The Mawson tradies detail their importance on station and Lydia showcases her fine Antarctic crafts.

The Mawson tradies

Why are we here? What makes the station tick?

Recently a group of us had the privilege of visiting Proclamation Point where Sir Douglas Mawson reaffirmed the Commonwealth’s claim during the BANZARE expedition.

Science is another defining reason for us to maintain a presence in Antarctica, especially given the research being conducted in helping to understand the implications of climate impact, and the food and resource security debates raging in the world today.

It is difficult however to do science without tradespeople to build and maintain infrastructure, or people to provide logistical support. That said, without science there would be no jobs for tradespeople in Antarctica. So what comes first, the chicken or the egg? How do we continue to maintain our presence in Antarctica?


On any given day, there can be issues that place our station and personnel at risk. It can be as simple as air in a water pipe, a worn out or faulty pump, a frozen pipe or just a simple leak placing our water storage or the fire protection of our assets at risk. It could even be as simple as a door, window or wall panel damaged and needing the tender loving care or brute force and ignorance of our friendly chippy (carpenter). Or it could be a generator or piece of plant or equipment with a small fault or oil leak that won’t start or run. The management of our precious fuel storage, without which all station life stops, requires the finesse or understanding of the diesos (diesel mechanic). It can be caused by a tradesperson not completing the required maintenance of our plant, equipment or infrastructure.

Or sometimes a simple fault in our electrical infrastructure will switch the power off to our station. As the British discovered recently after 19 hrs without power to a station you end up in real deep stuff over your head (our thoughts go out to those guys). It is a real bad situation without power and it happens fairly regularly requiring our sparkies to flash about with their smoke and mirrors and an application of liberal doses of snake oil to get it up and running again.

Often these issues can happen in the middle of the night with temperatures outside as low as — 30 or better, with the wind at over 100km/hr and blinding blizzard conditions needing immediate attention. Or it could just be that the pager has woken you 6 or 8 times during the night with minor issues, not requiring an immediate response, but still requiring you to wake up, consider the implications, complete a mental risk assessment, or get up and have a look at the computer system to ascertain if a response is required or not.

This year at Mawson we have limited fuel in storage due to not getting a ship to the station in recent years to do a full refuel, owing to the sea ice. This has meant the trades team (last year and this year) have implemented a number of energy/fuel saving measures. As a team and in conjunction with the infrastructure team at head office we continue to monitor, debate, measure, analyse and implement ideas to save fuel. The consequence of this has been extra work load, and lots of extra alarms and pagers going off.

And still the trades team manage credible normal work hours and complete news stories, slushy duties, community duties and activities, all the while wrestling alligators. Ok, maybe not the last part. 

The thing that trades people realise everywhere is that without us, the station very quickly comes to a grinding halt! But being the bashful retiring types that tradespeople usually are we don’t normally go looking for recognition or praise.

A good trades team culture contributes to the sense of community on station. Mawson station has an incredible group of professional trades people this year who support and respect each other fully. Not to say we don’t serve it up to each other constantly with a good healthy dose of ribbing and banter being heard continually in our office and workshop. It then spills over to the mess during breakfast, smoko, lunch and dinner and in the evenings — in fact during every waking hour. It is the mutual respect and hard fought work battles that give each of us the right to be, what may appear to the uninitiated, unkind or malevolent to each other.

Let me say this: “As the Building Services Supervisor, I for one salute our tradesmen and hold you all in the highest esteem. It is a pleasure to work with such a hard working, dedicated and professional group of tradesmen — especially the sophisticated plumbers!”

Next time you jump in a vehicle and turn the key, turn a light on, feel the warmth of the inside of a building, have a nice hot shower, put the garbage out that miraculously disappears, flush the toilet, or enjoy a hot meal, spare a thought for your local hard-working infrastructure team.

In closing though, let me also say this: It is not lost on us and it sure would be grim and difficult to do what we do without the support of the chef, field training officer, stores person, doctor, BOM staff, the comms people, and — yep — even the station leader. I am sure that if it was just a bunch of tradies working and living together, life may be simple but it would end up being tedious and a bore to say the least. Who knows? We could even be at risk of hating each other without all of you. Thanks to everyone on station for your ongoing support, you all have a part to play.

What to do in my spare time?

The sun did not shine and there was too much blizz to go play.

So I sat in the red shed (the living quarters at Mawson) on that cold windy blizz day — oh how I wished I had something to do. Luckily I’m more than capable of keeping myself entertained.

I must admit there have been times when I have done the rounds of the red shed more than once in every hour to find someone to break up the boredom but generally I retreat to my spare room.

This room is set up with all my arts and craft gear, which I use to get creative while watching a movie or TV series. I have my sewing machine and assorted fabrics (Mum, I think you might have been right as it may just be too much fabric?). I have started making a few rag dolls — that has kept me entertained for a bit. My cross stitch of a tree with snowflakes has been started but that is definitely a cross stitch that you need to be in the mood to do. I think I should have brought an easier one but hopefully I’ll be inspired and get back to it before the ship comes to pick me up next year.

I have jeweller’s tools and wire to do some chainmaille. I've sweet talked the guys into letting me go through the scrap metal bin and I have cut out a few base metal snowflakes. They look a treat, but not as cool as the real thing. I have sewn myself a trapper hat that is nice and toasty, and I have also made a skirt for a Spanish themed night.

By the time you start a project and get into it, the day has gone and it’s time to wander down for dinner then sit around with the crew for a chat — before you know it, it’s bed time again.

Lydia Jean Dobromilsky