Mawson’s midwinter celebrations are this week’s focus with stories on the preparation and aftermath, the swim and spa, midwinter’s day dinner and the Baby Seagulls band. We even had a ‘Mawson Midwinter Olympics'!

The preparation and aftermath

Back in April, two small teams were tasked with organising activities for ANZAC Day and midwinter celebrations. Pete, Vicki and Chris were the organising group for midwinter’s day. Early in May with nothing apparently happening, an over anxious station leader approached Pete seeking reassurance. Pete looked me in the eye and said as only Pete can: “Bob, it will happen”. The midwinter invitation was produced soon after and I liked its simplicity and the station photo with everyone’s face easily recognisable. JMB Smith, a multi-time station leader, who was sent an invitation, replied in response “I liked the invitation. Clear, and well illustrated, with one of the best winter expeditioner photographs I have seen. You can actually see everyone’s features!”. The committee then produced a midwinter Order of Play (outline of activities) and had numerous discussions with the chef and other key players.

Mawson weather played a significant role in our preparations. From the 9th June we experienced nearly constant gale force winds and blizzards. There were a few hours break on 14th June and the next break occurred on Wednesday 20th June. By a break in the weather, I mean the sky cleared slightly but the wind was still blowing at about 30 knots. Wednesday was a normal work day but most people were helping in one way or another with setting up for midwinter’s day. Ian, Michael and Robert started making our swimming hole through 1.2m of sea ice, the mobile spa (hot tub) was moved close to the Red Shed filled with snow and turned on, the RMIT Van was checked and transported close to the ice edge whilst in the dining room, the tables were being set up, the tablecloths were being ironed and the flags of the nations working in Antarctica were starting to decorate the walls. Our chef, Bron, had already started her preparations. Chris set up a corridor in the Green Store for the first event in our Midwinter Olympics while he and Paul also served fish and chips in the lounge for dinner.

After all the wintery weather leading up to the 21st June, midwinter’s day was superb. It was clear with very light wind. The first task for the day was performed by Mel at midnight when she gave an interview with Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National. The day will be described in two stories, one featuring the dinner and the Mawson band and the second story will cover the swim and spa. The Midwinter Olympics will be covered separately.

In addition to our preparations for midwinter’s day, this segment also has photos of some of what happened in the next three days. We awoke to blizzard conditions on the 22nd June and this continued until we went to bed on 23rd June but the weather cleared on Sunday 24th June although the wind was blowing strongly giving us some wonderful atmospheric effects depicted in some of Vicki’s photos. Anders, Wayne and Pete baked bread and some delightful scrolls for Saturday morning tea. In the afternoon following ten pin bowling, some of us watched The Thing starring Kurt Russell. Wayne, Anders and Michael cooked sausages and chops for dinner and in the evening we played table tennis and others were kept entertained by playing the Wii. On Sunday there was glacier boot throwing, the last event in the Olympics and then Pete cooked a lamb roast with his Mum’s mint sauce, potato bake and honeyed carrots. Pete’s dessert was his very popular pear crumble. In the evening many watched the politically incorrect The Cannibal Women of the Avocado Jungles of Death.


The swim and spa

Midwinter’s day was the best day in June with clear skies and a light wind and whilst Bron and slushies Mel and Bob prepared brunch, the guys were out on the sea ice finishing preparations for the swim. Bron’s brunch consisted of Mawson croissants with jams, Mawson crumpets with honey butter, Mawson brioche with poached eggs, ham or spinach and hollandaise, baked vanilla and honey ricotta, prunes with elderflower, peaches with red wine and raspberry, corn-cakes with tomato jam, bacon, sour cream, Welsh rarebit (on Mawson rye) with chipolatas and fresh orange, apple and rock melon juice. After brunch it was back to work on the ice. Final approval to conduct the swim was given about noon so everyone headed down to the Harbour for the ritual dip in seawater at −1.8C and they were totally oblivious of the shark swimming in the hole with its fin protruding above the water. After the customary photos had been taken most headed back to enjoy the warm (but rusty coloured) waters in the spa.  Whilst lazing in the spa, Pete remarked that the cigar he purchased in Cuba smelt better than it tasted.

Midwinter’s day dinner and Baby Seagulls band

The dinner on midwinter’s day is the highlight of the Antarctic culinary calendar. The expectations from everyone were high and it must be a very daunting task for an Antarctic chef, and more so if it is your first time preparing for such an occasion. Bron did not have to worry as she did her planning and preparation with meticulous precision and she remained calm throughout the very long day. In fact, it was a pleasure for both Mel and I to assist her during the day. Bron’s menu consisted of 8 separate courses and all meals were individually plated and served at the table by waiters. The 2012 Mawson midwinter menu was:


Smoked Salmon
Nori Omelette
Potato Pikelet
Horseradish Cream
Land Cress Oil

WA Lobster (Broad beans for the Vegetarian)
Tempura Asparagus
Wasabi Avocado
Red Pepper
Cherry Tomato Dressing

Twice-cooked Duck and Pine nut Pancakes (Shiitake Mushroom filling for the Vegetarian)
Micro Salad
Orange Chilli Oil Dressing
Pink Grapefruit

Lemon marinated BBQ Quail
Verjuice Reduction

Roasted Venison
Hazelnut Risotto
Beetroot Cardamom Relish
Truffle Jus

Mawson Lavoche
Glace Fruit
Raisin Apple Relish

Lemon Curd
Poached Rhubarb
Italian Meringue
Sticky Ginger Sauce

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Brown Sugar Poached Pears Gold Leaf
Sugar Floss
Rose Petals

Chocolate Truffles

After the third course, we had a break of about 20 minutes in which Bob and Vicki read out the midwinter greetings and messages.  We received messages from friends, many other Antarctic Stations, Tony Fleming the AAD Director, Barack Obama, Bob Brown and past station leaders to name just some of the many that were received. A poem from Ivor Harris was particularly appropriate to Mawson winterers.


May your sea ice be thick, and the tide cracks be narrow,
May your slots be well bridged, and the sastrugi be shallow.
May the sun soon return, and auroras keep shining,
May the penguins be friendly, and the Weddells reclining.

May the view down from Hendo continue to dazzle.
May the ice sailing home be just slush and frazil.
May the ice out to Taylor be a smooth billiard table
So the Hagglunds and quads go as fast as they’re able.

May your cane lines keep standing, and the blizzards be gentle,
May your jollies be fun, and the doc’s work: NOT DENTAL!
May the jade bergs be huge, and the petrels be soaring.
May the field huts be warm, and nobody snoring.

May your slushies be musical, and your gash runs be easy,
May your chef be fantastic, and smokos not greasy.
May your oysters Kilpatrick and crayfish be tender,
May your hydro grow salads, so Bob Jones stays slender.

May your jokes be correct, so that no-ones offended,
May you all stay quite safe till the swimming has ended.
May the turbines keep turning, and the Hagglunds keep starting,
And the quads all stay upright. And in 6 months: glad parting!

Ivor Harris
SL Casey 2003, Mawson 2006, Macca 10–11

After 2 more courses we had another long break in which toasts were proposed to our Chef, Bron, other expeditioners wintering in Antarctica and to our loved ones and family back home.

After dinner and cleaning up we retired to the lounge for the evening’s entertainment which was dominated by the performance of the Mawson band, Baby Seagulls. Who could forget the unique rendition of Scarborough Fair with Chris’ long drum solos or the guitar work by Paul when singing Johnny B. Goode. I think there was some karaoke later in the evening before many retired in the wee hours of Friday.

Mawson ‘Midwinter Olympics'

Pete, Vicki and Chris organised five events for the Midwinter Olympics.  Two events were to take place on the sea ice and three events would be held in the Green Store.

The first event on Wednesday night was curling in the Green Store. The curling stone was a block of ice with a metal handle. Black plastic was placed on the floor in one corridor and the sides of the aisle were padded to prevent any damage to equipment which could be caused by an erratic shot. Everyone was given several shots and scores were recorded by Malcolm, the impartial judge. The target was circular and the highest scores were awarded to those shots which landed in the centre whilst the lowest scores were on the outside of the ring. The winners were Ian, Vicki and Pete in that order.

With blizzards recorded on Friday and Saturday a change in plans was necessary. I learned in survival training that one always needs a plan. Things only fail when you have no plan but a plan once formed can be changed. It was easy for the organisers to cancel the two events on the sea ice and to arrange to two new events in the Red Shed and to transfer the ice hockey from the Green Store to the mess.

Mawson ice hockey involved hitting an icy puck with an ice hockey stick into a target which got smaller with every shot. The mess floor was covered in plastic. This was clearly non-traditional and no shin pads were required. The winners were Chris, Pete and Michael in that order.

The two new events were ten pin bowling and carpet bowls, both played in different corridors in the sleeping quarters of the Red Shed. Wayne won both events. Michael and Hendo filled minor places in ten pin bowling whilst Hendo and Bob got places in carpet bowls.

The last event was glacier boot throwing in the Green Store on Sunday. This involved throwing a boot down to a circular target much as in curling. If the boot landed upright, double scores were awarded. The winner was Paul, followed by Michael and Pete.

Chris announced the overall winners of the Mawson Midwinter Olympics after dinner on Sunday night. First place was awarded to Wayne, second place to Pete, third place to Michael and fourth place to Ian.

Thank you to the organisers of the ‘Olympics’ and thank you to Malcolm, our impartial judge.