A 53 year old mystery is finally solved at Mawson, a look at water and a night off station.

The historic Norwegian sledge and cache

The mystery of the Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache found on the Robinson Islands, Mawson Coast, August 2007 has finally been solved after 53 years.

I am a second generation Mawson expeditioner as my step father Bill Kellas wintered at Mawson as a Bureau of Meteorology observer in 1960. Unfortunately Bill died during my sail down so I didn’t get to share my Antarctic experience with him.

To get a feel of what life was like for my step father down here at Mawson station in 1960 I have been reading the diary of George Cresswell who was Bill’s best friend, and fellow expeditioner. I have found George’s diary fascinating, comparing life back then to my present-day expedition and I regularly communicate to ask George questions about the past.

Being interested in the history of Mawson station around 1960 led me to stumble across a document titled “Report on Retrieval of Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache from the Robinson Islands, Mawson Coast, August 2007” by Dr Gary Dowse, Station Leader, Mawson 2007.

I thought the report was very interesting and I was surprised that no one knew the history of where the Norwegian sledge and cache came from. The Historic Norwegian sledge is still here at Mawson, and I have looked at it many times. Recently when I walked past it I recalled a very brief paragraph in George’s 1960 diary mentioning the recovery of a Norwegian Sledge.

8 Nov 1960
Henk, Syd and Bryl had tried to get out to the caravan (17 miles north) in the Jeep. They got stopped by soft snow and the coil on the Jeep packed up too. Henk wanted to retrieve worthwhile bits off the caravan and also the Norwegian sled that it was mounted on.

Bill D, he and I flew up in the Beaver with GD. We had to walk a mile to the caravan into a biting, cold wind, although only 10–15 knots. We stripped the caravan, loaded everything onto the sled, and towed same ¾ mile to the nearest island — not easy.

We took off most of the stuff and dragged the sled up onto the island. Then had a walk around and saw seals and pups. Henk fell through a hole in the ice. GD picked us up at 2. I had to carry a heavy toolbox on my shoulder for ½ mile.

The mystery is solved

I followed my hunch up with George and he also contacted the remaining 1960 expeditioners to see if they recalled the events. While waiting for an answer I read through the 1960 Mawson station log book kept by OIC Henk Geysen and came across the exact event.

Thursday 2nd November 1960

…The weasel was easily located as we picked up its track from the air. The aircraft was able to land close to the weasel and John Humble and Bill Dick brought all the gear to the weasel on the pulka . At 1:00am we had the weasel out and it was fully serviceable at 3:00am. After which we retired for a coupe of hours sleep after some very hard work…

Sunday 6th November 1960

Little activity in the morning although the weather was very nice… The field party contacted us and informed us that they had lost the weasel approx. 16 miles from Mawson near one of the island in the Robinson group. The flight prepared immediately the Beaver and Jim and myself left Mawson in order to locate them. We found them quite quickly but the landing was quite difficult in near white out conditions. The Doc and his party has salvaged most of the gear and had made camp on one of the islands. The caravan was still on the weak patch in the ice approx.3/4 mile away from the island. The weasel has broken through and disappeared almost immediately. Bill Dick had enough presence of mind to sever the rope between the Caravan and the weasel avoiding that the caravan would have been dragged in the hole by the weasel…

Tuesday 8th November 1960

Graham Dyke flew George Creswell John Humble and myself to the areas where the caravan was stranded and the three of us managed to salvage the Norwegian sledge and all other equipment leaving the caravan hull where the weasel had disappeared. We even took out the windows. The caravan being an A type was not a very good one and as such is not a great loss. It was quite a job to get the sledge and the equipment on the island but it was done…

Grayham Dyke who was one of the pilots at Mawson station in 1960 emailed to confirm the following; “I checked my logbook and can confirm that on the 8th November I flew to pick up a man haul party”

Then Robert Merrick emailed with a very comical account of the event which was written in the Mawson station news paper “Katabatic” at the time of the event.

“Adding to George’s diary report, Katabatic reported in its honest and forthright way about the salvage operations:

Following an abortive effort to reach the site of the rapidly sinking caravan and Norwegian sled by WM, Jungle and Bril in the Jeep, experts were called in. They were Dick and Cresswell. Feeling that a Sherpa was warranted for the operation they chose the amiable Geysen.

Tuesday at 1015hrs saw the trio landed by Beaver by the fearless aviator Dyke on thin ice merely an ICBM distance downwind from the caravan.

The trio set off toward, reached, stripped and chopped holes in the caravan. Everything of value was salvaged. All that remained was to pull the Norwegian sled minus the caravan over to the nearby island. So that it would not go too fast and overhaul the haulers, such items as the Trewella jack, chain blocks, crowbars and toolboxes were thoughtfully placed on the sled by star man hauler Dick. The island was reached some 40000 calories later and all loot deposited.

The inevitable cairn was built and then the salvagers amused themselves watching Adelies mating. Sherpa Geysen later fell thru the sea ice but (to quote the newsletter) was fortunately unhurt. GD came back later and the party returned to Mawson.

I also found the same event documented in the field report dated 2nd to 6th November 1960. So, finally after 53 years, the mystery of the Historic Norwegian Sledge and Cache discovered at the Robinson Islands has been solved.

I would like to thank the following people:

George Cresswell
Dave McCormack
Robert Merrick
Grayham Dyke
Syd Kirkby
Terry Elkins

A night on Beche Island and a look around the local area

Darron, Craig and Peter C headed out last Monday night for some R & R at the huts on Bechervaise Island, which lies just a few km away from Mawson station.

Guitar and drumsticks were taken along for the ride, and we belted out some tunes while chewing the fat. Some time after midnight, we were treated to some aurora displays and so we spent a couple of hours outside taking photographs.

The following day, we spent some time exploring the island, before heading west to investigate the area around Marble Rock.

We also spent some time a little further west at Ring Rock, taking our time to enjoy the calm and sunny conditions.

We then headed east and took the opportunity to climb Welch Island, which offers superb views of the mountain ranges poking through the plateau to the south.

Water water everywhere

Spare a thought for how important water is to our lives. We humans are made up of approximately 60% water, and we need to take it in to our bodies every day daily to survive. Yet here we are living on a continent which contains approximately 60% of the world’s fresh water, all bound up in a frozen state and not easily accessible. On top of that, we are surrounded by the Antarctic Ocean which is frozen solid as well. Well, let’s have a little look-see at how we obtain our water down here at Mawson, and what happens to it on a daily basis.

First up, water is used daily for cooking in the kitchen. It is used to make up all of our drinking fluids by reconstituting powdered or concentrated products. It is used in our bathrooms and toilets and laundry. It is hydrolysed to generate hydrogen for use by the meteorologists every day.

Water is even used to make birthday cakes.

We initially obtain our water by melting a small portion of the ice plateau up behind the station. This is achieved by circulating hot water through a closed-pipe system which runs into the ice plateau, and the melted water is sucked up into the Pump House. At present, the melt hole is 8.5 metres deep.

From the Pump House, the water it is sent for storage in three huge tanks in the Tank House.

From the Tank House, hot water is circulated all over the Station via our Site Services, a network of heated and insulated pipelines. Note that more heat is added to this system from our Powerhouse generators.

Our Living Quarters have a spiderweb of pipes conveying water into heat exchangers, filters and distributors.

There is even a 5000-litre storage tank which is for emergency use only in case the water-distribution system breaks down.

After the water has been used, all waste goes into a system of drains and holding tanks and filters, once again located in the basement of our Living Quarters.

All waste water from the Station goes to the sewage processing plant where it is treated before disposal.

The processed sewage is pumped out into the local bay in East arm. This sewage is tested regularly to measure the efficiency of the processing plant.

All in all, water is an essential ingredient of life on this planet. It plays a pivotal role in maintaining a human presence in Antarctica.