Again the Dog Room becomes our interview room. Cliffy enters with a bottle of Grant Burge, Shadrach, Cab Sav, 2008, and a couple of glasses. This wine exhibits concentrated aromas of blackberries, ripe plums, liquorice, mint and hints of menthol characters. The complexity of the wine is intense with delicate herbal to — I’m beginning to sound like Cookie. Oh speak of the station leader - enter Cookie. “Hey guys thought I’d come in around question six and walk in to interrupt the interview — oh is that your good stuff Cliffy?” I sigh and explain that we haven’t even started the questions yet. “Oh o.k.” Cliff pours the boss a small glass. I entertain the idea of a photo with Cliff and the bagpipes. So off Cliff goes, not for the pipes but his washboard at Cookie’s suggestion. After around five minutes of Cliff on the harmonica and washboard and Cookie trying his luck with the Jews harp, I snap a couple of photos and politely cough. Eventually Cookie heads on back down to the kitchen where he has been slushy all day, and we begin. Phew.
So this is your second winter, the first being Davis, and you’ve also spent summers at Macquarie Island and Casey. What keeps you coming here?
It’s not for the money and it’s definitely not for the work. I do enjoy the lifestyle. You meet some very good people. People! I’ll say it, everyone says it -it’s just amazing! You look out there — I’m looking out there now. I don’t have to walk up the hill or down the coast, I’m quite happy looking out the kitchen window or dog room window and wow!
This is where we both gaze out the window and nod our heads. The wow factor, and look we’ve still got snow petrels - a couple of white wings fly past the window.
That’s what keeps me coming back.
Your work ethic is one to be admired and not just for the hours put in, but also for the tasks you undertake outside of your chosen field. You’re currently part of the plumbing (spud) crew here at Mawson. What other jobs have you done since leaving school?
I’ve built bridges, and well I’ve spent most of my life in construction. I’ve had a few other jobs like working on chook farms, building retaining walls, re-blocking houses, putting insulation in houses. I didn’t like them very much. I don’t like work very much — it’s just a means to an end.
Well Cliffy anybody who has seen your work would not believe that statement. Your commitment to work and the station is amazing, thank you.
After leaving school I started an apprenticeship as a boiler maker. I’ve even worked in a pub cleaning dishes [first time slushie]. I was going to become an apprentice chef, I then realised how hard it is so I became a boiler maker instead.
Why didn’t I realise that early?
Your dad Richard Davis was a met observer at Macquarie Island in 1968. Did this have any bearing on your choice to engage in work down here?
YES! In capital letters. I always wanted to come, didn’t really speak about it much back in those days. I read the Shackleton book back when I was 12 maybe 13 years old. I was mainly wanting to go to Macca. I went to Macca, didn’t think much about coming down to the continent — it was offered to me and I couldn’t say no. So here we are. I haven’t looked back since. It was always a dream but I never really thought I’d get a job down here. I had never met anybody apart from my dad who had been down here. I had just come back from working at Christmas Island, I was having a coffee first thing in the morning and playing on the internet, when an ad from the Australian Antarctic Division popped up. I read that they needed trades people down there. “I can do that” - so I applied. I thought nothing more of it. Was going away sailing a couple of months later and just before I was due to leave I got a call from the AAD for the selection centre, and that was it for me.
We both gaze again out at the surreal landscape now blazoned with the warming colours of dusk.
Do you look at life differently now that you’ve spent some time hanging out in Antarctica?
'Yip'. Oh you want me to elaborate — okay. Personal development! For me I feel I deal with issues a lot easier, I’m more relaxed. I’m not so stressed out. It’s like, when I go home now it’s like I’m driving Ms Daisy. I’m just much more relaxed about life, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way we live down here. You can’t just get grumpy, spit the dummy or drink too much without dealing with it. You need to make allowances for people, for the differences in people. Here you have to start thinking not just about yourself but everybody else around. When I go back home now, the things that used to stress me out, I just let go now. My family and close friends notice the difference. I think it’s across the board with most people.
Diving is a passion of yours and you’ve managed to score some awesome moments under water. Along with sailing you must have seen a lot of the globe. What have been the highlights and what else is on your to do list?
Well,l I would still love to dive up around Vancouver way, the kelp forests there, the sea otters — I’d love to get in the water with them. I’ve been on scuba with the whale sharks and minke whales, I’ve sailed all up and down the east coast. I’d like to travel up to the Arctic. I’d like to see a lot of the world. Mostly where I want to go I’ll be taking my dive gear — just as you take your surfboards — for me it’s the dive gear. I’m really lucky I’ve met a lot of good people that way, we dive and it just seems to break down all of the barriers. Meet good people all over the world. It’s a great way to travel.
You have an appreciation of some of the finer things in life - i.e food, drink and music. Your wardrobe is always thoughtfully chosen and your nails well manicured. Has this always been the case?
Ah, no. My drinking is now much more refined than it used to be. Food has always been okay - I’ve always been a good eater. I like good food. You’ll never see me, even as a kid much, going to Mc Donald’s or KFC or any of those places. You’ll never catch me drinking soft drinks, I never did back then. But clothes and the nice wines, that’s something that’s just gotten better over the years. A few good friends have steered me in that direction. As for the clothes, ummm yeah. I guess I just need to work on the belly when I get home. Lipo suction — it’s cheap these days and I can afford it.
The rowdy laugh kicks in.
You’re the guy that everybody seems to email their humour to, based on the fact that you send out two to three emails a day to a comprehensive list of people who seem to want to look at youtube videos and scroll through pictures of near misses from around the world — how did this happen? How did you become ‘that guy'?
I don’t know!? I don’t know!?
An embarrassed laugh now takes over.
Man there’s people from all walks of life, from all over the world who send me things.
I don’t know? I wish I knew.
How long has this been going on for?
For as long as I‘ve been able to log on to a computer. (Cliff laughs from the belly.) Look I send them out in the morning before work. I hope to cheer people up before they start their day. “Oh it’s a joke from Cliff.” Some of them maybe Photoshopped but it’s a good way to start the day. For the record, I probably delete more than I send on.
Well, it’s on the record now mate.
Any last words?
I think I’m one of the luckiest people in the world. I can come down here and meet amazing people in this amazing place. I am the luckiest person in the world!