The first week for Mawson 2020 expeditioners

We are not in Kansas any more

This week at Mawson research station saw us begin in earnest the first week of work following the handover from the 2019 team. With the outgoing expeditioners on their way home, we were finally able to relax over the radio, forget which building is which, and ask for directions inside the living quarters, without any loss of dignity. We were also able to completely settle into our new home, and silently grapple with the realisation that there is now no turning back — we are on our own for 9 months.

The first week of work consisted mainly of getting used to: a) how the station functions and b) where everything is located. Although the daily routine took only a few days to sink in, finding a particular tool or building material has thus far been a character-building experience. But, secure in the knowledge that we are apparently the best of the best, we persevered.

A welcome distraction came in the form of mid-week vehicle inductions, conducted by our diesel mechanics Shane Mann and Guy Edgar. I think there would be general agreement that the Hägglunds are one of the station’s favourite vehicles (although the nominee list for that award is somewhat limited). Hägglunds are the workhorses of Antarctic expeditions, but with the appearance of the lovechild between a main battle tank and a chest freezer. Unsurprisingly, they also move with the speed and grace of a large domestic appliance, with the soundtrack of it falling down a flight of stairs…but somehow this only makes your smile bigger when you are behind the wheel.

The week was rounded off with our first station formal dinner. Candles were lit, the finest cutlery and crockery was set, crisp, white tablecloths were spread and three courses of culinary excellence from the hands of Rodney ‘Rocket’ Charles were enjoyed. And while we all swapped our usual casual clothes for fancier garments, ‘formal’ seems to mean a range of things to a range of people — everything from bow ties to bare feet. If Bilbo Baggins owned a button-up shirt, he would not have been turned away at the door.

For myself personally, another highlight of Antarctica thus far has been the Adélie penguins. If I had to describe an Adélie, I would tell you to imagine a phone box shrunk down to 2% of its original size, but with the corners rounded off. Then add feathers and a beak. Or, as our resident penguinologist, Todd Heery, described them — a ‘snow turkey’. At this time of the year these diminutive creatures are moulting, which brings them onto land for extended periods of time. Typically, they congregate in groups to prevent themselves being preyed upon by seabirds. Occasionally however, they will wander through the station in proximity to humans, as this provides similar protection. As a carpenter from Queensland, I haven’t had to watch out for penguins walking through my workplace until now.  

We are definitely not in Kansas any more.

Hamish Stirling — Carpenter