Location: The Dog Room. A room situated in the northern upper level of the Red Shed. This room holds magnificent views of Horse Shoe Harbor as well as West bay and the ensuing buildings that lay between us the Antarctic Vista. The moderately sized room that now houses most of the guitars on station as well as a few little drums, harmonicas, a clarinet, a washboard and a pair of bagpipes, more importantly houses memorabilia pertaining to the dogs of Mawson past. Along with a full sized sled and the tools used by past expeditioners, this room also displays photographs and maps depicting the routes used by the dogs and their handlers.
Sitting amongst all of this Is Graham “Cookie” Cook (our illustrious Station Leader) and myself (an inquisitive soul and part time detective). Over a bottle of Moppity Wine’s Lock and Key Merlot which Cookie tells me of its characteristics like a pro [I look up to see him reading verbatim from the label] we begin our little chat.
This will be your second time here at Mawson, you’ve spent two winters at Davis and another at Casey. What keeps you coming back down?
Your company (I pick up a little sarcasm … aren’t we off to a great start), the truth would be it’s still an adventure and I still really enjoy it, the people, the environment. The people always fascinate me, a lot of it’s about working with people. Though underlying it all is the sheer magnificence of the place, the outdoors and the beauty. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to come. While I’m still enjoying it and they’re still putting up with me … I can come back. (Not an easy man to put up with J)
What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the last 10 years or so?
I think the type of person coming down here has changed. The culture has changed, the internet may have something to do with that. I think it’s changed for the better. The environment obviously hasn’t changed a great deal, but the work culture and people’s reasons for coming down here have changed. There is now a higher emphasis on safety, which is common throughout all work place. Safe work practices have been at the forefront of my last five trips. So yeah the internet has changed things down here as a social media, a way of communicating, a way of getting information. Umm digital cameras have got people going back to their rooms and downloading photos and working on that stuff. The internet has changed those things and the way we interact on station … and that’s changed dramatically over those few years.
You’re making a Guitar (double neck) again this season after having successfully made one at Davis in 2011. What is the motivation for this and have you left any red food colouring for the kitchen?
[Chuckle] There’s miles of that food colouring for the kitchen … I only took two teaspoons! ( Well folks it was all over the bench, on the floor and on Cookies hands for a week two teaspoons?)
The motivation is to give me something to do, it gives me an outlet to be creative which I don’t get so much in my work I suppose. Its just a personal creative outlet that I get some satisfaction out of. And its not really about learning to play it either, more its about the craft. After this I also have a very nice mandolin I will be making. (wear gloves this time mate…)
You seem to enjoy researching the history and lores of Antarctica. Are there any interesting facts you’d like to share with us today?
[Chuckle] um now? … About Mawson in particular? Ah no. [chuckle].
Look I’m enjoying reading about why certain places are named and who their named after and look at some of the early trips undertaken down here. I just like to see where people have been before. I’m not studying geology, I’m not studying the bergs or anything else like that, I’m interested in people. The journeys, the voyages and why they undertook them.
Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why? … if yes
Oh well I’d have to say ‘Once more on my adventure’ biography of Frank Hurley is the reason I am here. I read this when I was 12 and I really enjoyed that. There is a whole heap of books that changed my opinions I think one of the most interesting books that I’ve read in the last 15–20 years is ‘Why Warriors lie down and die’ by Richard Trudgeon. It’s about Aboriginals in east Arnhem Land, It gives a bit of an insight into some of their lives.
You mention living in Arnhem land quite often as being a very rewarding time in your life in both work and personal growth. Can you see yourself spending time there again?
Yes. I went back there last June, and it was a bit like going home. It showed me there are still some things I’d like to do. The people are warm and friendly, I’m welcomed there. Embraced, which was phenomenal. With mobile phones and computers and the internet I can now keep in touch … which was not there when I first left. It’s great. Yeah Arnhem Land certainly has an attraction. I’ll go back there. It’s about time … I also need to catch up with my daughters Leah and Rebecca. They’re Important to me. It’s nice to follow my dreams, but I also like to follow theirs and be a part of that too.
The world is a big place do you have a bucket list of sights yet to visit?
[Chuckle] yeah its huge! [there’s no way I’m gonna achieve it … it’s not a bucket, it’s a huge bloody tank! [Chuckle]. There’s not enough days left in my life, in anybody’s life to achieve the list. To a degree I can whittle it down. [this is where Cookie starts rattling of names and places around the world … we rejoin him ten minutes later], Kenya, south America, Australia, New Zealand, Australia again… So yeah huge bucket list, lots of things to do, lots of places to do them, and yeah not enough time to do it.
[Enter Cliff with a bowl full of Biltong. He decides to sit right down next to us and commences playing the a guitar … Cookie pours him a wine]
If you could ply another trade what would it be and why?
Chef, Cause they’re cool!
[Disclaimer: Actual question never ask. Response fictitious. Likelihood of this ever being true … slim.]
We live in a very unique part of the world. As a Station Leader do you get asked many questions by people back home about life down here? And if so what sorts of questions are asked?
Are there any polar bears! [really?] … [Chuckle] … more times than enough!
I think most people ask me why I do it? What keeps you going back there? Strangers ask a lot of simple questions where as my close friends ask what I get out of it. They also want to talk about the people. A lot of people want to come down here to work and ask me my advice as a Station Leader, and what they need to do? I always send them back through the Division, but give them some advice on options.
[Enter Keldyn … Cookie offers up another glass of wine…]
So Cookie is there anything else you want to add?
Yes … anybody who’s got a dream to come and work in Antarctica … it’s up to you. Do something about it. It’s achievable, follow your dreams!
Thanks for the advice and interview Cookie.