All the things we love about Mawson

Petrels, practice and planes

Last week the SAR (search and rescue) team packed up two of our Hägglunds with the six-person team plus our intrepid senior field training officer (Mark) and all the gear we’d need to safely descend an icy cliff to retrieve a patient before then ascending the same cliff to the waiting transport to station. This activity took place at “End Wave”; an icy anomaly formed by a glacier rubbing past a mountain range, in this case Onley Hill and the Mt Henderson Range.

A few anchors were established, using some ice screws and some vee threads; the latter being a pair of holes drilled in the ice that intersect with a tape threaded through and tied into a loop. Anchors were then equalised to share the load, and then rigged with two different ropes (red and white). Once this was complete, a harnessed-up volunteer (actually, Leon was voluntold) who was intricately laced into the system we had prepared, safety checks were completed before the team lowered Leon to the bottom of the cliff.

A few more “raises”, then re-rigging for “lowers” to react to the change in load that we the team had to return to the top of the cliff. This gave us the opportunity to rig additional mechanical advantage to take an additional person, a patient or additional attendant. Donna, our amazing chef, volunteered (choice was given?) to be the additional attendant on the second run down and back up. A three to one system with a couple of pullies is generally good for a single person. Even with Donna’s feather-light stature, we changed to a five to one using another pair of pullies to ease the burden on the team of three left hauling, two on one rope and one on the other.

Last of all, I was lowered slowly over the edge. Once on the bottom, I was able to take a couple of photos of the landscape and snow petrels that came in for a peek. Once the calls signified that the team were ready, I was lifted to the top again, where I was given a stretcher to manoeuvre to the bottom to pick up Mark, who had abseiled down to meet me. The ascent was slow but steady with a nine to one reduction utilised to allow a smoother transition from vertical across the edge.

Once all the ropes and anchors had been packed up, we paused for a team photo with a sense of achievement.

Once all that training was complete, we were all prepared to receive our first flight. Kenn Borek Airlines pilot Doug, along with his crew of co-pilot Bryce and engineer Brayden and Davis’s FTO Jason, flew in from Davis on Saturday morning in their Twin Otter aircraft; as a prelim to an upcoming personnel changeover in the coming week or so. The team spent an hour or so on the ground stretching their legs, before heading back to Davis station that afternoon. We’ll be seeing you again soon!


Station Mechanical Supervisor and SAR team member (among other things)

First of the farewells

This week we start to say the first of our farewells, the happy Mawson family is breaking up with four of the team returning home very soon. Of course, this is pending ships and flights and other flights, and then maybe another flight... but they are packed and ready to go. Very much looking forward to seeing friends and family once again and to moving on to their next grand adventure.

To mark this occassion we enjoyed an End of Winter formal dinner on Saturday night. We sat down to a (for fear of repeating myself) wonderful feast prepared by Donna, and her many helping hands - she's now even equiped us with a uniform which we will proudly wear as part of her Slushy Army (see photo). And at the end the night, some words of reflection to review the season we have had were said with much feeling and emotion. For fear of repeating myself, I like to reflect on the words of the great man himself, Sir Douglas Mawson, at times like this:

You may recall that sweep of savage splendor,
That land that measures each man at his worth,
And feel in memory, half fierce, half tender,
The brotherhood of men that know the South.

I hope those leaving us will recognise the small part they now have in Australian Antarctic history (a member of the 75th ANARE), that their time here is something they will look back upon with fondness, and they have achieved all they hoped too.

For us left behind (and our few new arrivals - yet to make it here), a few short months ahead to make good use of the warmer weather and soon to come midnight sun. Making the most of what remains of the sea-ice, finishing off those last jobs around station that are on the list, diverting our attentions from emperor penguins to Adélie pengiuns, and ticking off those trips up onto the plateau that have so far elluded us (mainly due to dark and weather and the priority to get out to Auster Rookery while we can).

Speaking of Auster. It is not much longer that we will be able to make our visits out that way - soon the condition of the sea-ice, as temperatures warm up, will preclude our travel that far away from station. So any visit now may be our last. For those that went out for a day trip on Sunday, it was in the back of our minds as we departed that it might be our last visit to that magical place, our last opportunity to spend time in such a priviledged position amongst the most magical of birds. We said our silent farewells as we left the colony, meanwhile deep inside praying that there might be the chance for just one more trip. Let's hope. There are only so many farewells one can take at a time.

Bec J (SL)