Plumber Tom Carew shares his story

My Mawson story

Hi everyone, Tom Carew here, I’m one of the two winter plumbers at Mawson this season.

It’s my turn to do the station news write-up this week, so I thought I’d tell you the story of how I ended up here and talk a bit about my life on station.

My story starts about 15 years ago. Back then, I was a young(er) apprentice plumber and one day just happened to do a training course with a guy who had been to Antarctica previously. Getting the chance to listen to his stories about ‘going South’ was truly inspiring. From that moment on, I knew one day I too wanted to live and work in Antarctica.

Fast forward nearly 15 years later and in early 2018 my dream became a reality, when I completed the Antarctic selection process and got the gig to head South as a wintering plumber!

I was beyond excited and on a real high…but then things suddenly changed. Whilst back home in Victoria, I had a nasty motorcycle accident, leaving me in hospital with injuries to my right leg. Soon after, I was told the devastating news that I was no longer able to go to Antarctica. It was an incredibly tough time and I was truly shattered.

But this led to something truly incredible happening…I met my absolute soulmate, the love of my life, the one person I had been searching for my whole life — my future wife Kylie. For Kylie and I, it was love at first sight and from that moment on my life changed forever. Kylie was instrumental in my subsequent recovery from the motorbike accident and fast forward a few months later… I was given a second chance to head to Antarctica, this time to Mawson station!

Shortly after, I headed down to Hobart and got stuck into the two months of pre-departure training. In between the training, Kylie and I were busy organising our wedding and we subsequently got married in an amazing ceremony right at the end of the year (2018). Barely 20 days later, I got on the ship to head south!

So, it certainly was a bit of a whirlwind before departure and as I write this we’re nearly halfway through the season. Being the first time I have been to Antarctica (or away from home for this long in a continuous stretch), it was hard to know what to expect. After being here for almost six months now, I have discovered it is incredibly busy, incredibly amazing, and definitely challenging at times.

Life is pretty cool as an Antarctic plumber. I get to work on a vast array of different plumbing systems that are very different from working as a plumber back home. Potable water production from glacial ice, hot water reticulation and heating systems, fire services, insulated site services pipework, waste water treatment, commercial kitchen facilities just to name a few! I’m also really lucky to have a great teammate in fellow plumber James ‘Terry’ Terrett. He is a fantastic plumber to work with and a great all-round bloke.

Besides work, the other big component of working in Antarctica is station life. With 15 of us living and working together 24/7 to create an operational station, it’s certainly a lot of fun but also challenging sometimes, as we have all come from different places, with different ideals, beliefs and habits. But hey, that’s what makes the world go round and it’s amazing how people adapt and put themselves out for the benefit of the “team”. I think that’s pretty awesome and it motivates me to try and do the same.

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learnt is that living and working on station is like running a marathon, you need to pace yourself! The weather conditions certainly make it challenging. We live and work in extreme weather of −30 degrees and colder, with winds that can be so strong they can blow you away, yet so cold it “cuts you like a knife”. All this while it’s pretty much dark round the clock until later in the year when it’s light 24 hours a day!

When things feel tough, it’s great to get messages from home, or in my case I can speak to Kylie on the phone, hear her voice and it just picks me right up and gives you an incredible boost. Then whilst outside, you stop for a moment and take a look around, out over the massive glacial plains that run into the frozen sea ice forming huge ice cliffs and off into a horizon that is showcasing amazing colours caused by the twilight of the sun. It’s in moments like these you just have to pinch yourself! You feel so amazed and alive (and I haven’t even described the incredible aurora light shows in the sky at night!).

In the Mawson Red Shed (our accommodation building), there are wall photos for each expedition team since 1954. When I look at those photos, I truly feel lucky — it’s quite humbling to know you’re becoming part of the history of this magical place being one of lucky few to have wintered at Mawson. 

I consider myself extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to live and work as a plumber at Mawson station. I have no doubt I will have a real sense of achievement and accomplishment when I finish my time here. It’s an experience I’ll remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy this experience without the support of my beautiful wife and family. I am so grateful for the unquestionable support I have received from my wife Kylie — I couldn’t have done this without her and I thank her from the bottom of my heart. I also want to thank my parents, Kylie’s parents, my siblings, grandparents and our extended family and friends for their support.

Tom Carew (Plumber — Mawson 72nd ANARE)