Canberra Dinner Report – 2021

Malcolm Robertson
Photos: Kit Scally

Numbers in Canberra were down a bit this year, possibly due to the effects of the pandemic, but also sadly one or two regulars have passed away and were missed, especially geologist Ian McLeod who died in September 2020.  Never-the less, some thirty expeditioners and their friends and partners, including three expeditioners attending their first dinner, enjoyed another entertaining mid-winter event in Canberra on a chilly Friday 18 June.  Simon Cowling slipped easily back into the MC role to fill in for local convenor Mal Robertson who was in Queensland participating in a Mawson 50th reunion for his 1970 wintering group (postponed from last year).

Our guest speakers this year were Amelia Tandy and Eleanor Bruce, two young Canberra women who had participated in the 2019 Homeward Bound leadership course for women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).  The initiative aims to heighten the influence of women in STEMM in policy and decision-making to shape our planet for the better in the future.  Ninety-nine women from nations around the world participated in the year-long course which culminated in a life-changing expedition to Antarctica.  Amelia and Eleanor travelled to the Antarctic Peninsula in Nov/Dec 2019, as part of the largest ever cohort of women to journey to the southern continent.  The two women gave a short presentation each on the mechanics of the Homeward Bound course which they were lucky to complete before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.  The final phase was a week’s cruise around the Antarctic Peninsula and back with visits ashore to bases operated by Argentina and China.

The Canberra dinner was small but entertaining

Guest speakers Amelia Tandy (left) and Eleanor Bruce

Tony Hall (DUKWS 1955-56) holds the dinner audience spellbound with his calling of the years anecdote

The formal presentations were followed by a question and answer session where the audience found out more about how the speakers found they had gained confidence through the networking exposure during the year-long course.  From the questioning all present had learned a lot about this STEMM initiative.

The annual “Calling of the Years” followed and each expeditioner regaled the group with an incident from their time down South, some several times.  Tony Hall, our veteran 1955-56 DUKW officer in charge, always has fascinating tall tales to tell and is eagerly anticipated as our final story teller.  This year he sang the praises of Corporal Mechanic Cec Power.  Tony was second-in command of the DUKWS in 1955, with Captain George Thomas as the boss.  For 1956/57 Tony was nominated as OIC DUKWS and expected a handover from George sometime in 1956.  To his dismay George died unexpectedly in July 1956 prior to any handover.  After they all arrived at Macquarie Island in December 1956, the DUKWS were craned into the water and commenced operations.  Towards the end of that first day Tony approached Dick Thompson, Supply Officer of ANARE and 2ic of the voyage, and asked him where the petrol was so the DUKWS could refuel.  Dick looked aghast at Tony and said Tony should have ordered a supply.  Tony, of course, had thought that was his job.

After a brief delay they looked around and discovered some drums of petrol left by Mawson’s 1930s expedition.  It was old and gummy but they found it worked but gummed up the DUKW carburettors regularly.  Tony’s corporal mechanic, Cec Power was able to dismantle a carburettor and clear the gum.  That was OK when the DUKWS stalled either alongside the Kista Dan or ashore but eventually one stalled between ship and shore.  Tony was the driver and asked Cec to go into the engine compartment and do his best to fix the problem.

As Tony described it, “The sea was quite rough and to avoid water entering the engine compartment we eventually had to close the hatch leaving Cec in the dark and being tumbled about in the rough seas.  He managed to disassemble the carburettor by feel, clear the gum and re-assemble the carburettor and we managed to re-start the DUKW.  I thought that was pretty good!”

We look forward to more tales from Tony in Canberra in 2022 and welcome any reunion groups looking for an entertaining night and fine dining.  We can guarantee them a warm welcome and what will probably be a touch of Antarctic chill.

Left: Dale Hughes was attending his first dinner in a while

Right: The expeditioners were pleased that Alison Clifton (OIC Davis 91 ) was able to join the dinner this year