A story about the great Mawson huskies and just how we survive in Antarctica. Those who are fascinated by remote access to power and water will particularly enjoy.

Dogs at Mawson

When I decided to do my article on the husky dogs of Mawson, I thought it would be a fairly easy job. Write some history and take some photos, but as I sit here in the dog room at Mawson station I find that it is not as easy as I thought.

Firstly it is hard to take photos of items behind glass as you only end up with a reflection of yourself, and as most of the items (and rightly so) are behind glass, this meant I cannot just fill the article with photos. There are many fascinating items here in the dog room from old chocolate from MacRobertson, which an area of Antarctica is named after, to old seal butchering knives and pistol, giant isopods and sea spiders larger than a man’s hand, there is also sledging biscuits, dog collars and harnesses.

There are also two mounted/stuffed dogs, Noogis and Vida. Unfortunately Vida is shown in aggressive pose, but according to a past handler she was never aggressive, a most loving dog and the mother of five litters.

Dogs at Mawson go back many decades and were sourced from many countries. Most breeding was done on station, with many puppies born each year to continue the rotation of dogs from puppies to ‘in training’ to fully trained, and working dogs to retirement. Dogs from all over the world were used in the breeding program. Heard Island, Greenland, Scott base, Tasmania and Melbourne Zoo were some of the locations. These dogs were used for transport, pulling sleds across this vast continent, some treks hundreds of kilometres. There is a photo of one team 280 km west of Mawson in 1992.

These sleds (around nine metres long) were pulled by a team of dogs, usually between six to 12 dogs were used, depending on the weight of the sled, the terrain and distance to be covered. The weight of these sleds could be hundreds of kilograms, made up of all the supplies for the expeditioners, the food for the dogs, medical supplies, science equipment, radio equipment and fuel.

The dogs were fed on seal meat and blubber as well as pemmican, a mixture of fibrin of beef and animal fat. Feeding the dogs was rostered as a duty but was often volunteered for as it meant spending time with the dogs. The dogs always slept outside, in all weather, possibly only coming indoors when whelping.

The last huskies left Mawson in 1993, after the Madrid protocol called for non-native animals to be removed. In 1992 there were 28 dogs on station, 22 of the young ones were taken out in November 1992 with the last six being taken out in December 1993, a sad day for all involved.

The ashes of Misty, one of the last Mawson huskies to be born on station (Aug 1992), was returned to Mawson after her death on 4 Dec 2007 in Indianapolis USA.

Paul Amos

Electricity and water: how does it happen at Mawson?

When we are living back at home, wherever that may be, we take it for granted certain essential services will be supplied every day. We expect to have the lights come on when we flick the switch and we expect to have clean water every time we turn on the tap.

These ‘normal’ expectations are the same when living and working at one of our Australian Antarctic stations, such as Mawson. There are many differences between the two scenarios, but for me the most significant is that we, as expeditioners, are responsible for supplying the electricity and water to our Mawson station home everyday. How we do this is not necessarily unique to Mawson or other Antarctic stations, but I feel it is worth briefly explaining the process.

We are fortunate here at Mawson to have sufficient and normally reliable katabatic winds, which provide the energy to spin our two wind turbine generators (WTGs). Also working in parallel with the WTGs is our main power house, which is the home for four diesel powered Caterpillar generators. Between these two energy-producing power plants, we have enough electricity for lighting, power points, kitchen, laundry, drying room, computers, appliances, heating, refrigeration and anything else electrical.

How we get our water supplied every day to our station home is different to what most people would expect. At the back of Mawson station, towards the plateau, is a frozen fresh water lake that we are continually melting so that we can pump water each day. Every summer, many streams flowing from the plateau refill this frozen lake. The water is then stored in three large tanks in our water tank house until it is pumped around our station home to be used for drinking, washing, in our bathrooms, hydroponics, brewery and in the kitchen.

In the attached photos, you will see the frozen lake from where we pump the water and the tanks into which the water is stored. There are also photos of a wind turbine and the inside of our power house.

Peter Lecompte