Our station mechanical supervisor reflects on Anzac Day and getting to Antarctica

A Spanner in the Ice

I remember seeing Sir Douglas Mawson’s face on the old one-hundred-dollar notes when I was younger. Ever since then, it has been in the back of my mind that, one day, I would like to see Antarctica for myself. Now, over 30 years later, I had the chance to stand upon the icy plateau feeling the same cool breeze he had and at the station named after him!

My path to arriving here was with the never-ending support of my fiancé Michelle and our families and friends. Without their backing, a trip south for a year just isn’t possible. My normal job, when not wearing our fashionable Carhartts for their actual intended purpose, is a Warrant Officer Class Two in the Australian Army, a career I’ve held for the past twenty years. For the past several years, I have been gently sowing the seed with everyone that would listen that I wanted to head south and complete a season as the Station Mechanical Supervisor (SMS) with the AAD in Antarctica, so with a lot of emailing and support of my hierarchy and career management I secured a year of leave without pay to travel down south. I was just lucky I got Mawson!

Anzac Day dawn service this year is the most remote I have ever attended. To be at the second-most southerly service in the world is a surreal experience. So, as the station gathered in the morning light to commemorate Anzac Day and with a southerly blowing, the sound of the bugle played out across the sea ice in our harbour once more. Afterwards, we met in the mess for yet another extraordinary smunch prepared by our chef Nick whilst he tended to the lamb on the spit, slowly roasting away, making sure everybody was hungry for the dinner to come.

Work the next day tempered the enthusiasm, but it was a great night, with dinner lasting well into the evening before adjourning to the bar for darts and space invaders. We have another 10 months to go before the big red boat comes south to take us home again; so far, we have only scratched the surface of what this frozen place has to show us; we can only wait and wonder what will come.

“Arte et Marte”

Ben (Mawson SMS)

A different dawn service

Having spent a number of years with the miilitary, I have attended and marched at many Anzac Day services and parades. But this year's service - while only about fifteen minutes in length due to the icy winds numbing our faces - was one I will never forget. Thanks to modern technology - we also had the chance to connect our friends and family in to watch the service live. It was an honour to give the commemorative address amongst my team of fantastic expeditioners, and to enjoy the comraderie that has been built over the last few months.

Over 12 thousand kms north of where we now stand, at about 4 am on the 25th of April, 1915, Australian, New Zealander, British, French and Indian troops started to make their way ashore at what is now known as Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Türkiye. By the following day, of the 16,000 troops that landed, more than 2,000 had been killed or injured. When they were finally withdrawn just before Christmas, eight months later, over 10,000 Australian and New Zealanders lay dead, along with many more allied and Turkish soldiers. Over 60,000 Australians were lost in World War I, and over 30,000 more in World War II a mere twenty odd years later.

Six years ago, I had the privilege to attend the Anzac Day services in Gallipoli. I still remember being on that beach, so far from Australia, and trying - without much success - to imagine what that day was like for those men. It is the courage and mateship that they showed when facing the danger and uncertainty ahead that cemented the term Anzac into the Australian identity.

One person caught up in the second world war was John Russell. When John was growing up in England, he was enamoured by the stories told about the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. At the age of twelve, he rode his bike to visit Lady Shackleton, Sir Earnest’s widow and spent a few hours listening to her story. He set his mind on getting to Antarctica and, to do so, migrated to Australia and befriended Sir Douglas Mawson.

Unfortunately, the war intervened in his plans to join an expedition. He enlisted into the Army but contracted typhoid before deploying, which rendered him unfit for active service. Not to be deterred from assisting in the war effort, he signed on to work in the engines of the Aquitania – a troop-carrying liner that delivered thousands of Australian, New Zealand and allied troops and returned wounded throughout the world.

Finally, following the war’s end in 1947, he received a message from Mawson. He was wanted in Melbourne immediately to head south as an engineer. He had realised his dream. After a fifteen-month trip to Macquarie Island in 1949, then Heard Island in 1952, John joined Phil Law on the expedition that founded Mawson Station in 1954. After returning from that expedition, John lived a full life, passing away just last year at one hundred and one years of age. Both in military service and in the founding of the station we now call home, John embodies the strength and determination that we associate with the Anzac spirit.

Each generation faces their own challenges and conflicts, and strive to find their own identity as Australians. But it is those shared aspects of the Anzac spirit that unite us. Courage, integrity, selflessness, and mateship. It is those characteristics that we as expeditioners strive to display in our service here at Mawson so that we may be proud of our work and our country, but more importantly, so that we may be proud of ourselves and our team.

As we gather here in the first light of dawn, we remember those who have given their lives, as well as those who have served Australia, whether in the military or other ways, such as here in Antarctica. I hope that remembering such sacrifice will help to remind us of the importance of working together to build a more peaceful country and world for ourselves and those generations to come.

Cat (Mawson SL)