10. As We Prepare to Leave and the trip back
As I stand on the helideck of the AA, I look back at Casey and reflect on how it felt to go ashore a mere 10 days ago, trying to take it all in.
As I recall – on departing the wharf area, you travel uphill to the station proper. Here you find the main street, which leads to an assortment of coloured buildings. These buildings would now be about 30 years old. Despite being well looked after, there is always maintenance to be done.
The “Red Shed” is where it all happens. Station accommodation takes up about two-thirds of the eastern and western end section of the building, with the furthest section housing the summer/temporary visitors. This is where I stayed. The rooms in this section have no windows, making it a little hard to know whether it’s going to be a two-clothing-layer day or a one-clothing-layer day with lots of sunscreen. The only way for me to see what it is like outside is to walk very quietly (so as not to wake the sleeping shift workers) through no less than seven fire doors (making sure not to let them slam shut), and then repeat the process coming back. The laundry is also in this building, with industrial washer/dryers, two of which were marked “out of order”. Part of the unloaded resupply included welcomed replacement machines, with the broken ones loaded for return to Australia.
The remaining one-third of the middle section of building is the heart of the station, a real hub and hive of activity. Before you enter, leave your dirty boots and outside clothing on the large cold porch. Once inside the rec room there is an area dedicated to the day-to-day ops for the station. The tag board is here, where you turn your tag from white to red when leaving the station. There are a couple of computers, a bank of radios, white board and desk. During change over period, this is manned almost all day. Lauren is in charge of change over and resupply, which she conducts seamlessly. She is a font of local knowledge, a bit of an oracle really.
Take one step down and you now enter the main rec room area. To the right, there is a table tennis tournament under way. Some people wait their turn, while others provide cheeky feedback on the current players’ ability (or lack thereof). To the left, there is a seating area looking out over the bay and the AA. This area is referred to as “the wallow”. People are sitting comfortably – some looking outside, others on social media or checking emails.
As you walk through another door, to the left is the dining room, and to the right is the kitchen. Above the doorway is a large TV monitor, which gives the current outside weather and travel conditions. During the time I was there, the travel conditions never changed; always green indicating there was no immediate threat. A ticker tape on the bottom of the monitor displays the latest news bulletin.
The dining room is crowded with tables and chairs, as there is a large group of people during change over period. On each table there is a variety of world newspapers, and a crossword which has been printed on A4 paper. During the meal, some people read the newspapers, while others work together to complete the crossword. Some are more focused on discussing their work. You can make coffee from a commercial coffee machine, or even help yourself from an array of fruit juices, milks or chocolates.
The kitchen is a good size, well laid out with a full range of equipment covering a variety of cooking methods. There is loads of bench space, one thing often overlooked in commercial kitchens. Two fridges – one is off limits (for use by cooks only), the other is called the “catch and kill fridge”. This fridge is a help yourself fridge stocked with leftovers, very handy for night shift workers.
Leaving the kitchen and back in the main rec room, going up a flight of stairs leading to an open area with more seating, you find two phone booths, a small library, photocopier and two computers for general use. There is a smaller room that would be comfortable for three or four people to sit and talk. It is this room that I use to conduct my interviews with the expeditioners, recording an oral history of their experiences in Antarctica.
There is a movie theatre, a little smaller than the gold lounge you may find in many cinemas back in Australia, with comfortable seats and a large screen with overhead projector.
Lastly, we reach the bar. It’s a good size, probably a little larger than most trendy bars you may have visited in metropolitan areas of Australia, decked out with a pool table and dartboard. There’s even a machine dispensing free soft drinks.
The walls of the accommodation and recreational areas are decorated with memorabilia, ranging from yearly photos to local maps of Antarctic stations to handmade trophies for dart and pool competitions.
After a final look around Casey Station, the returning folk board the Aurora Australis. One of the Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB) has had some repairs carried out. It needs to be tested for seaworthiness, so I happily go along to make up numbers. The sea trial of the IRB is successful, with no more leaks to be found. We come to a stop beside the ice edge where we are able to take some great photos of Adelie penguins. Then on the way back to the ship we pass a small piece of an iceberg out of the water with beautiful blue colourings.