Antarctica

Week 52 and 53 The Winter

8th October - Monday 23rd October 2000

Well so much for weekly emails. I'd like to say it's just because I'm working so hard - but it's more a motivation thing also. I am working hard to get things right for the new blokes. But it ain't going to happen. The floors are vacuumed and the cables and junk hidden in boxes. And most things seem to be working. I'll deal with the other stuff later.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks for everyone. We had another accident and DS broke his arm very badly. We're tired to the point of exhaustion, and at the same time we're relieving stress in ways that are probably not that healthy. Nothing like staying in the bar till well after mid-night and then working a full day, and then doing it all over again. He'll have to go out on the first flight now. He's got extremely good at computer golf lately. I saw him 5 under after 4 holes. If only real golf was like that.

Summer camp is all set up now. All the outer buildings heated, and we've been spending a bit of time out there in the lounges. It's a change, which is very rare here. We also have to move out of our rooms for the "important" summer people. This seems a very negative thing to do to us at this point, but it's the way things work here. I'm supposedly moving into Jamesway 12. But being toast no one is going to make much of a fuss about where I sleep, even if it were on a table in the galley.

Packing is always depressing and a drag. This has seemed worse than usual. Normally once you pack you go somewhere different. I'm just being evicted for a much lower quality room out of the dome for people that have just come from the tropics, and will be here for at most a few months. Yeh.. that makes a lot of sense. The excuse is so that the emergency teams are in tact. But I'd like to see some FNGY get out an x-ray as fast as me, or even find the building an alarm is going off in. So this makes no sense to me, and is a thinly disguised excuse for management getting the good room.

One very small bright moment was at the All Hands last Wednesday. It was mainly about what we were to do if the first flight crashes. I'm not sure what is different about the first flight. Well it's the military background of the SM, who really gets off on this stuff. Of course the reality of what would happen in the extremely unlikely chance of this happening is completely different to what we are told would happen. We're a group that works together well now, and the people with the skills would just take control and do what needs to be done.

At the end of this garbage a traditional thing happened. The flags from the Ceremonial South Pole were given out. It's a lottery with everyones names in a hat. But DZ, bless him, also pointed out that it is traditional for people from the countries of the flags to get them. So I got the Australian flag, which really meant a lot to me. I have given Sonja the Australian flag that has been flying over Rodney at the pole, and it also flew on the dome for the WO photo.

Of course the sun is well and truly up, and it's very bright outside. Looking out from a heated building I can almost remember how beautiful it is. It's a strange type of beauty, all blue sky and white. It's like nothing else anywhere. It's one thing to be in a big snow field. But here it's the same not only further than you can see, but what seems forever.

The last days are very strange as everyone doesn't want change, while at the same time we're ready to go. Our routines will be completely shattered, and it's these things things that make life - well life here. Come in for breakfast and the same three people are there. We know exactly how much we can talk and not get on each others nerves. We can sense if someone is having a bad day, and whether they need some attention or need leaving alone. We sit in the same spots, and we eat the same food. We know how to reach each other, and what our daily routines are. It's fairly much the same each day and that is very comforting here. We don't want this to change - but we want to get the hell out.

It's Sunday night, and while there are so many reasons why the flights should not get in - mechanical problems, too cold, not enough planes at MCM - we know it will happen. The bar crowd (yes I'm one) end up having a latish night. We end up out in summer camp. My room is completely bare and not very fun. Next thing I know I'm turning my alarm off. Then I'm woken by an All Call. Hell I have to get up, it's 9:30am.

We're all at panic stations getting last minute things ready. I've packed my last few things and tidied the room. My blokes are on the second flight, but I want to go out for the first also. I get my cameras and head out. It lands at about 11am.

There are all the ground crew people out, and a heap of emergency vehicles on standby. There are quite a few spectators like me. It's a cold day - too cold to land (by the manual), but they will anyway. The sky is blue and the air is full of diamond dust ice crystal. There is one of the best halo displays I've seen here. The sun dogs are extremely bright, and there are heaps of other much more exotic halos. Then out of the ice fog we see the plane land at the end of the runway. Our first physical contact with the outside world in 8 months. Very scary.

Sonja is parking the plane. This means she goes out on the taxi way with these huge foam hands and gives the pilot directions while taxing in to the terminal. The terminal is a huge fuel tank, fire extinguishers, and a solar heated blue container with "PAX Terminal" written on it. It looks quite comical. There is a huge contrail behind the LC-130, and I get some nice photos. Then they all pile out. Most are complete strangers, and some are good friends. One of the first people I recognise is JP, a great bloke. A nice way to ease into the new people. My blokes came in on the second flight, and we meet them and help them carry stuff in. They are also very good blokes, and it's nice to see them.

The dome seems crowded beyond belief. I can't stand being in the galley and go up to the bar to find all the WOs hiding. I wander around not knowing what to do even though I have so much work to finish. Every where I go there is a stranger, and what feel like a hostile face. Of course they are all just extremely excited and eager. Summer is a different world.

At five o'clock there is a ceremony, and the WOs are presented with a medal. In many ways token recognition of an achievement can sometimes belittle the act. But I'm proud to get my medal, as I feel I've really done something substantial to have my work recognised in such a way.

This evening has been - well different. The bar is mainly full of WOs, and the galley packed with FNGYs. But even the bar isn't a safe haven. No more having enough chairs that everyone can sit and put their feet up on another chair. It's a struggle just to get a chair. I'd normally hang out till mid-night. Tonight I can't stand it past 8.

I happened to walk past the post boxes and found I had some post cards and letters. Thank you very much, as these were a complete surprise, and made me feel much better.

I had good intentions of staying in my Jamesway room, but I need somewhere familiar, and have come out to Mapo. I'll sleep in the rack. The night is almost done. I suppose things change, and sometimes it's really good. But I'm used to things not changing in my Antarctic life. This year has seen more change than I'd have liked. Only 6 more nights and I'll be away from this place for awhile. When I come back there will only be 4 other WOs left, and I'll just be another summer beaker. There is something to be said for anonymity.

For all my complaining and overtones of complete depression, winter is the best time here. The people that winter are the ones I love. People that just want to visit seem so superficial. It just happens we had a really hard one. Getting through a winter is an achievement beyond anything else I've experienced. Hopefully it would be a great time. Ours wasn't. It did have it's great moments. And there are things I'd do anything for them to have come out differently. At it's lowest I thought I regretted doing it again. But I don't.

The winter has ended.

To be continued .......

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