J’s Nine with wine Geoff ‘Fossil’ Brealey
This week’s interview takes place on Bechervaise Island. Roughly 3kms from station, Beche is used by Adelie penguins as a rookery and by AAD scientists in summer to monitor these cute little fellas. Consisting of two red smarties*, a white apple* and an orange shipping container, this little island also has views back to Mawson station and out to the iceberg dotted horizon. Inside one of the smarties Cliff, Geoff and I settle in for a little deserved R&R. Over a bottle of Rawson’s cab/sav 2010, the first part of our interview takes place.
Geoff is always up for a chat and has many interesting insights on an array of different subjects. Being the head of our two pronged mechanic division, Geoff is always willing to offer up ideas and theories about almost anything with moving parts involved.
Cliff leans back in his bunk and tries to keep quiet as Geoff and I start the chat.
So you’ve worked at Mawson and Davis before. What keeps you coming back down?
Well I wanted to go to Macca. They offered this one up to me, I couldn’t really say no so here I am again. I see within my circle of friends back home a lifestyle that I’m not quite ready for. I enjoy it down here to be quite honest with you. I mean, where can you get a job at my age where you’re mixing it with interesting people.
“And what age would that happen to be?” I ask. We all have a little chuckle.
Nah I don’t care. 65.
In my opinion, with the heart of a 35 year old.
My wife said “Do you really want to do it again?” and I said yeah, why not? I still feel as though I’d cope okay and I’d be lucky to get it again anyway. I like Mawson, it’s a great station. The work down here is different than the work I’ve been doing over the past 30 odd years. The working hours are less and it’s a lot cruisier. Yeah, I love it. It keeps me young.
Would you see yourself coming back down again?
I’d love to go to Macca. Yeah, I’d still go to Macca.
So why apply in the first place?
In my early teens there used to be a program that would come one now and then. Antarctica Calling or something like that. It was a radio programme conducted by a woman. All I can really remember is that there was Morse code at the beginning of the program.
Geoff starts to do the beeps.
I think it was the Dan boats or something like that (referring to the J Lauritzen Ship Lines). I can remember these guys talking. There was wind and Morse in the background during the show. Anyway there was this guy down the road who had been down there in the 60s, so I said to my friends and family back then that I’d like to come down here. So after 30 years of business I needed another challenge. It was a Saturday and I was sitting down after work reading the news paper — as I do — cover to cover. There was this full page ad with penguins and all the rest of it. I said to my daughter I’d love to that. Anyway, I plugged on for a couple more years. Again on a Saturday I was reading the paper and just like déjà vu, I saw this tiny little ad. It said ‘Wanted. Geologists, carpenters, and, ah, diesel mechanics — last call! And I thought, alright, I’m going to apply for that. I did, and here I am.
So when did you first come down?
2007. I did a summer-winter-summer.
Have you been a mechanic all of your working life?
Pretty much. Since I was 15. So I did an apprenticeship as a mechanic at Adelaide Motors, then went on to one of Adelaide’s largest marine dealers. I used to read a lot about offshore power boat racing so one day I headed off to the Isle of Wight, not even knowing where it was, looking to work for the best. Anyway I was with a few good mates back then. We used to surf quite a bit as well.
This is where we digress for about twenty minutes as Geoff talks about his surfing days. It was getting a bit late so we decide to postpone the interview until tomorrow morning.
Next day: The night brought along with it low temperatures and strong winds that sucked away what little heat we had made the previous night. At 11am with still darkish skies we rolled out of our beds and started the day with steaming cups of tea. Breakfast time. Munching a bowl of two-minute noodles Geoff tells us of his exploits.
So where have you worked?
So I started out in Adelaide, then went overseas and ended up in London as a welder, moved on to the Isle of Wight and worked there for close to a year. From there I went off to the US and started working in Pasadena, finished up there and travelled down the through the Americas. Made it back to the UK and worked for a Lotus dealer there. I then took off and went around Europe for a look. Later on I headed off down to South Africa and worked there for a while. Got married there and came back to OZ. I then started a business that kept me going for the next 30yrs and ah, here I am.
So you surfed and sailed quite a lot when you were younger. Do you still do any now?
Yeah. So my kids all sailed. I used up quite a few of my weekends dealing with that. I helped them along cause you’ve got to keep your kids interested in something. I do a bit of sailing, nothing within competition. I now and then get out and skipper a few boats — none of the big boats though mainly 25–30 foot yachts. I’ve got plenty of mates who still sail and I’d rather get out there with them than play things like golf and such. With the grandchildren now I haven’t got as much time either. I’ve thought about getting myself a boat, maybe a Holland 25. The kids can use it as well then.
You’re a workaholic and seem to do a lot for the community down here. In you very spare time do you do anything for yourself? In other words have you any projects or hobbies currently on the go?
Just a simple one word answer. I must learn to ask more open ended questions.
So you used to race cars I hear. What sort?
Yeah I used to race around the tracks on the weekends in an Austen Healey Sprite. It was a lot of fun. It was also a lot of hard work. It was the weekday car as well, so on the weekends I would change things out like the tyres, exhaust and work cylinder head and carburetion, putting them back to normal on Sunday afternoon, or Monday, ready for the week ahead. I raced for about four years or so until surfing, which was much easier to do, took over.
Things you miss?
Yeah I miss lots. My wife Pat, family and grandkids Nash and Hardy. Also I miss Jody and Jim, family and kids Max and Archie in the U.K.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Life’s good, take advantage of it!
Hey thanks Geoff, for not only this interview, but also your hard work and diligence around station. You bring a fresh approach to bridging the gap between the young and not so.
*Smarties and apples in this story are field huts.