On a mildly breezy Sunday afternoon, three intrepid and gallant expeditioners tempted fate, embarking on an extreme journey of epic proportions, fraught with great peril and heartache. A test of patience and perseverance over common sense, sanity and dignity. To drive the Pioneer to the top of GWAM (the old blue ice airstrip above Mawson) and back. An odyssey of approximately a kilometre.
The Pioneer, big brother to the iconic Noddy of Casey fame, roared into life. Years of constant battering by extreme weather have taken their toll, and most expeditioners refuse to go near it. The wise man of Mawson, the Grand Mechanical Guru himself imparted his wisdom. These sagacious words were expressed through a long grey beard, “You drive it, you fix it! That’s all I’m telling you!”
Failing to heed that warning we pressed on, knowing this could be a bigger journey than we had anticipated. At the 100mt mark it all suddenly went wrong. The centre bearing in one of a multitude of drive shafts had failed. We limped back, disappointed but not defeated. After several hours of repairs we lined up for our second attempt at glory. Success was in sight as we left the station limits and made our way up the hill, constantly and nervously looking back to make sure nothing else had fallen off.
Triumphantly we returned from GWAM, granted, slightly sideways, but as we re-entered the station we all felt a sense of accomplishment. There would be no tears of joy, no round of applause, just tears of pain from having cold hands hitting hard steel. What started out as a 20 minute trip turned into a 5 hour journey of discovery and enlightenment.
This once proud and noble machine now sits mostly abandoned, slowly fading into Antarctic darkness, just a relic of a bygone era.
These machines came from a different era, a time when overland traverses were the only way of exploring the vast interior. Built for extreme conditions, simple and robust, they could be fixed with an old sock, a rock and a boot lace. They are now being replaced with the age of electronics; harder to diagnose and temperamental when it’s cold.
Like the long forgotten Weasels that helped those intrepid explorers of old, they too will soon be just a fading memory to the very few who refuse to forget the important part they once played in Australian Antarctic history.
The once prevalent ANARE orange has mostly been replaced with that all too familiar shade of yellow. As ‘Kathy’ is prepared to join her sister-machines ‘Aleisha’ and ‘Clare’ in a distant paddock, a new, nameless replacement awaits at Davis to be delivered (hands off it Corey!)… but not just yet.