A new start for Mawson as planes begin to arrive and expeditioners deal with the humble crack.

Resupply and farewell

Is it a bird? No! It’s a plane!

This week saw our nine month period of isolation finally come to an end with the arrival of the first of our summer flights. After many hours of discussion and planning, the ski landing area (SLA) was set up on Kista Strait. Shortly after midday on Wednesday four of us found ourselves standing on the sea ice scanning the horizon eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Twin Otter operated by Kenn Borek Air, who assist with intra-continental passenger and cargo transport.

Eventually the plane appeared, touched down smoothly, and slowly taxied to a stop beside our refuelling sled. After nine months of living in isolation with thirteen others, it is somewhat strange to see an aeroplane in the sky above you and even more strange to see unfamiliar faces climbing down out of the plane and walking towards you. For me it signals the beginning of the end of our time at Mawson. We still have a little over three months left on station, but the re-establishment of physical contact with the outside world gives me the sensation that we are no longer so far from civilisation.

Once the first flight had proven the SLA was safe and oriented correctly, the pilots flew back to Davis station leaving us with Jon, the AGSO (aircraft ground support officer) to run the SLA operation with our assistance for the next few days. They then returned twice the next day carrying our crew of eleven summer expeditioners. The following days saw another four flights carrying cargo for various summer projects. Finally on Tuesday, the final flight delivered the last of our cargo but sadly collected Jon, who had quickly become a part of the Mawson family while he was here.

Apart from meaning the end of our isolation (which may be good or bad depending on who you are) the occasion saw us bid farewell to ‘Angry', one of our diesel mechanics (diesos) who was heading home after wintering with us. The flights also delivered personal mail and fresh fruit. It is hard to describe how good a simple fresh navel orange tastes when you haven’t had fresh fruit for eight months or so, and what a thrill it is to receive parcels from home and, cards from family and friends.

We've all had so many fantastic experiences here this year that we’ll remember for a long time, but for me it’s also events like this that that make life down here so unique and memorable. 

Cracking up

Here at Mawson we are at three quarter time in our tour south, and this is the time when cracks will start to appear.

The sudden influx of new people and their real world germs could easily crack the fragile immune systems of us poor isolated winterers and leave us bedridden with ‘Cracked Immune Syndrome'.

The recent warmer weather — we hit a November record of 8.2°C on Wednesday — encourages more outdoor work and that inevitably means another type of crack can be found lurking around every corner of site-services.

The thought of a joyful Christmas down south with decorations, a tree, holiday cheer, sugar highs, new friends and endless carols might cause a Grinch to completely crack under the strain of merriment. Others missing home may crack and turn to sweets for solace. (Bring on the doc vs. chef challenge!)

While these cracks may give any station leader a cracking headache, there is an even bigger crack problem out there: the tide crack! That’s right, the glorious sea ice that has been our highway for the past six months is starting to crack up due to higher temperatures. The chance of getting out and visiting the emperor penguins is rapidly dwindling.

Tide cracks are an ever present thorn in late season, off-station travel on the sea ice. In Antarctic history, many a trip has had to turn back due to an impassable crack. Those foolish enough to try their luck with a crack may have found themselves swimming in both embarrassment and the ocean. Thankfully, a warm welcome and a cuppa is always waiting back on station.

So, beware the crack!