Antarctica

Week 8 The Ups and Downs of Living in Antarctica - Christmas is Coming

5th December - 12th December 1999

I've mostly focused on the great things about working and living in Antarctica. You might start thinking life is like in the books from the heroic age - everyone agreeing, no disputes. But life isn't all beer and skittles here. Everything that happens in life in the real world happens here, but usually intensified. People don't get along, a mistake is made and someone gets upset, and decisions are made that drastically affect the dynamics of the community. It's JUST like the real world (if you consider outside of Antarctica the real world).

It started, like many things that have had major impacts on my life in Antarctica, with me not being present. At the Saturday winterers meeting, which I left early to watch the installation of a new CMB telescope, an announcement was made. I had thought all the important business was over, but it was announced that because the population cap had been reached over the Christmas - New Years period, some people would have to go back to Mac Town, and it was going to be winterers!! I am told there was vague talk of not being able to accommodate our R\&R if this didn't happen. A threat?

When you go into a station just after winter you're warned that you are about to arrive at someones home. To be sensitive of the fact that the winterers have been living there for a year, and until it becomes your home also, remember you're a visitor. I've usually felt that we are being told this by someone that does not have a true empathy for winterers. We have given up a year of being with family and loved ones, and once we arrive at the station it becomes our home, and the people we work with, our family. This is the case for the whole year, not just the end of winter. It is our choice, it is a job, and it might be selfish. But I still think it deserves some consideration.

So why are we being told we have to leave? Why would any summer people have to leave? It is their home for the summer also. Didn't someone think ahead and plan so that the population wouldn't exceed the limit? We give up being with family during this time, and now we are being asked to leave our Antarctic home and family for visitors - guests in our home. So who are these people coming in that are so bloody important. Film crews - media!!

Now my experience with media during my life in Antarctica hasn't been the greatest. I feel I owe them less than nothing - they owe me! I would like to share my experiences with as many people as possible who will never get a chance to be here. But if I can do it without the media, well I'll be happy. I'll tell my story myself. Ones experiences down here are extremely personal, and I try very hard not to invade other peoples lives by telling their stories. Some times people are just too interesting. And if they don't mind I will tell a story about them. I hope this doesn't result in me sounding like I think I'm the center of the universe here in my mails - I'm far from it, just one of the crew, no more no less. I just tell it how I see it through my eyes. But when it comes to media, what they report seldom resembles anything like the reality. They almost make it up the way they want it, borrowing and exaggerating details about people and events.

If it wasn't bad enough, because of another film crew is coming in to do a doco on AMANDA, AMANDA people will have to leave. For some reason it seems sensible to ask me first!! I will go to Mac Town for R\&R - maybe I'd like to go over New Years or Christmas? Well that question got the short answer, which didn't go down too well. But it seemed a more than appropriate response to me. Luckily there are enough people keen to go home early and spend the time with family that it isn't a problem that drags on.

Other examples of what feels like a lack of consideration is the lack of personal parcels reaching the SP. While there is a slow trickle of letter mail, hardly any larger parcels have made it in. It seems it has to be transported in largish amounts. It would seem sensible to me to send in smaller amounts on each flight. Even with numerous flights coming in each day the mail delivery here is similar to Casey which has a few ships a season!

Along with hectic activity on station, the problems associated with the populations cap, and a few other things, there has been some virulent viruses (not to be confused with DV's) going around. In these small communities illnesses can go around very quickly. Usually it occurs at the end of winter, with the winterers becoming very unwell. But when we arrived the only complaints were upset stomachs from fresh fruit. It was some time into the second wave that the whole place seemed to become ill. I was one of the victims and am only beginning to feel better after three weeks of it.

But just when I might start wondering why I come to Antarctica the station has a great day. It doesn't have to be something fantastic, adventurous, or exotic. Today we put up Christmas decorations. It wasn't so much the putting up of decorations, it was that everyone was having lots of fun. We forgot about work and the stress that the station is under. All that was important was how to get tinsel to stay coiled around a pole. There is no pressure to rush out and buy presents. No bombardment by advertising and media about how we are to feel and what we have to do and buy.

The kitchen staff put on egg nog and the galley sound system plays Christmas songs. I am in an amazingly remote place in the most surreal environment with a heap of people that are here for very similar, and at the same time completely different reason than I'm here. Suddenly the hassles of life and the madness of the real world seem trivial, and the really important aspects of life come sharply into focus.

To be continued .......

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