A new crew arrive at Mawson and the journey is captured through fresh eyes.

The new team arrives

First up, the 2016 Mawson winterers (newbies and returnees) would like to extend a big thank you to the 2015 Mawson winterers and recent summerers (old hands) for their warm and generous reception on our arrival at Mawson. Landing at Rumdoodle, the ski landing area up on the plateau, we were greeted by a specialist welcoming party who were enthusiastic and cheerful despite their early start (two days in a row).

When we made it to station there were several reunions and lots of meet and greets between the two teams. It quickly became obvious that the crew here had put considerable effort into preparing for our arrival. Everything was spick and span, and our rooms had been carefully prepared with beds made and gifts left. Some rooms even held extra surprises for certain expeditioners.

Information packages had been printed and telephone numbers were assigned. The home brew fridge was fully stocked, awaiting a special happy hour to celebrate our arrival, and the chef provided some splendid fare.

Thanks again, this place is awesome and the welcome was a wonderful way for us to start our year.

The journey from Hobart to Mawson

In a change of tack this season all the winter crew except our Doctor (poor Malcolm) arrived by plane, instead of on the Aurora Australis (the big orange ship). This was a potentially uncertain decision as in Antarctica, the best laid plans can quickly come undone due to the harsh and unpredictable nature of the environment. We could have been stuck at either Casey or Davis for weeks waiting for a weather window. However, with a great deal of planning, many crossed fingers and some significant sacrifices to the weather gods, the planets aligned and the journey was completed surprisingly quickly within five days.

The first leg of this epic journey was a four and half hour flight from Hobart to Wilkins (the ice runway located about three hours’ drive from Casey station) on an Airbus A319. It started out like any other early morning international flight with bleary eyed passengers queuing for check in, hunting for coffee and moving through customs. Upon boarding, it quickly became apparent that this was not your regular flight. There were no assigned seats, people were chatting excitedly and almost everyone was holding at least one camera. Then, prior to landing, we had to change into our survival gear ready to disembark in Antarctica.

On the ground at Wilkins we became baggage handlers helping to unload cargo, before waving goodbye to expeditioners headed home to Australia on the return flight. We got to spend some time in the Wilkins international terminal, a shipping container decked out with a heater, some chairs and tea and coffee. It is actually pretty flash when you consider just how far from internal plumbing you really are.

Those of us heading on to Davis boarded a United States C130 Hercules for the second leg of the trip from Wilkins Aerodrome to Woop Woop, the ski landing area on the plateau near Davis. For anyone who hasn’t travelled on a C130, ‘web’ seats are arranged along the sides of the aircraft facing in and cargo is stored along the centre of the plane. They are loud, really loud, and ear plugs come as standard issue. However, they are relatively quick with a flying time of about two and a half hours for 1400 km.

After emerging from the Hercules at Woop Woop there was another flight to Davis station. This one was on a squirrel helicopter and provided some spectacular views of Davis station and the surrounding Vestfold hills. Due to weather, we had a short delay at Davis, but no one was complaining about the chance to spending a few days looking around and helping out at Davis.

The final leg of this multi aircraft crossing was completed in a Canadian Twin Otter. The size of this plane meant that we needed two trips to ferry the eleven of us plus our gear to Mawson. Luckily, the first of these flights was on the Monday afternoon and the second was able to leave the following morning. All I can say about this flight is, “Wow!” The weather was perfect and the low flying height of this aircraft allowed for some magnificent views over the spectacular Amery ice shelf, and along the stunning Lars Christensen Coast to Mawson.

Busy, busy, busy

Since arriving on station, there has been much activity. All of the new winterers have been inducted, spent time finding their way into and around the various buildings and become acquainted with local customs. Handovers between members of the outgoing team and their incoming counterparts have begun. All trades were involved in the main powerhouse shut down. Problems with the melt bell have been sorted. Summer infrastructure projects are well on their way to completion. Vehicles are ready for action and in use all over station.

Communications technicians are scrupulously looking after equipment, keeping us connected to the outside world and issuing two way radios for use on station. The riggers are doing what riggers do (I hope they know what that is because I don’t). Met technicians have been working to get the hydrogen systems back online after the planned shut down due to electrical work.

With approximately double the usual number of people on station, the chefs continue to turn out first-class food meal after meal, and the mess is full to capacity at each sitting. Our intrepid FTO (field training officer) wasted no time in getting out and about learning the lay of the land in the surrounding area and finding good training locations. The doctor seems busy too although thankfully not with patients.

Preparations for resupply have begun, cargo has been packed and e-conned (electronically consigned for return to Australia), schedules have been drawn up, jobs assigned and final jollies (field expeditions) booked. The two station leaders say they have been busy too, but I caught them in their office watching movies last week so I am not really sure. (They were on a break.)

Most importantly, old mates have reunited and new friendships have been forged. Knowledge has been passed on about the best trips to do off station, Antarctic photography, how to make the finest home brew, where things might be hiding around station, when to visit the emperor penguins (as often as possible), and how to generally cause mischief on station.

We're in for a fantastic season!