This week the Antarctic community celebrated midwinter with lots of great food, icy sea baths and reflections on our history.


This week was midwinter. Midwinter means different things to everybody at the station. For some who have been in Antarctica for multiple seasons, midwinter is a celebration full of tradition. For others of us this was our first midwinter and we had no real idea of what was involved.

Winter solstice is the celebration of the longest night and the shortest day. There is a long tradition of celebration in Scandinavia, ancient Roman, Chinese and Japanese history. Having lived with limited daylight for a number of weeks here at the station I have a new understanding of the northern hemisphere traditional celebration of the return of the light and sun.

In an effort to understand the Antarctic tradition of midwinter more clearly I turned to the station leader log books.  The station leaders’ diaries are full of stories about food, Cinderella plays and lots of fine wines. The first log that I could read was from 1956:

21 June — Midwinter day

Excellent weather through the day, clear almost no wind, not particularly cold. Magnificent meal by John McKenzie, assisted by willing volunteers.

Soup — cream of tomato, Fish — creamed crab, entrée — smoked ham, braised duck with mushroom stuffing, vegetables, plum pudding and cream, ice cream and strawberries in jelly, stuffed olives, dried fruit, pate and cheese, coffee, liqueurs, champagne, riesling, claret, burgundy and beer for those who prefer. ANARE gift box much appreciated. Midwinter cables received and sent.

Similarly to 1956, we had a beautiful day for midwinter, but it was definitely cold! −30°C and wind of around 20 knots…

With willing volunteers we decorated the mess with flags from treaty members, ironed table clothes, printed menus and organised activities.

Gav the chef went all out for the day with a beautiful champagne brunch spread to start the day and an evening meal fit for the history books.

  • First course was trio of game flavors: Seared Tasmanian wallaby, quail and crispy duck on a miso salad tartlet with rocket and cashew pesto.
  • Second course: Seafood tasting plate complete with prawns, smoked salmon and rock lobster.
  • Main course: Sixty day aged beef sirloin with galette potatoes and chimichurri dressing.
  • Dessert: Rose petal panna cotta or double chocolate tart or both if you had room!
A special moment of the evening that highlighted the link between past and present was receiving and sharing some emails from past expeditioners including Ted Upton (Mawson 1985 and 87), Syd Kirkby (Mawson 1956, 1960 and 1980) and John Seaton (1956). It was fantastic to receive emails from these gentlemen and I promptly went upstairs to look at the photos from past years and put faces to names.

The swim

It was −29°C with a light five knot breeze bringing a kiss of snow fresh off the glacier.

A hole had been dug in the ice off the wharf 24 hours earlier but overnight the ice had re-formed. Unfortunately for the guys waiting nervously to swim it was so cold that the excavator needed a jump start.

Finally we were ready and one by one the swimmers came rushing down the hill from the warmth of the wharf hut, quickly descending the ladder into the ice slushy pool. They ascended rather more quickly up the ladder!

Blast from the past

Found this fire poster while I was going through old station leader diaries… still good advice!

Jen Wressell