We were heading out to Macey Island and then on to Auster to see the Emperor penguin colony, which gathers there on the sea ice each year to breed.

Our small party, consisting of my good self, Mel and Bron (with Bear Grylls), made all the necessary arrangements for the journey.

  •  Hägglunds ready-check.
  •  Food and water-check.
  •  Communication gear-check .
  •  Survival packs. All there.

We were ready to go. All we needed now was a suitable weather window. We did not have to wait long. It came on Friday the 13th July. We set off.

Poor surface definition and low cloud made the trip out there very slow and arduous. However, we persisted. Finally arriving at Macey Island hut some 5 hours later. We set ourselves up in our new temporary home, unloading our supplies from the Hagg and getting the gas heater working. The plan was to stay at Macey hut that night and head out to Auster, and the penguins, early the next morning.

After a good night’s sleep we awoke early, had a hearty breakfast (toast and a cuppa) and set off.
Auster is about a 40 minutes Hagg ride from Macey Hut. We were fortunate that the weather had improved considerably compared to the previous day and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise. So good in fact that we stopped to take some photos (as good expeditioners always do).

On to Auster.

We found the colony and the wait was over. There they were. Huddled together en mass, cold and isolated. Truly a remarkable sight. We had a welcoming committee of five emperors out to greet us. They were just as curious about us as we were about them. We kept a respectable distance and sat back to enjoy the sight before us.

After a while (and many photos later), the extreme cold began to take effect and we decided to sneak away quietly, back to the relative warmth and comfort of the Hagg. There was one more thing to see while we were at Auster. A jade iceberg was within sight of the colony so we headed over to take a quick peek at this unusually coloured object. My first thought was that it looked very similar in colour to the much prized “Mawson Green Diamond”. In fact, it is just ice. Green (or jade) ice results when seawater freezes beneath ice shelves. So, keeping a respectable distance once again, out came the cameras and we got busy taking some shots of the awesome scenery surrounding us.

After this, we jumped back into the Hägglunds and returned to Macey Hut to reflect on what was a truly amazing day.

“Would not be dead for quids.”


A station gash (garbage) run

With a small crew and being 5000km from Australia, Mawson Station is quite remote. Luckily phone and email make it easy to stay in touch with life back home. However, there are some services that we have to provide for ourselves. These include the fire and emergency management team, search and rescue team, surgical and anesthetic assistants for the doctor, the postal agency and the more mundane services like garbage collection and cleaning.

Every Saturday we are given a ‘Saturday Duty’ or chore to do. These include jobs like vacuuming corridors and community spaces, cleaning the laundry and bar, scrubbing the kitchen floor, restocking the Woolies supply cupboard, setting the table for Saturday dinner, and doing the gash (garbage) run. The gash run involves two people collecting the rubbish from the cold porches of the buildings where it has already been sorted into burnables, recycling and RTA (return to Australia for disposal). Lately we have been using the red tray-back Hägglunds for this duty as the blizzard tails behind many of the buildings makes access with the ute impossible, despite Ian’s heroic snow moving efforts with the IT loader.

Station leader Bob is a big fan of the gash run, roaring around in the Hagg, popping in and out of buildings, chatting to people along the way, and having a ‘nosey’ around workshops, before finally heading out onto the sea ice and around to Warren. Warren is the station incinerator, well used and managed by plumber Wayne who is also the station waste management guru. All the kitchen and hydroponics waste, along with any cardboard that has had food in it is burnt on station before the ash is packed in a drum and sent back to Australia. This reduces the amount of waste we send back and complies with quarantine laws.