A mint slice culprit is on the loose at Mawson station, auroras appear brilliantly in the sky and the Framnes Mountains are explored.

Who didn’t replace the mint slice?

So, my week to write for the station news has finally arrived and I find myself stuck for a topic. There’s a certain amount of irony in this, as the last three weeks I have written for one of my fellow expeditioners here who doesn’t enjoy writing as I do. For those weeks we had no end of topics.

So there we were on a sunny Sunday morning discussing my quandary over a cup of tea. It was about smoko time, and naturally we needed chocolate biscuits. Now, several of us here prefer our mint slice chilled, so there is always a packet or three in the fridge at just the right temperature and firmness. The unwritten rule is “you empty a packet, you replace it”. Alas! Much to my dismay someone had emptied the last packet and not restocked the supply! Naturally I threw my arms in the air and announced my disgust in question of who would be so inconsiderate. This was met with laughter and mocking from the other two who were with me. Fortunately they know me well enough by now to realise that I was not serious. And from here developed an idea for this article.

At Mawson during winter we are fourteen people from all walks of life living in close confines, each with differing personalities and backgrounds. It is therefore inevitable that at some stage or another people are going to do things that others find irritating. It is only natural that things some wouldn’t give a second thought to, will seem inconceivably inconsiderate to others. 

From our disappointing mint slice incident, the conversation continued on to other little things that happen on station that have the potential to disrupt our harmonious existence. It also started me thinking about how well we all get on with each other. Fortunately, everyone who is selected to live and work in Antarctica has proven during the selection process that they have the qualities necessary to live in close confines with others. I recall one of the exercises I participated in during my selection centre all the way back in March 2014. We were presented with a scenario that gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our willingness to help others when the need arose. I was surprised by the number who steadfastly maintained their stance of unhelpfulness, and the reasons they gave for their attitude. All of us here pitch in and help each other at various times, and we each have different methods for dealing with issues when they arise, but the critical thing is that we do deal with them somehow and don’t dwell on things. My personal coping method is to help where I can, consider the bigger picture, and look for the best in people. Maintaining a sense of humour helps as well. Not that I can say that anyone has really been so inconsiderate as to annoy me greatly.

Mind you, a fridge bare of mint slice, or not filling up the milk jug, could have the potential to change the course of history! Oh well, the sun will still rise tomorrow…

Aurora australis

An aurora would have to be one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights. Rainbows are pretty good but everyone takes them for granted. Auroras are like a rare flower that only blooms on a remote mountain top in the dead of night. I won’t attempt to explain what causes an aurora as upper atmospheric physicists can’t do it without putting people to sleep.

Here at Mawson we are in a ring seat for observing them but even still, it ain’t easy. First the sun has to have a cataclysmic explosion that spews charged particles in our direction. As this can cause havoc with satellite communications there are websites that help by predicting the likelihood of an aurora. Then the weather has to play the game. Cloud-free and no wind when an aurora lights up is like hitting the jackpot. If the wind chill is down around −40°C the outdoor viewing time is of necessity, brief.

Last week we had the luck to have an aurora at the civilised time of 2200 and the sky was clear with hardly any wind so the cameras and tripods came out to try and capture the elusive event. Photography has the good fortune to be able to capture the colours that our night vision is unable to detect but it doesn’t capture the sinuous way the bands and curtains dance and weave. By taking many repeated photos, a time lapse film can reveal the glory of the spectacle but seeing one stretch across the sky from horizon to horizon with your own eyes is a rare privilege.

Framnes Mountains

Rising from the Antarctic plateau behind Mawson station lies a series of craggy ridges, solitary peaks and nunataks collectively known as the Framnes Mountains.

The Framnes were first sighted by the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition led by Douglas Mawson in February 1931 and by Norwegian whalers in the same year. Whilst individual ranges were named by the members of BANZARE, the overall name, Framnes Mountains, came from Lars Christensen when the area was mapped by Norwegian cartographers during Christiansen’s 1937 expedition. Christiansen named the area after Framnesfjellet, a hill near Sanderfjord in Norway.

Mawson station was established in 1954 and for more than six decades now the Framnes have been visited by glaciologists, limnologists, geologists, biologists, artists and others, all drawn by the beauty and harshness of the mountains, frozen lakes and wind-sculpted wind scours.

To spend time amongst the Framnes Mountains is indeed a privilege.