“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” — Mark Twain
After a job application process and selection centre experience like nothing else I’ve been through before, I found out that I had been successful for a position as summer expedition mechanic (Dieso) at Mawson research station. I was pretty stoked at the opportunity to work somewhere like this in the world, where few people have been, and to throw myself into what was for me, the unknown.
Even before I had left Headquarters (at Kingston) to get to Mawson station, when asked where I was headed, often people’s first response was the exclamation of, “A summer at Mawson! How did you land that gig?”
As a first timer I really didn’t know any better of what to expect. With that in mind and leaving a different life and loved ones behind, it was time to board the Aurora Australis to head south.
The two week ship voyage down was an experience in itself on this living piece of history: getting a taste of rough seas of the Southern Ocean; the nonstop availability of food; interactions with new people; crew and fellow expeditioners; plenty of board games and training exercises; not mention an initiation for all newcomers by King Neptune passing 60 degrees South for the first time; and the exceptional entry to Antarctica.
As the colossal icebergs emerged we drifted past on the big orange ship. We were watched carefully by the odd penguin or seal before the ship ploughed into the fast ice on the way to Davis station for resupply. After a few days of helping out with the resupply, the weather had improved enough for our small group of fellow Mawsonites, representing science, tech and trades, to board the Chinese Basler aircraft flown by a team of Canadian pilots for an intracontinental flight to our final destination for the coming months. In the air, we got an appreciation for just how massive this place is, plus some spectacular views over the Amery Ice Shelf as we flew west.
On first impressions when arriving to station, it’s hard not to be blown away by the stunning surrounds or the high winds, as I later found out. We are given a warm welcome by the wintering team and begin integrating into the small community. I learn the ropes of station life and what’s expected in my role as both Dieso and expeditioner. I help keep the place running and contribute to the community in various ways like assisting with kitchen and cleaning duties (as slushy), helping with beer brewing, and assisting in the well-established hydroponics department, keeping fresh goods up to the kitchen.
Some of the best parts of working here so far have been: the people, all from different walks of life with vast experience in all different areas to learn from; the food, thanks to our talented Chef; the variety of work and machines we deal with here, always keeping you thinking; setting up a temporary landing site for aircraft up on the plateau over the blue ice; being the ground crew to refuel the aircraft and transport passengers and cargo; field trips including spending a night at Rumdoodle Hut and tasting the culinary delight of a tinned Fray Bentos pie; and trekking out to Beche Island over the sea ice.
Another awesome highlight was a field trip to Auster Rookery to visit the emperor penguins. Nestled between the huge icebergs, it was a sight that I won’t soon forget — thousands of emperor penguins and their chicks. As we spread out and observed from a distance, it didn’t take long for some curious penguins to walk over to inspect, allowing for some unreal photos. It was easy to believe we were the only people in the world in that place with how peaceful and still it was with the emperors waddling past and calling to each other. Absolutely surreal.
That’s been parts of my summer so far and it’s crazy how fast the time is going. Looking forward to what’s ahead, plus some field and survival training to come as we approach Christmas time.
- Jono Keppie (Mawson Summer Dieso 2019/2020 72nd ANARE )