Steve Symonds ANARE Club Representative VOYAGE 2, Aurora Australis, 1999 – 2000
I’m back on board the ship and have just finished dinner. I had a great day ashore today, climbed Reeves Hill and walked up to Penguin Pass – real intrepid, Scott-of-the-Antarctic stuff through ice and snow. I had a chat to Mike Carlton this afternoon on 2UE. I was even able to get on the internet and have a look at this page. I was most impressed and my thanks to Col Christiansen who is doing all the work.
About 4pm Marilyn, the Station Leader was looking for a few people to unload containers as they came up. Certain stores cannot be left out in the cold overnight. A squad of us walked down to the green store and waited. Someone produced a football and we spent a pleasant 45 minutes playing kick to kick. Just as the containers to be unloaded arrived, the Hagglunds to the wharf was ready to leave with those who were returning to the ship. I had to leave just as the work started, most unfortunate.
Casey is a lovely station. It doesn’t look much from the main street – big coloured boxes surrounded by grey rock and dirty snow, but sitting on the deck in front of the red shed looking down across the bay to Wilkes, the plateau rising to your right and the Frazier Islands in the distance with icebergs sparkling in a sea so calm they are mirrored, one can be quite content and at peace with the world.
There is a South Polar Skua named Linda who sits outside the red shed. She has been around for a year or more and always comes down when people gather outside. She has learnt that such gatherings often mean barbecues and barbecues mean food. Evidently she has been known to swoop down and steal a steak off a plate being carried and once even walked across the hotplate to snaffle a sausage.
So far I have sold 29 sets of postcards and expect to sell the rest ,tomorrow as all the Casey people want them. I should be able to sell a lot of stuff there as I am staying overnight. There is a reasonable amount of interest in the Club itself and I have been extolling the benefits of membership. Marilyn asked for some membership forms which I gave her but I’ll get a few to sign up tomorrow. I’ll get the round trippers and the Macca people when we leave Casey.
Tomorrow I go to Wilkes.
Ashore again. We had to be ready to leave the ship at 7.30 this morning. I knew there had to be an ulterior motive. I don’t go to Wilkes til this afternoon. In the meantime, there are containers to unload. This is the third straight day of perfect weather. There is hardly a ripple on the bay.
Coming ashore this morning, we saw that there were one or two new icebergs in the bay each with a complement of Adelies. I don’t know if I will get to see one close up as the only way to get to Shirley Island is by boat – and the boats only hold two at a time. We shall see. I will be overnight in Wilkes tonight but should be able to get a report away when I get back tomorrow.
Sunday 6 Feb, 6.15pm, fine and sunny, on board the Aurora
I am back on board. I could have stayed ashore tonight but felt like a bit of peace and quiet. Yesterday morning was spent unloading containers before getting the Hagglunds round to Wilkes. A Hagglunds is an extremely uncomfortable, noisy, oversnow vehicle. It has a front cabin that seats the driver and four or five passengers at a pinch and a trailer that can seat about ten without baggage. We had four and a load of baggage and equipment in the trailer as we took off through Penguin Pass and round the coast.
We made the obligatory photo stops on the way round til we came to the Wilkes tip. For those who don’t know the history of this area, Wilkes was established in 1956 by the Americans for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) as were many other Antarctic stations. In 1959 the station was handed over to the Australians . The huts began to get snowed under and it was a major task to keep access to the huts year round. In 1968 the replacement station, Repstat was built on the other side of the bay. It was an innovative design for an Antarctic station with all the huts in a line up the hill connected by a corridor with a curved side that faced the prevailing wind. The station was commissioned as Casey in 1969. Twenty years later, rust and general debilitation of the buildings, together with the recognition that the design was not such a good idea, led to the construction of the new Casey a few hundred metres from the first. Most of the Wilkes buildings are now under the snow with just their roofs showing at this time of year. The old transmitter hut, which has not succumbed to the ice, has been converted to the Wilkes Hilton and is used as a base for scientific studies and short holidays by the Casey expeditioners.
The tip, or tips, are spread out along the approach road to Wilkes. All the garbage from 13 to 14 years of habitation is dumped there. There are, for instance, over 1000 oil drums, many of them still full of stuff like anti-freeze, benzene, diesel and kerosene. Many of these are leaking. In the tip are old batteries and many sources of heavy metals which leach into the bay. While the tips at the moment provide continuous but minor contamination of the bay, cleaning them up could release more poisons into the water. Garbage specialists like Rick who is currently at Casey and John who is on the ship with us, are assessing the problem and trying to work out a plan to remove the rubbish. As well as environmental concerns there are heritage concerns. Old garbage dumps are full of artefacts so archeologists have to work hand in hand with the garbos. Over at Casey in Thala Valley is another dump. Some of the rubbish there has been removed but it is estimated that there are 150 container loads still to be shifted. The ship can take 27 containers of rubbish a year – and that includes all the rubbish from the current station as well. Everything that can be is brought back to Australia today. Enough on the garbage.
We were dropped off at the Wilkes Hilton where we left our bags and wandered down over the snow through the old station. Immediately to the left on a hill is the fibreglass dome that used to house the Met radar. Further to the left is another hill with two graves right on the top. The graves are those of two Australians who died at Wilkes. The white crosses stand out against the skyline and can be seen from Casey as well as Wilkes. To the right is a large Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Permits are required to enter the site and as we didn’t have permits we were not allowed there. The SSSI is primarily for the preservation of mosses and lichens but it also contains a large Adelie penguin rookery which we were not allowed to visit because of the SSSI restrictions.
I had given up on ever getting a photo of an Adelie when down near the water there were four of them. I crept down and sat on a rock about 5 metres away and took photos. They were extremely cooperative. When I had used up a roll or two of film I walked back towards Wilkes and saw John the Garbo and Steve the Artist. I showed them where the birds were and went to find Pam who was representing the Antarctic Friends and Families Association (in the old days it was the Antarctic Wives Association). Pam came down as well and more photos were taken. The birds then walked up the coast. Off shore was an ice floe with about twenty Adelies on it drifting along.
After all the excitement, Pam and I walked back to the Hilton for a cup of tea. Most of the others staying the night were there so Pam and I volunteered to cook while they finished their work. There was a radio sched at 7pm so we agreed to have dinner ready by then – and it was. However, after the radio sched, chairs were taken outside onto a huge snow bank in front of the hut, gin and tonics were poured and we sat outside enjoying the early evening sun and the view of the icebergs on Petersen Bank. Eventually we went inside to eat. Outside the hut and round the corner is the dunny. Solids and liquids are kept separate and all solid refuse is bagged and returned to Casey as is all rubbish from the site. Urine and grey water (washing up water etc) are currently disposed of locally but will soon also be returned to Casey for proper disposal. The dunny itself is a handsome green box with windows set up on stilts so a flight of three or four steps is required to reach the door.
All water at Wilkes comes from melted snow and it is a regular task to co out and dig another bucketful. Snow for clean water, you will be pleased to hear, does not come from the area where dirty water is disposed of.
After dinner, there was a solar eclipse. We went for a walk up to the graves. Not a breath of wind and the partial eclipse seemed to intensify the yellow of the setting sun. The icebergs and ice cliffs gleamed gold against a sea of greens and blues. Pam saw a whale in a small bay below the hill on which we were standing. Closer investigation showed it to be a rock with the breaking waves from the incoming tide looking like the spout of a whale. We decided that we had a new species, the Southern Rock Whale and in that light and in those conditions, no-one will know it wasn’t alive. The sun was still in eclipse as it dipped below the horizon and we all retired to the hut for a glass or two of port before bed. There were nine of us in the hut which has bunks for six but plenty of mattresses for sleeping on the floor.
Just after we had settled down, the radio blared into life. The eclipse had produced a king tide and the barge and the Uni-float (a pontoon raft) were coming ashore down at the wharf which was well under water by this time. They managed to stop them sinking but not without loss of sleep for the crews who had already worked a 16 hour day and had another one to follow.
This morning we pottered around. Keith from the WA Museum explained the work he is doing to preserve ice bound buildings by using sublimation to get rid of the ice and natural freeze drying to preserve the artefacts. The method is looking very effective and after further study may be the right way to preserve Mawson’s Hut, for instance. The Hagglunds arrived and Pam and I went back to Casey where I pottered around for the rest of the day.
I rang my sister, Mary, for her birthday but she was out. When I rang back later the phone was perpetually engaged. I’ll send her an email instead.
On the wall in the red shed are the photographs of all the expeditions to Wilkes and both the old and new Caseys. The first photo from Wilkes is of the 1959 party and there was Harry Alderdice. Harry taught me to use the pilot-balloon slide rule thirty-odd years ago. He died recently and permission has been granted to scatter Harry’s ashes at Wilkes. This was supposed to happen on this voyage but it will now be the next one. Besides Harry, it was great to see some familiar faces up there like Col Christiansen, Mal Kirton, Chris Gamgee, John Gillies, Kenn Batt, Denise Allen, Richard Stephen, Trevor Olrog and, of course, the ubiquitous Chompers Currie who first scored in 1963 at Wilkes and was up again for the third or fourth time in 1998 (with numerous visits to Mawson, Davis and Macquarie in between).
I decided to come back on board rather than stay ashore and we should be sailing for Macca tomorrow afternoon. After the first day ashore, by the way, I had the remaining hair on my head removed. I was not going to have every photo of me in Antarctica looking even more silly with that haircut. I am now bald.
I spent a fair bit of time in the Met Office at Casey looking at the equipment they have there. I will be writing an article for Aurora when I return and Mal Kirton asked me to have a look at the changes in meteorology in Antarctica over the years. I was most impressed with the modern office but you will have to wait for my Aurora article for the details.
Resupply in many ways is easier than it used to be with everything in containers. This is OK if the containers are going ashore as they were on this trip. Some resupplies are done by helicopter – Macquarie Island for instance – and every container has to be opened and emptied and the contents weighed into individual loads. There is much more involved in the resupply today as well, all waste, garbage etc is returned to Australia or burned in a high temperature incinerator. There are no garbage tips any more. All rubbish is separated for reuse or recycling.
One huge gripe! (I’m entitled to one, I haven’t complained about anything else) The boots issued for the Antarctic are great – they are warm and comfortable and have a good grip on ice, snow and rock – but you must remove your boots before entering a building and they are lace-up boots. Most of the people down there shorten the laces and tie them off so that the boots become slip-ons but that means that the foot is not held assecurely as it should be. For us JAFOs who have to give the boots back at the end of the voyage, such lace shortening is not an option. Surely it would be possible to design a boot that holds the foot securely but at the same time is easy to get into and out of. I am not a boot maker but even Velcro would be better than laces. I will leave that to the experts at the Division but something needs to be done.
I heard a story while I was ashore. A scientist had a piece of equipment that wasn’t working so he took it to one of the techs. “Only trouble is”, said the scientist, “it’s a sealed unit”. “In Antarctica”, replied the tech, “there is no such thing as a sealed unit”, and promptly fixed the equipment. That attitude towards Antarctic ingenuity and survival was there with Mawson and Shackleton, it was there on the first ANARE in 1947/48, it was there in 1972 on Macquarie when I was south and I was delighted to see it is still there in 2000.
Lunchtime Tuesday 8th (I think) February. 64.18S 113.55E, wind N 15kn, Air and sea temp -0.5C, course ENE 14kn
We left Casey yesterday at 6pm and sailed through the pack ice overnight. This morning we were in open sea with just the odd iceberg around and a flock of snow petrels following the ship. There are more people on board now as we picked up more from Casey than we left behind. I am sharing a cabin with Geoff Fulton, otherwise known as Beacon, who was the Senior Observer in the Met office over the summer.
We had a muster on the heli-deck this morning for the ex-Casey people particularly as many of them haven’t been on the Aurora before but came down on the Kapitan Khlebnikov (the KK) a Russian ship that was chartered for the occasion. The KK took in the fuel as it could get through much thicker ice than the Aurora.
The forecast is for reasonable weather for the next few days and we are going at a good pace for Macquarie. I was talking to the Master this morning and he thinks we should get into Macca at 6am on the 13th and leave 2 hours later so there is no chance of going ashore.
9am 9th Feb
It is surprising how quickly one settles back into shipboard routine. We are churning through the ocean which is a millpond compared with the maelstrom we fought on the way down. I think we have seen the last of the icebergs, there were a few around early this morning but we haven’t seen one for an hour or two.
Yesterday afternoon, Murray the first mate was on the bridge steering a zigzag course to bring us close to various icebergs. Every one is a different shape and they still generate hundreds of photos even after we have seen so many. One looked like the millennial dome in London. How it got such a beautifully curved top I have no idea.
With the calm weather, whale spotting is easier and we saw two pods of minke whales and one lone whale suspected of being a sperm whale but it didn’t hang around long enough for positive identification. The shearwaters are back with us. Evidently they can fly from Tasmania to the ice edge in less than three days.
The movie marathon has started again and the days are spent, as always, eating, reading, sleeping, eating, watching movies, eating, watching for whales and birds on the bridge, eating, playing darts in the bar, drinking and eating with the occasional excursion outside for a cigarette. Tonight there is a tattoo party in the bar. Whether we are supposed to show off those we have or acquire one or two, no-one seems too sure, we’ll have to wait and see.
Lunchtime Wednesday. 62.2S, 124.7E, wind NW 8kn, air and sea temp 1C, heading ENE 11kn
I spoke too soon about the last of the icebergs, two very impressive bergs passed us close on the starboard side in the last hour and there are more on the horizon. If this calm weather continues, there is talk of deck tennis and quoits. Perhaps some golf driving practice or skeet shooting off the stern. A suggestion that shearwater shooting might be fun brought some stern looks. Some people have no sense of humour. A couple of us are going to start looking for auroras tonight if it is clear enough. It was never dark enough at Casey to see stars let alone auroras so now we are in slightly lower latitudes we’ll have a look.
Lunchtime 10th Feb:59.54S, 136.12E. Temp 1C, water temp 2C, wind light.
I am making no more predictions about “last” icebergs. We all decided that the one we saw just before dinner last night was the last but when I woke up this morning, there was another one to the northwest. They are getting few and far between though.
Obviously we did our penance on the way down with those two ferocious storms. The wind hasn’t got above 10 knots since we left Casey. Blue skies, deep blue sea and we are cruising along at 14knots. If it wasn’t for the temperature we could be on a Pacific island cruise.
The tattoo party was a great success with cat-killer Sue and Steve the artist providing excellent artwork. I have a mermaid on my forearm but much more lavish decoration was on display last night. Cat-killer John has a dartboard with a cat’s head on it pierced by three darts on his back. Simon the deputy voyage leader has the Aurora Australis on his. Sue has a huge green, pink and orange iguana down her spine, courtesy of Steve, while Pete the American Geo had his dark hair cut short, sculpted and dyed and sports a fine pink and green goanna on the right side of his head. At least it was supposed to be a goanna but it looks more like a gecko. I don’t think anyone was unmarked by the end of the night. Rodney, another round tripper, has an impressive maori-type “tattoo” on his face. I haven’t seen him this morning so I don’t know if he has been able to remove the texta yet.
With this fine weather we should be in Macca late Saturday or early Sunday for a quick turnaround then Hobart late 16th/early17th by the latest estimates.
Lunchtime Friday 11th. 57.36S 146.36E, heading ENE 16kn, wind light, air and sea about 2C
We are surging through the ocean towards Macquarie Island at 16/17 knots with both engines roaring. A great rooster tail of water rises behind the trawl deck. If it wasn’t so cold we could go water skiing. We are aiming to be in Hobart on Wednesday morning so we have to make up some of the time we lost in the two great storms on the way down. It is so calm you would not believe it was the same ocean – but there is a long way to go yet and Macca has notoriously bad weather.
The movie marathon continues. I stayed up til breakfast watching videos last night with two or three other diehards. We had a break between films for midnight chompers/munchies -, cups of coffee/tea/milo/hot chocolate and a smoke. There was also some aurora viewing as we got one last night. It wasn’t too clear earlier because of the cloud but by midnight it was a quiet arc across the heavens. We’ll go out aurora hunting again tonight.
I think I can safely say now that the iceberg I saw at breakfast yesterday was the last one. They have been seen on occasion from Macca but in the winter rather than this time of year.
The turnaround at Macca is expected to be no more than three hours with no-one going ashore who is not necessary. If anyone does go ashore who is returning to the ship I will give them my camera as I want a couple of photos – one of the memorial to Keith Andrews who died during my year on the island, and the other of the Nella Dan memorial.
It seems we are to have a barbecue on the trawl deck tonight. We missed the Australia Day BBQ on the way down because of the weather. There should be no excuses today.
Less than 200nm to Macquarie (correct figure at lunchtime). Grey skies, grey seas and grey petrels this morning. The barbecue yesterday was a great success. The ship slowed a little to make it more comfortable and we are travelling slower today than yesterday. The aim is to drop anchor at 6am tomorrow. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon yesterday with wandering, shy and black-browed albatrosses around the stern as we all gathered on the trawl deck. We were discussing great trivia questions yesterday and one that came up is “Who were the three shortest serving Australian Prime Ministers?” I said it was Frank Forde, Earl Page and Artie Fadden. Phil Smart, the Observations Inspector from Tas reckons that Black Jack McEwan should replace Artie Fadden. Senator Ross Lightfoot is going to check it for us. When he does, Phil will owe $10 to Camp Quality.
There was another aurora last night. The sky was clear and as well as the aurora there was a magnificent display of stars. At least the sky is looking a bit more typical Macquarie now but it is still very smooth sailing. The wind has risen above 10 knots but we haven’t hit 20knots at any stage since leaving Casey – so different from the voyage down.
Lunchtime 55.27S, 156.3E, wind SE 23kn, air temp 3.5C, water temp 7.5C, sleeting
About 100nm to Macquarie Island. We are evidently going to sail round the island tonight and drop anchor at 6am. I intend to be up early to watch the sunrise. There are a lot of Macca birds around now, lots of prions and albatrosses and even penguins porpoising through the sea. We also had a white phase giant petrel a few minutes ago. Evidently Macca has a higher percentage of white phases among the breeding population than anywhere else in the world.
The wind has come up and we have crossed the Antarctic Convergence as can be seen by the sea temperature. The weather is “typical Macquarie” – cold, wet and windy. I was getting worried for a while with all that fine weather!
It seems odd to be talking about midwinter in February, but the Sydney midwinter’s dinner will be at Parramatta Leagues Club which, I am informed, is now advertising on prime time TV. The NSW Branch Council met this week and preparations are well under way. I am looking forward to the Call of the Years this year. I get to stand up for 2000 then sit back and relax til 1972 comes up. I was wondering who has got the longest break between voyages. 28 years is not bad but I am sure there are longer stretches out there.
We have just changed course and are heading north. The island is 6nm to the east and showing up clearly on the radar but with this gloom of low cloud and rain we can’t see it. As we turned we were joined by nine black-browed albatrosses which are soaring round the ship. We should drop anchor at 5am so I will be up early to have a good look.
The lights of the ANARE station are off the starboard side. We are currently heading east between North Head and the Judge and Clerk Islands doing a bathymetric survey. This will continue through the night until we sail into Buckles Bay at dawn. The wind has dropped and we are hoping for a southwesterly tomorrow which will provide the best protection. I have set the alarm for 4am so I get a good view in the dawn light. It is more than half my lifetime ago that I last saw the island and even though we will only be there a short time, I don’t want to miss a minute.
I didn’t go to bed last night. I stayed up watching videos til about 4.30 then went down to the trawl deck and watched the dark island loom out of the mist and rain. As the sun rose so the birds joined us. Flocks of prions, royal penguins galore sitting on the water or porpoising alongside the ship, giant petrels and cormorants, skuas and cape petrels and the ever present albatrosses wheeling round the ship, often so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
The sun broke through the cloud and the grey turned to green against the deep blue of the sea. Familiar landmarks stood out as we sailed along the east coast. The pyramid rocks at the Nuggets with the royal penguin colonies high on the hills behind. The king penguin colony at Sandy Bay which didn’t exist when I was last here – nor did the small colony at Gadget’s Gully. The Red River waterfall was a white streak against the green of the tussock and the great cleft of Green Gorge glowed in a shaft of sunlight.
Unfortunately the wind is still blowing about 30 to 40 knots and it is too dangerous to try to land. We have even been round to the west coast for a look at Hasselborough Bay. We came in so close I could see the elephant seals on the beach. Now we are off round North Head again to look at Buckles Bay as the rain squalls blot out the hills and whip white caps and spray off the sea. The cat-killers and the American geos have been ready since dawn to jump in the zodiacs as soon as it is safe to launch them. When we arrived in late November 1971, we sailed up and down for two days before we were able to land. I sincerely hope the same thing doesn’t happen this time.
The island has lost none of its mystery and beauty. There are a few more buildings at the ANARE station and a new hut at Brothers Point we can see from the ship but otherwise it looks just as it did when I first saw it. I remember all the trips down the island, the rocks I scrambled over, the seal wallows, the tussock grass and the featherbed round Handspike Point. We were so close to Handspike half an hour ago it looked close enough to jump over and swim ashore. As one of only three people on board to have wintered on Macquarie (the other two are cat-killers) I am being asked about the view by lots of those on board including the birdos who have only been to the north end.
More later. By the way, Steve the krill is still alive and well in a tank in the cold lab.
Great excitement for a while. About 10am we headed straight into Buckles Bay where it was relatively calm. Two zodiacs (inflatable rubber boats) came out and delivered a cardboard box. They then returned to shore and brought two of the departing summer party with them who came aboard. They returned to shore with two of the three cat-killers, Sue and Eddy. Since then the wind has come up again and they are trying to find a more sheltered spot on the shore to launch the boats. The waves are not such a big problem out where we are but there is a nasty surf running which causes problems, particularly getting off the beach. We will see how things develop.
2pm Sunday 13th Feb
Like something from legend, the Isle of Macquarie vanished into the mists from which it emerged this morning. The grey, wind wracked sky merged with the leaden sea and all trace of the mystical island disappeared. Only the seabirds circling the ship and the penguins dashing through the water give any indication of the presence of land.
In the last two hours, the zodiacs worked hard bringing four more people aboard and taking the last three ashore followed by ten loads of cargo in each direction – mail, samples and equipment mainly. No-one got ashore who was not staying there so I was unable to get the pictures I wanted of the memorials on the rock but I will email Pete the geo, who is coming to Sydney in six weeks, to take them for me.
Next stop Hobart. The plan is for early Wednesday morning but as we lost a bit of time at Macquarie it might be later in the day. It depends a lot on the weather between here and Tassie.
Lunchtime 14 February 50.28S, 154.28S
We are about to go into the roaring forties again with no more sign or rough weather than we had on the way down The ship is rolling a bit in the westerly swells but the sun is shining every now and then. We had our last muster on the heli deck this morning. The attention to complete cold weather gear was not as strict as it was further south. It seems rather silly to be parading in full Antarctic clothing at a latitude south the same as London is north – or maybe it says more about London.
I ran into Dale Main on board yesterday. He had joined us at Macquarie. The last time I saw Dale was at a midwinter dinner at Macquarie University in Sydney when he played Agatha in our production of Cinderella. I played Gertie, the other ugly sister, in the same show.
Tomorrow we hand in all our Antarctic clothing. It will be reissued to future expeditioners. I still have the jacket I wore for a year on Macquarie and I brought it with me. It is less cumbersome than the big yellow Antarctic jacket so I wore it often except when I was ashore.
Two more entries to go in this log. We are now expecting to arrive in Hobart at 10.30am on Wednesday.
“Set up and tighten bowsing-in tackles, release tricing pennants and secure toggle painter”.That, I have just learnt, is step four in the instructions to launch the lifeboats. I just hope that those in charge of my lifeboat know the difference between a tricing pennant and a toggle painter because I certainly don’t.
Tuesday 15th February 2.30pm
We are now speeding at 16knots plus on both engines, about 200 nautical miles from Hobart. The aim is still 7.30am in Hobart tomorrow. If it is later than that they will have to serve breakfast. This, therefore, will be the last episode of the intrepid exploits of an ageing Antarctician until I return to Sydney and describe the homecoming of Voyage Five. The roaring forties are not living up to their name yet again. There are grey seas and skies but few whitecaps and the ship has been accompanied by albatrosses all day – wanderers, shy, black-browed and my first Bullers albatross. There was a pod of twenty pilot whales earlier and a large sunfish was seen basking on the surface.
All my Antarctic clothing has been handed in, apart from items such as thermal underwear, and we are wondering what specialities will be on offer for our last dinner aboard. I think I will wear a collar and tie tonight.
The whole trip has been fascinating. After all this time, I have finally seen the continent of Antarctica. I have seen the great icebergs, the fields of ice floes and the wildlife that others speak of in awe. I have experienced the church-like quiet and the screaming winds of the coldest continent. I have stood on the deck of a ship at night with sea spray turning to ice as it lands on the deck while overhead the aurora weaves across a sky festooned with stars upon stars. I have seen again the green hills and cliffs of Macquarie Island, larger and more mysterious than my memories allowed.
I have spoken to many people over the years about Antarctica. There are those who have been down many times. Those who hanker after the “old days” as though there was something special about the privations of the earlier explorers. There are those who keep going back because it is the Antarctic itself which is the magnet. What of the modern expeditions?
The people who serve with ANARE today are exactly the same as those I went south with 28 years ago and, I suggest, exactly the same as those who went with Mawson and Shackleton. Individually they are different of course and a large number today are women but the enthusiasm and the sense of adventure are the same. The environment hasn’t changed. It might be more comfortable in the red shed at Casey than it was in the old Casey or Wilkes but that is as it should be. Communications have improved with everyone having instant telephone and email access, rather than radio telephones and morse code. This is superficial. The continent or the island can kill just as quickly and just as easily today as at any time in the past. The cold, the wind, the cliffs, the crevasses are still there. They have killed in the past and will again in the future. Mistakes are not forgiven.
Perhaps the greatest change is the appreciation of the environment. All rubbish is removed. Nothing is discharged from the ships. All oil spills are notifiable and a spill of more than 200 litres is notifiable, internationally. The removal of waste from years gone by will be a concern for ANARE for many years to come. Recycling and re-use are the norm, as is the reduction of waste by improving packaging. We used to feed old eggs to the skuas. The threat of Newcastle disease in the Antarctic bird population is taken seriously today and no poultry products are allowed off the station and certainly never dumped where birds such as skuas can get to them. Every new building, every new project has to take into account the environmental impact. There are waste managers, aesthetics assessors and environmentalists of all descriptions employed these days to make sure that our impact on Antarctica is as small as possible.
The Antarctic Division is doing a great job with great skill. After more than 50 years, the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions are still leading the way in many areas of Antarctic study and management. While I was merely an insignificant JAFO on Voyage 5, it was great to be part of ANARE again.
I would like to thank the Director of the Antarctic Division for making the berth available to a representative of the ANARE Club and to thank the Club for selecting me to represent it on this voyage.
I have taken many photographs which I will share with friends and family when I get home but they only go a small way towards representing what I have seen. Those who have seen Antarctica know what I mean. Words and pictures cannot capture one scan of the horizon. It is too big, too awesome, too majestic. It is an experience I will never forget