The AAD has its own media team in Tasmania that runs like a small newsroom. Our focus looks south to Australia’s stations on the Antarctic continent and in the sub-Antarctic. Just about everything you see published in our social media, website or magazine is content we’ve shot, edited and created ourselves.
We also rely heavily on our ‘stringers’, the voluntary contributions from expeditioners who do a fantastic job capturing experiences unique to Antarctica that no-one else can — like an aurora time-lapse in the middle of winter, or a work trip into the deep field.
Now we have a rare opportunity — our media team has been tasked to travel south and document everything the Australian Antarctic Program does. Science, resupply, logistics, operations, daily life, Antarctic wildlife and landscapes. Three stations. Over two months. Everything.
The aim is to update our video archives in 4K. Gather material for all our productions, from induction videos to media releases to podcasts. Fly drones for aerial shots whenever possible. It’s a mission that videographer Simon Payne and I were more than willing to accept.
We started travelling on V1 with the Aurora Australis at the end of October, arriving at Davis for the over-ice resupply and refuelling, amid the busy hubbub of a station in changeover mode. We’re now about halfway through the project, currently staying at Mawson.
We flew west to Mawson from Davis in a Twin Otter. It’s a 2.5 hour flight over the Amery Ice Shelf and the Lars Christensen Coast. At this time of year, the sea ice is starting to shatter and break out. Isolated ‘nunataks’ of sheer rock cliffs rear out of the ice sheet, and suddenly we touch down on the fast ice in front of Mawson station.
It’s a privilege to parachute into the small tightly-knit community of 13 expeditioners who’ve lived here for more than a year, and be welcomed so warmly. And a change of pace too, from the clamour of a packed lunch-time on the ship or at Davis station to the cosier ambiance of four tables in the Mawson mess.
Our first week here enjoyed such surprisingly glorious weather that the locals were almost apologetic. “Don’t worry,” Station Leader Kyle assured us with a wry laugh, “it’ll change!”
And it did. Sunny skies and calm days gave way to blowing snow and winds over 60 knots. Blizzards have been the all the rage at Mawson this year — so far the tally is 51, the fifth-highest blizzard count on record.
While the weather doesn’t stop us, it certainly decides where and when we get things done. We’re moving around the station to record how Mawson works — key infrastructure like the powerhouse, wastewater treatment, medical facilities, meteorology, water supplies, kitchen, emergency services, and the like.
Given the right weather windows, we intend to travel further afield, covering the long-term Adélie penguin research on nearby Béchervaise Island, the emperor penguin colony at Auster rookery, and the remote field huts dotted inland.
‘VLV Mawson, this is media team. Advising drone operations are about to commence’ is a radio call we look forward to making again, weather permitting. Mawson is set in a spectacular landscape: on a steep rocky headland, surrounded by frozen ocean, flanked by islands and ice cliffs, and backed by the rising plateau. It’s fantastic to get aerial shots of the station and its surrounds in crisp 4K resolution.
The longer we’re here, the more we learn. Not just about what’s happening today or next week, but from the incredible store of lived experience from Mawsonites, many of whom have worked at several stations over multiple winters.
As Australia’s first continental station (established in 1954), and the longest continuously occupied station south of the Antarctic Circle, the sense of history at Mawson is strong. A number of the earlier buildings remain, some still in use. In the living quarters of the Red Shed, you’re never far from photos of much-loved huskies, their framed collars, and even taxidermied dogs in display cases.
We’ll be here for two-and-a-half weeks, long enough to fit into the routines of work programs, sea-ice drilling tests, science projects, show-and-tells, kitchen and cleaning duties, trivia nights, home-brew bottling, and station meetings.
It’s also long enough that when the time comes to leave, travelling back to Davis and then to Casey, Simon and I will miss the small community we’ve quickly become part of here at Mawson.
- Mark Horstman (AAD Media Adviser)