This week our Field Training Officer learns the difference between moisturiser and barrier cream, and the station conducts important search and rescue rehearsals.

Moisturising and Field Travel!

What’s the difference between moisturiser and barrier cream? Feel free to use this as a trivia question. Apparently, moisturiser only penetrates the surface of the skin; but barrier cream seals the surface of the skin and locks the moisture in. That’s handy to know when we’re in an environment where it’s a constant battle with polar hands (drying out and cracking). Forgive my prejudice; I did not expect to be educated on a moisturising regime and the essence of moisture from our resident dieso. Ben has got that one dialled.

As a Field Training Officer, I get to spend more time than most with everyone on station in a confined space, whether that be in a Haggland vehicle or a hut. So I get to know something pretty interesting about each of them. There’s very little doubt that our chef, a culinary artist, is the most talented on station. However, there is another side to this genius. Just before heading off station for a few days, we were served burritos loaded with refried beans. I’m always up for huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito, and I thought little of it until I heard one of the party say, “Four people full of burritos sealed in a Hagg, what could possibly go wrong?” He’d planned it well and wore an evil grin. I think it was some form of revenge served hot; but he can’t be all bad; there was custard when we got back!

With the team having completed their field travel and survival training, I’ve got to hear some pretty entertaining stories too. While in the North Masson Range, I heard one right out there. A training group had just spent the night in their bivvies (the Antarctic swag) a couple of hundred metres or so from Rumdoodle. When they returned to the warm hut in the morning for a cup of tea and a bowl of porridge, one face, in particular, remained ashen. I was slightly perplexed and probably a bit miffed, as my porridge is really not that bad (I’d soaked the oats and sultanas overnight, extra creamy and all that stuff). So when I enquired as to their current state, the reluctant reply was, “I heard footsteps last night, and a loud fight, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t dream it”. To my somewhat relief, they further went on to say, “and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be that big of a bastard to do that”. NO, it wasn’t me (and I would not do that), and they didn’t dream it.

When I later walked out to take a look where they had bivvied for the night among the rocks and ice, I found a site of deadly carnage. Not five metres from where the slumbering expeditioner had laid were tracks and a substantial blood spatter of approximately two metres in diameter on the snow. Following the tracks and blood trail further away, I found the evidence that told the rest of the story. Laying on its back with wings outstretched was a snow petrel fledgling, with not a morsel of flesh left on the carcass. No gruesome images are attached but think Silence of the Lambs. Around the carcass were skua (a predatory sea bird) tracks and a couple of deposits! Mystery solved, and a relieved expeditioner to find that they were not imagining things.

However, on the rare occasion when the wind does die down, it’s a pretty big silence out there to absorb and plenty of space for the mind to wander ....................but we could not possibly be insane to want to work and live in such a place.

And I heard footsteps too!

Dave (Mawson SFTO)

Search and Rescue rehearsals, snow petrels, and some down time

This week saw a very mixed bag of weather, with some beautifully clear days interspersed amongst snowfalls and blizzard conditions. We are quickly becoming accustomed to such uncertainty and try and arrange work and other activities so that wherever possible, we can take advantage of clear skies (I would say calm days as well, but this is Mawson, and any day where winds drop to only 40km/h is considered excellent!)

As a continuing part of ensuring that we are ready for the darker months ahead, we had two exercises to run through during the week. Firstly, we needed to practice our ability to communicate over multiple different radio systems to check on teams that may get isolated in the field. Five expeditioners made their way up onto the ice plateau in two Hägglund vehicles and, despite some cold, windy, snowy conditions, were able to confirm the ability of HF, VHF, and satellite communication systems. The activity was a great success, proving our ability to coordinate and check on our people no matter where they might get stuck.

The other exercise was to practice a station-wide search. Dave, our Field Training Officer, surreptitiously placed over 20 numbered cubes around the station and then, just after lunch, I hit the muster alarm. Quickly dividing the team into groups, all the cubes were found within an hour. Outstanding work from the team and very impressive considering the spread of the station buildings. An unforeseen benefit of the activity was also the chance to get outside and see some of the wildlife that is still here. A large number of snow petrels nest in the rocky crevices around station each year. Now that the chicks have hatched, they make the most of the last few days of open water to feed before the sea ice forces them North.

While our work and duties continue, it is also important to remember to make time for ourselves. To wind down each day and enjoy social activities, whether that be a game of darts, reading one of the many books from the Mawson library, struggling to piece together a jigsaw, or just sitting looking out at the scenery. One place that is perfect for getting away from work here on station is Biscoe Hut. Originally the first kitchen and mess for the station, Biscoe was one of five buildings erected when the station was established in 1954. Now however, it has become our music room with a broad range of instruments and equipment to practice and play . . .or to at least make sounds that may or may not approach the idea of music. With some work, particularly on those overcast and windy days, the hut has now been tidied and set up, ready for activities and perhaps even the formation of the Mawson 76th ANARE band!

Cat (Mawson SL)