First impressions as the emperors march, a look at history, exploring the Central Massons Region and J’s nine round out another awesome week at Mawson.

The emperors’ march

March of the emperor penguins and breeding time at Auster

Last week I had the privilege of being part of the first group to Auster rookery this season. It is roughly 60km from Mawson station and has a current population of approximately 4000 emperor penguins. To be bluntly honest, since returning I have thought about it heaps and when asked about it I haven’t said a lot to others for a couple of reasons.

For me, it’s something that has to be experienced. It is not just about seeing the emperor penguins, it is about seeing the abundance of life when we are in such a remote place where life is scarce on the ice. It is about hearing the noises they make as they call out and slap each other with their wings and in the distance a gunshot sound goes off signalling an ice cliff has collapsed or part of an iceberg.

It is the amazement of your own body wearing all these clothes in −25°C and yet, after an hour of taking photos, finding my feet frozen and having to do exercises for 30 minutes just to get feeling back. Yet, here they are, such a hardy animal, braving all elements with a few feathers and bare feet?

Furthermore, the colours and size of the penguins, of the icebergs, the distant ice shelves and the sky could never be stitched together in a picture to truly give a proper illustration of the majestic beauty in the scene that was before us.

Most places I have been in the world, people have worked with animals by creating nature reserves or leaving large areas of natural vegetation. Here I felt we didn’t belong at all, with no rights, or by design, with a feeling of honour for being chosen by my country to be here and be able to witness this event with a huge amount of respect and humbleness as I looked upon nature taking its course.

Until next time,


60 years logged

A tradition of ships captains that has been around for centuries was adopted in the first year that Australia’s Antarctic stations were set up. This is the keeping of log books to record the daily happenings on station. With Mawson being set up in 1954 we are now into our 60th winter and these logs have been kept for all of those years. The original logs were hand written and in later years they were typed on clunky old typewriters. These days they are still typed, but on computers, and then printed and bound. The original old logs are still here at Mawson and are added to every year by the station leader who has the job of writing up the day’s events. Copies of every log book are kept back in Australia for posterity — some can be found in the Australian Antarctic Division library and some have been sent to the national archives. For us at Mawson it is great to be able to sit and quietly read through these old journals to see what those who have been here before us were doing on a particular day or to just check to see when the sea ice formed or how the weather was back then.

Excerpt from 1954 log book 2

“Saturday 22nd May 1954

1200Z weather. Bar 99.3MBS Rising. Temps Max 21 Min 9.6 (F) Wind light and variable. Cloud avaeraging 6/8 ci/cs with trace of AC/AS on occasions. Vis 20 miles.

Dingle worked on weather and darkroom, Russell on No2 engine. The tide guage is doing a bench run and appears satisfactory after repairs. It is intended to reinstall tomorrow. Radio contact with Perth was not made with Mawson or Heard Is. We passed traffic to Heard Is.

The field party were contacted at 8PM and reported their perilous flight at Scullin Monolith. I lost contact before all messages were passed and broadcast that schedules would be at 10, 12, 7 and 8 tomorrow. The situation is not good with them from this angle. Further details are in the field message file. I intend to ascend the ice slope with George Schwartz tomorrow in No3 Weasel to view the sea ice from that angle. Nothing more can be done tonight. Doc Simmons continued with his blood analysis. I worked on radio schedules and fittings for the radio room.



Exploring the Central Massons

Darron, Craig and Lloyd made plans to spend a couple of days exploring the Central Masson Range. On the day prior to departure, while we were going about our business getting ready, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise. A solar pillar rose above Welch Island and to the left a rainbow beam also appeared. A little later, another rainbow beam also appeared to the right of the solar pillar.

The following day, we set off in the wee hours up the hill and beyond Rumdoodle, eventually parking up at the northern end of the Central Masson Range and completing a circuit that included Patterned Lake and some climbing over a steep saddle. The route back to our awaiting vehicle took us through an impressive moraine boulder field. With the ambience of the setting sun, we then circumnavigated the entire Central Masson Range, eventually making our way to Rumdoodle Hut in the North Masson Range where we enjoyed light banter as Lloyd regaled us with stories from his previous ten winters.

The next day saw us making our way to the southern end of an impressive ice wave, where we parked our Hägglunds and completed a circumnavigation by foot of Ferguson Peak. We were mesmerised by the formations of the drifting snow against a backdrop of another stunning sunrise. We used the remaining daylight to explore a wind scour along the southern end of the North Masson Range

Having filled our boots with a couple of days of quality time in the Framnes Mountains, we headed for our home at Mawson station, once again enjoying another setting sun and spectacular moonrise.

J’s nine

J’s nine with wine featuring Pete (Petel) Layt

It’s a cool night outside, the stars are shining and a waxing gibbous moon illuminates the nearby ice cliffs. Again the wine remains on a shelf in the bar as Pete hands me a James Squire Golden Ale (top-shelf according to our interviewee). We conduct the interview in the dog room, surrounded by guitars. I move three of Cookie’s instruments and recline in the plush leather chair. Pete looks at me like ‘come on man, I’m ready to talk’. Alright — pen poised and feet on table we begin.

You’ve done Casey, Davis and are now here at Mawson. What keeps bringing you back down here, and is Macca on the to-do list?

'Cause I’m allowed! Cause the wife will let me…

We both ‘man-chuckle'.

I like it. I like being here. This place has a lot of different aspects than the others. The penguins, the ice cliffs. It pretty much has everything all in one spot. As for Macca - yeah, that’s my intention. Maybe not a long one though. Just a short winter or summer. Whose knows? I reckon Macca just for the wildlife would be pretty specky. Its good coming back here. Every trip is different. I don’t really have expectations so it’s pretty easy.

Your right into music and love listening to it all the time.

Pete becomes enthusiastic now and informs me he likes hard rock — or well that’s what he calls it. I finish the question.

Has this always been the way and what are some of your musical highlights?

Oh yeah, since high school. I started to listen to the old bands back then. I guess they weren’t old back then. Yeah I guess It was a privilege back then to listen to new tracks such as ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or even Jimmy Hendrix when he was alive — to be one of the first to listen to tracks that are now old classics. Seeing the big name acts is pretty cool like Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Sound Garden, Status Quo, Jethro Tull, The Sweet, Chuck berry, U2.

I Ask about ACDC and Pete casually informs me…

Yeah I saw them and a few others, just as pub bands like Midnight Oil, INXS, The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Sky Hooks and stuff.

Well Pete, I for one am jealous.

Yeah music has been a big part of my life. It’s rubbed off on my kids as well.

You’re an east coast boy (southern NSW) ripping it up somewhere near Batemans Bay. Has this always been your playground and what is your favourite surf spot?

Yeah Batemans Bay, Ulladulla. I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. I didn’t spend much time there. My mates and I used to go to the beach by train. Once we got our licenses we would drive further south to places like Wollongong and Kiama and later further south still. As for my favourite spot? Well maybe I shouldn’t say. You can get in a lot of trouble with the locals for naming a good secret spot.

Cool, Pete. I respect and understand that.

Lets just call it ‘spot X'. Yeah, spot X is just down the road as are a lot of good breaks back home. Spot X is a little left-hander that breaks over a reef. It’s got little barrels — yeah.

Yeah here too! We both start to get that glazed look that only a surfer can get. It’s like the thousand mile stare soldiers are known to get, but with us it’s a magical revelry that foreshadows all other comprehension shown in our eyes — hmmm, peeling left-hander. Picture Homer Simpson drooling over a doughnut. That’s us! We end up talking about the surfing for another ten minutes at least.

Back to Antarctica now. You seem very enthusiastic about getting out and seeing our winter wonderland. Any highlights?

I reckon the first aurora would be a highlight. The first iceberg we ever saw, coming into Davis. The first piece of ice in the water we ever saw — you know the little um, bergy bits - you knew you were getting closer and closer to station and the continent. Well actually almost anything really. The sheer size of the place. When you go up in a helicopter or plane and have a look down, it’s then that you realise just how small the stations really are and just how huge the continent really is. The biggest highlights would have to be the aurora and first iceberg for sure. There are so many great things like the days that never end when the sun is up all the time, and how well established we are. Like how large the stations actually are. Very substantial buildings. The whole process of coming down here was pretty amazing as well. Like putting your application in and getting accepted, then going through selection centre and getting accepted, then doing your medicals and psych and getting accepted, then coming down here. It’s all very cool. It’s a long process but very exciting. I actually had three tickets to go and see Ozzy Osbourne on the night of the selection centre — it was a tough choice! Well, I ended up giving the tickets to my wife, son and youngest daughter. I still haven’t seen Ozzy yet.

He says this with a smirk on his face.

You’re a chippy down here (and BSS — Building Services Supervisor). Have you always been one and what sort of projects have you worked on?

Yip. I’ve always been. I’ve been a chippy for about 40 odd years now. And yeah man, I started off on really big stuff as an apprentice. Multi-story sky scraper stuff in Sydney, commercial, industrial, churches, sports centres and cottages and stuff — yeah and hospitals, Hoyts cinema centre. I spose I’ve covered all the bases really.

We start to talk about the building game and some of the pitfalls that can happen.

I helped my boy finish his house just before I came down here. That was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.

Pete then tells me about the house he built and how when he started small and just kept adding on and how he slept in a shed for two years while doing it. This goes on for a while. I sit back and enjoy his story — he’s got a lot of cool stories.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Oh, um, ah, I don’t know? Um, it’s good to be here. It’s a good crew.

Where is Cookie or Cliff? My first uninterrupted interview!

Pete, thanks for the stories man. I really enjoyed listening to them. Check out some of Pete’s photos if you have a chance. Not only can he wield a hammer but also has a Midas touch on the shutter button.