Our station mechanical supervisor, Ben, reflects upon the first half of the season and having his 40th birthday on station. The weather finally decides to provide some relief and allows us an amazing visit to the Auster emperor penguin colony to see the chicks take their first steps away from their parents.

My 40th Birthday

It’s my birthday on Friday. I swapped with the doctor way back in February to do Station News on my 40th birthday. Turns out I was the second person to swap with her that week, so big thank you to Marissa for changing again - you don’t get this chance often.

I have had my birthday present from my fiancée Michelle sitting on the shelf above my bed, waiting for this day since we got here in mid-February. Next to this is my birthday card from Mum and Dad and the pack of shortbread cream that they have sent me wherever I’ve been around the world! They're still my favourites from when granny used to keep them in the cupboard hidden from the other cousins, a tradition my mum does for my nieces today.

I thought I would see what happened on this day 40 years ago in the old station logbooks and compare it with what is happening now and how different it looks. This idea of old and new lasted less time than it took to walk from the Red Shed across to the Ops building where the old station logs are stored. 1983 is missing! Completely. The shelf goes from 1982-1984. The book style doesn’t change, just the year is missing. No one here knows where it is. Maybe the station leader from 1983 took them back by accident and they are now sitting at AAD Kingston? Or is this the year that never happened?! (Cue conspiracy theories).

Time is absolutely flying down here, we’re already six months through our trip and the first flights are looming large in a matter of weeks. We will be heading west to Fold Island next week to photograph the rookery there and have a quick look at the fuel caches along the way. It will be our longest trip so far and the most isolated I have ever been.

It’s a different feeling when you're standing out on the sea ice proving the track at the start of the season. Of course, many people have travelled that route over the years by dogsled and machine but at one small moment in time, you are the first and only person on earth to ever stand on that small piece of ice. A a few months ago it didn’t exist, and in a few more months it will cease to exist again. That’s why the saying goes: “The job description says expeditioner, but the resume always says, explorer!”

Ben John (Mawson Station mechanical supervisor, deputy station leader, workplace health and safety officer, flag marshall, search and rescue team leader, firefighter and station barber)

A break in the weather catches the first steps of the penguin chicks, and we unravel a murder mystery

While I have generally given up trying to forecast the weather with any degree of accuracy, it does occasionally give us a break, so while we did have a number of days of very high winds this week, it completely eased off for a day on the weekend. This allowed eight expeditioners to head out to the Auster emperor penguin colony about 50km to our east and a few others to spend a night away at Béchervaise Island to escape the hustle and bustle of the station.

The chance to get out to Auster was extremely well timed as we got to see the first steps of the chicks away from the parents. While many were poking their heads out and looking around, a few brave ones every now and then would make a run for it – usually with an exasperated parent waddling after. The almost complete lack of wind and relatively mild temperatures saw many adults without chicks come out to us to see what we were doing. When this happens, we move very slowly so as not to startle them, but it is wonderful to have them standing only a metre or so away and be able to see them close up. A few of them even attempted conversation with us - unfortunately, there wasn’t an option on our phone for 'emperor penguin' in the translate app.

In another highlight this week, one of our electricians, Scott, arranged a Murder Mystery Night. Suitably briefed on our characters, we arrived to check in to our train from Paris (upstairs in the living quarters) and made our way to the dining car (a hastily modified pool table with bar stools). The haute couture of the guests’ attire certainly was eye-opening, but this was quickly forgotten when we discovered that the mysterious international spy who had invited us had been brutally murdered. Which one of us had done it? The next few hours were happily spent hamming up our acting and accents until we finally figured it out. Well, actually, only Robyne figured it out, but a few were close. (To relieve you of the suspense, it turns out that I was the murderer . . . and the mysterious spy!)

Cat Humphries (Mawson Station Leader)