‘Straya…

Time for a cheery post!

Really!

It’s the day after Australia Day 2018 at Davis Station, and the sheer lack of people at 7am is unsurprising (considering how the evening was shaping up when I bailed at 11pm)

Australia Day for us is a bit like the 4th of July in the USA, and it can get just as bogan…interesting. It’s a day of celebration or mourning, depending on whether you came on a boat or walked here. (don’t even start)

So lets blog…catch up…shoot the shit…chew the fat…how are you? Whats new? I’m well…thanks for asking.

Deciding not to hide out, and having a rare 3 days in a row off, Australia Day 2018 began pretty damn well with a sleep in and a quiet breakfast overlooking the cranky penguin molting on the bottom steps of the LQ and Mess.

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This little fella was not happy and had solidly planted himself in THE single most inconvenient place in the entire station to start his summer molt. These guys will just pick a random spot and plonk themselves down for days, squarking the crap out of anyone that comes close, his little penguin body language saying it all – “just F*ck off and leave me alone”.

Most people here can relate as its getting to the pointy end of the season.

We cant just shoo them off, so being the environmentally aware crew that we are, he was quickly ‘hatted off’ and left to his own devices as the people here in station began to wander in for breakfast and prepare for the Australia Day festivities.

So…what would today bring?

Well apart from Terry the Plumber begin a massive media sensation back home and in the UK ( his Australian citizenship ceremony was performed here on Wednesday, which apparently was only the second time in history it’s happened down in Antarctica), we had the Olympic Games – Antarctic style.

A full program for the sporty types : the Davis Inaugural Olympic Games comprising of a dazzling array of team sporting events on the beach in sizzling sub zero weather and grey skies followed by cricket in the Green Store. It was a teams event and a veritible united nations of countries represented.

For the non-sporties or the generally disinterested, I ran up Crocodile Dundee and then Crackerjack in the theatrette for an afternoon of Aussie themed comedy – basically on autoplay.

Today it is bloody freezing outside, no sun with 20 knot winds and a wind chill down to -7.  Cold enough to cancel the traditional Australia Day swim (much to the relief of many).

Making a wise decision to actually watch the Olympics from the comfort of the leather lounges, heating and open bar of the upper living area I was quickly joined by a non-sportie crew to watch the fun and games through the large bay windows overlooking the beach.

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So began the 5 hours or so of merciless commentary from our impromptu peanut gallery: a veritable “This Sporting Life” with Roy and HG  – Antarctic style.

‘Best Public Urination’ was hotly contested, as was ‘Craziest Penguin Attack’, ‘Most Hypothermic Competitor’, and ‘Shittest Long Jump’.

As the afternoon ground on, the pace slowed even more but the fun continued :  ‘Worst Tunnelball Throw’ was a nailbiter; ‘Longest Lingering Butt Slap’, ‘Most Homoerotic Male Wrestling’, and “Most Unneccesary Touching”  drew big crowds; and finally ‘Best Team Desertion’ and ‘Most Imaginative Buggering Off Home’ brought the afternoon to an shivering anticlimax.

(Of course our proudest day wouldn’t be complete without that old familiar chestnut: muscular bearded men and women in tights sports skins running around wearing Australian flags as capes)

Needless to say I will NOT be posting the videos. They may have to be burned.

Hmmm on second thought…could be useful!

I don’t think I’ve laughed so much for a long time and actually had trouble filming the events (must remember to wipe the audio)  as I was constantly having to wipe tears from my eyes from laughing too much as we tore shreds of the unfortunate and mildly hypothermic competitors freezing to death on the frosty beach below.

Heheheh….Suckers <sips beer, eats microwaved Vegemite and Cheese scroll, puts feet up>

Much like the real Olympics though, the Davis version was overly long and unnecessarily cruel. Case in point  – the last event : The Marathon.

After 5 torturous competitive hours in the cold, team champions were subjected to a series of situps/pushup challenges and then a almost-2 Km marathon sprint with a 10KG weight to bring back from the half way turnaround point – WTF!! Might as well kicked them in the groin as well just for fun.

A few competitors are still running. One stopped to have a leak. Several sorta slinked away and hid behind shipping containers til the pack returned. Many were tackled by boozy overexcited teammates on the way back. I’m fairly certain at least one person cried.

You can imagine the scene I’m sure.

Fortunately everyone that survived the beach had a great time and proudly wore their Gold Silver and Bronze medals way into the evening.

Overall it was  a massive success and absolutely frickin’ hilarious to watch.

Around 5pm, after the hordes descended on the Mess for dinner and then hit the bar the party got started with a home-baked “Hottest 100” put together by Sammy S (her 30th birthday as well  – Happy Birthday Sam!) and favourites chosen by Expeditioners and beamed out over slushy Fm (one of our local FM transmitters) – an eclectic collection of music ranging from death metal to electronic pop with a shit ton of 90s alt rock and “classic hits” that got most of the crowd up and singing.

Then as per every Australia day ever, the booze flowed, people loosened up and the evening started to get sloppy as expected (myself included). People start tackling each other, the darts comp starts to throw from 10 metres through a crowd, the volume of the conversations increase to drown our the music which then increases to overcome the volume of the conversation…we’ve all been there.

But it was really so much fun to get involved and chat/talk shit and just relax.

The tempo of the evening started to ramp up, people were getting sillier and looser, the conversation getting less conversational, voices raised, music louder and louder…

At one point a Canadian kicked the blow up Boxing Kangaroo across the room. That drew some bristles immediately. Right about then I thought there may be blood and that possibly it was time to go.

Then, rather dramatically around 10pm, the main powerhouse went down and we suddenly were plunged in silence and darkness.

Kerchunk.

Uh oh.

No lights. No heating. No tunes. OH SHIT the beer fridges are out.

The on call sparkies rallied and swarmed out to see what had happened.

The emergency lights came on and the dim lights flickered into life.

Whey heyyyyy!…the party continued.

The IPA on tap ran out, then the cider, then the XPA, then the bottles. Out came the personal spirits stashes, the mixes got stronger and the party tempo increased yet again.

In the band room the local Davis musos grabbed guitars and drums and whatever else could make a sound and started jamming (awesome),  a lone stumpy figure dressed in a walrus onesie – lamenting the demise of the MP3 PC playing the music – started howling singing his own selection of indecipherable songs at the top of his lungs (and apparently didn’t stop til 3am).

We should have the power out more often!

Then the old ‘one beer too may’ syndrome kicked, in and moderately drunk Jamie arrived around 10.30pm.

I think someone asked me to fix a non-booting computer and, after just been jarred that all I do is turn computers off and on,  I told them (perhaps a little too earnestly) to fix it themselves (exact words were possibly “you have a brain, eyes and a finger – follow the instructions and fix it yourself then – I’m off duty”)

‘Nicely done” said my little monkey autopilot “now give them the finger”

yeaaaah…

Classy.

Time to go to bed, Jamie


Eqilogue

So bright and early today, 6.30am I’m proud to say, I arose bright and sparkly, no hangover, no ill effects , and a after having a great nights sleep wandered down for breakfast just in time to see the Aurora Australis sail/steam/chug into Prydz Bay to begin our emergency water supply transfer.

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I haven’t seen the ship since she left back in November, and the sight of her bright orange hull is such a startling contrast to the whites of the ice and the blue of the ocean.

Davis water supplies here, being in the largest ice-free area in the Antarctic, are adequate but relatively small – our Reverse Osmosis plant is broken and they cant fix it, so we cant produce our own water and supplies are low. The ship has been diverted from Mawson resupply operation to transfer her water to us and supplement our supply for winter.

So today is looking good : I’ve bailed out of the hiking trip out to Brooks Hut (for various reasons I wont go into but strangely still feel the need to mention – you know I’m DYING to say), and going to spend the day taking photos around station of the water transfer, and chillaxing.

My biggest problem today so far is that they’ve ran out of Vegemite AND Jatz crackers.

Devastating lack of post-hangover saltiness and looks of horror and disappointment abound as the news spreads around station.

Thank God it wasn’t yesterday.

That would have been absolutely unacceptably un-Australian.


*Still here?

Good News!

My funkiness has passed finally, after a solid week of “MEH”.

I think i just needed to blow off some steam and relax for a change. Last night did the trick.

It easy to forget how stressful this environment is 24/7 and its effects creep up on you slowly but surely. No-one is spared and everyone can get as taught as a piano wire at times.

Something to remember in the future : must make time to really let go of things and chill.

It’s ok to lock yourself away for a little while but overall being around your team and co-workers really is the best medicine to deal with the funky stuff.

…and always remember to breathe.

 

 

 

…next

Only a few weeks left now before getting on the big red boat and sailing back to Hobart.

I don’t know how I feel about that yet … seems a little unreal … to contemplate the relative normal of day to day again just when I’m just getting used to this new version of life.

Anyway…still time to explore and enjoy this world.

One thing that is surprising is that I can’t seem to write any more. There’s nothing bubbling up that’s neither interesting or constructive. Just a grey blandness that’s creeping in and I resort to cheap tricks to distract.

See! Sheer laziness.

Plenty of photo ops and hikes, movie nights and opportunity for getting involved – I just couldn’t really give a damn and more than a little funked up.

The 3 day hike with 2 new travel buddies was just the right amount of time and people for me…superb company and an exception to the daily rule of chit chat and polite nonsense but the daily inane and trivial conversation is just dulling and I can’t be bothered (even though I’m as guilty of it as the next person)

Still trying though…

Volunteered to fill in as a Hagg driver for Fire Team 1 for example, and spent last week looking after the hydroponics garden, and anything interesting that pops up. Didn’t make any difference.

Just not feeling it. Enthusiasm comes and goes in waves.

I know what it is and yes, I’m working on it. (You’d think 2 years and half a planet would be enough)

It’s time to move on…

So what’s next? I have absolutely no idea.

Applied for next season ( not wintering this year), put my hand up for the Comms Tech officer on the Macquarie Island resupply voyage – it sails out 3 days after we sail into Hobart – but that only staves off the inevitable for another 2 weeks or so.

Then I’m free-falling again.

Half baked plans to go here and there but nothing concrete I can plan around.

Impermanence is great and all that once you understand and embrace it but uncertainty can really fuck you up.

Meh…

Dinner time.

*it’s snowing!!!! That helps … a wander in the snow is just the ticket I think 🙂

**nup – let’s try a movie – The Dish!

***nup – let’s try bed and 30 Rock 🤘

****yup – better now

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…landsharks

I just spent a brief half hour lunch, staring out the large second floor window here at a small black speck half a mile away – making its way slowly across the ice field.

Stopping every 20 paces or so, the tiny figure would slowly turn a 360 degree circle, checking for predators or possibly just studying on track, before setting off again across the ice, little feet flapping along, heading who knows where.

You can barely make him out but he’s way out there just past the central tine in the pitchfork -shaped shadows out on the ice. A teeny tiny black spot.

A little Adelie penguin all by his lonesome.

His meandering odyssey reminded me instantly of a forgotten dream I used to have quite regularly as a child ( and less regularly as an adult).

I would be about somewhere in the world, usually in the countryside, running and always moving, relentlessly pursued by massive grey sharks – landsharks. There was only every one or two but they were the size of jumbo jets – and deathly silent. These nightmares would burst up through the very crust of the earth looking for me ( and only me) and try to gobble me up. They could go anywhere and break through any surface : the only warning an uneasy feeling and a shadowy ripple underfoot microseconds before they attacked.

Luckily always with just enough time to escape – keep running.

They never got me – I’ve always been a fast runner and in these dreams I move like a parkour-savant ninja. Easy peasy.

I am an artful dodger at the best of times anyway.

It occurs to me just now that this scenario is an actual possibility here, watching this little penguin wanders the ice alone. How does he feel at the moment? Nervous? Lonely? Or just hungry and looking for a meal. He must be tired. And a little paranoid – constantly vigilant for killer whales or leopard seals that can pop up and grab him through the thinner sections of the sea ice. He’s still walking – stops every 20 steps or so – has a good look around. Keeps on.

I wonder would he see their shadow under the ice?

What would flash thought his little penguin consciousness as the crushing jaws closed around him and the razorlike teeth tore his skin.

“Squark…?”

…maybe, whatever the penguin equivalent for “O Shit!” is I guess.

Jeez. Could these things grab me once I start working out and about here on the thinning seaice, heading to the nearby penguin colonies or just walking around the shoreline.

Maybe.

There was a lady killed by a leopard seal not long ago, dragged down under the ice floe.

Drowned her real good it did.

My fantasy Landsharks are real here.

It’s not the first childhood nightmare that has rang eerily true since I’ve been here in Antarctica.

Dejavu galore.

Many many moments where I’ve felt that I’ve seen this moment in a dream when I was a kid. Even stupid things like a breakfast conversation this morning, the person sitting opposite me and what they were eating. It’s the details that stick.

I’ve seen it and other mundane moments this past week, in my dreams from many years ago.

Super odd.

*speaking of recurrent nightmares, remind me to tell you about the red glowing pig eyes at my window, the exploding TV room or the persistent (and annoying) werewolf calling himself “the British Umpire” who would stalk me along quiet country roads and launch himself ferociously at me from the darkness.

No wonder I write.

Hmmm.

Anyway…

The winter crew had their official station handover just now – informal speeches and the handing over of the station key to the new station leader for summer. What a great group- 18 or so dedicated personnel who roughed it over the toughest and most blizzard filled winter in history. I hope the 80 or so of us can hold up to the same standard set for us.

Later this after noon the old crew will wander out to the ship and then they’ll be heading home with a lifetime of stories to tell.

Hopefully no landsharks are about.

Today for me has been power outages, flaky UPS issues, annoying network issues but overall a much better day work wise. I’ve had a few wins today and they’re finally outweighing the losses.

Boopity boop clickety click…computers : meh.

Tonight the bar opens and we are having a night to celebrate finally – a day off tomorrow to nurse any hangovers and then our summer routine swings into gear.

Settling into a routine now and I have 4 months to whip things into shape.

Winter is over.

Let the summer begin!

…blur

Its easy to lose track of time when there is no discernible difference between day and night – its all the same here. Just a small variation in the quality of the light. Bright midday sun all day long heightened by the constant blazing glare off the snowcover and the glistening ice, softening to a false dusk and then shortly after its sunrise again.

Good Morning means nothing here – it’s just Good Day. Every day.

I can’t sleep so I’m blogging. It is Sunday after all.

The biggest surprise of today is that the snow here is very very dry – the driest I’ve ever seen but that’s not saying much since I’ve seen so little – like when melting water from fresh snow apparently its take almost twice as much snow to make half the amount of water…or something like that…math was never my thing.

You can pick it up in your hand and your hand doesn’t even get wet – so weird. It feels…chalky.

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Black ice is everywhere (I know what that is now, as Ive never really seen it or understood what it was before) and several people have slipped and hurt themselves already – its treacherous and tricky to walk around outside especially as the rocky landscape is angular and unstable at the best of times. Add crusty honeycombed snow cover and black ice everywhere, its a real gamble just walking about. There’s a a chance that if you slip and break your arm/leg  before the ship leave that you have to go home, so people are walking on eggshells outdoors just in case.

The environment down here is magical and the record 22 winter blizzards have left their mark. Rapidly melting snowdrifts and crystal clear icicles form random art installations sculpted by the summer sun – this place is almost a natural modern art gallery now. In a month or two it’ll all be gone though – even the sea ice. The curiosity of a endless static snowfield replaced by the open ocean, returning penguin colonies and the local elephant seal population roaring away in a nearby wallow. Unless a summer blizzard comes 🙂 I kind hope it does.

How fortunate do I feel to have this unique opportunity? – very.

I’m starting to go out more and more to explore the station limits on my own (its been too busy otherwise). Tomorrow I’m going to walk out on the sea ice, head out to the ship before she sails on Tuesday. It’ll be odd to see the Aurora Australis sail away as this means I’m an definitely stuck here for the duration – its a very final feeling. But then the real expedition starts, and the specialist science and engineering teams will head out into the field and do their thing. The real work begins.

You can see everyone bonding already here – most people seem to know each other from previous expeditions – but its a place that really fosters mateship and everyone is very open and friendly, at least so far. I can see how people keep trying to come back time and time again. I’m trying to make friends but I’m a team of one and a feel a bit like the last one picked at soccer practice at the moment. It’s my school formal all over again. Being super friendly and uncomfortably sociable so hopefully that’s gonna help break in.

I sent some postcards today – the last post went at 7.30pm from the old Post Office here at Davis – a small round red and white building that used to be one of the original huts build on Heard Island in 1957. It was decommissioned and transported here back in the day, and rescued as the new Post Office – we also have a Postmaster – an official Government role with official stamps and everything. Very weird.

After that I wandered over to the Music Hut / Band Room that they have here to suss out the musical intruments – no left handed guitars as I’d hoped (knew I should have brought one with me) but loads of acoustic, electric, drums, and piano/keyboards. I was hanging in the band room last night doodling around on a guitar and a few of the other guys came in and we stated chatting. There quite a few musicians here this year and If i can restring a guitar lefty-style then I can join in and jam. Should be fun! 🙂

The accommodation here is really cosy and cute – small but comfortable single rooms – I lucked out and got a room with a second bunk so I have a little more storage than most. There’s not enough room to swing a cat but there is just enough for a quiet meditation in the morning and even a little yoga practice!

Where I live is a red two story building about 50 metres from where I work and about 50 metres from where the coffee is, so its pretty damn ideal apart from the massive GODDAMNED GENERATOR next door – lucky my ear plugs are holding up.

*Just now the guy next door is snoring his head off – his time on Earth is short.

The shutters automatically close and lock at 10pm and can’t open til 6am – it scared the crap out of me the first time. There’s a Lidar dome and light sensitive scientific experiments nearby to any ambient light in the evenings if a no-no. Hence the lockdown. It’s a bit like a horror movie when they come down though – feels a bit ‘trappy’.

This week has been a blur really. We are still balls deep into the Resupply operation and been working around the clock – 12 hour rotating shifts to get all of the cargo unloaded, the fuel and water transfer completed, and the Personnel handovers  finished. Ive been really lucky in that I didn’t have duty on resupply ( yay) it that I got flown over. It was so much fun and such a thrill to be flying over the endless ice. As the only IT dude I qualified as critical – I got flown off the ship by chopper days ahead of the bulk of personnel – tickled my ego immensely .

The reality though is that almost EVERYONE that has arrived has had IT issues and that’s been my constant role for the past 3 weeks almost – while cleaning my teeth, while I’m getting dressed, making a coffee, in my room, and even while I’m trying to put a fork full of pasta in my mouth – to sort everyone out immediately and get them operational. Or at least get their Facebook and email to work . Its always fun but as the Internet here is a bare trickle over a heavily oversubscribed satellite link, its now very frustrating – especially constantly explaining to people about procedures and rule while they complain about their Facebook isn’t loading like back home, or instant messaging and Snapchat doesn’t work ( its blocked) or the 200Meg video of a seal they are trying to send to their kids isn’t going through (but why can’t I send it?)

Because we’re in fucking Antarctica.

*i was going to delete this but that didn’t seem honest plus it’s a nice indicator of how tired I was yesterday… enjoy my vitriolic rant. Feel free to skip it though.

Grr <rant begins>

So I explain time and time again – over and over and over “But this is a government network with internet proxies and rules and shit”.

And we’re in fuckin Antarctica.

Meh noone cares and just wants their video to upload. Who cares where we are. Screw corporate data. Fuck meteorological and scientific data upload requirements, I just want my MTV. Where’s my Netflix?

“Why did you block my iphone from the wifi?”.

“Well because you downloaded 4.5 GIG of itunes crap/pirated movies/tv shows over our tax payer funded satellite link in 48 hours during which noone else could use the Internet, dumbass”

“Oh Really? I had no idea”

Yeah right.

Ahh in the good old days of 90’s IT I could get away with telling it like it is . HA!

Now it just becomes “hmmm really?” and then its now my problem to find out why your damn phone/laptop/tablet is doing it, quietly knobble it and not rock the boat.

That’s the public face of what I do here – Phone bitch and Internet wrangler.

That bugs me a little  – yes I know its just ego – but man it REALLY IRKS ME now I think about it.

In an environment full of tradies, Managers and scientists, most people here have two or 3 personal devices (tablet, phone, laptop) and rarely does anyone actually have a clue how to set them up.  Its just “my personal phone/laptop/PC doesn’t work – that’s now your problem Jamie – I don’t need to know how to use something or that I created this issue by ignorance – you just make it work how I want it to IMMEDIATELY).

Behind the scenes I’m looking after systems that everyone relies on but people rarely see or even think about; network administration, managing switches and routers and satellite links, server and systems maintenance, managing active directory, email groups and operations, system integrity, backups, printers, voip and telephone systems, data security, redundancy and disaster recovery – but none ever sees all that . Its the curse that comes with any IT role – you only become visible when something breaks and only important for the time it takes you to fix it, and then back into your little cupboard you go.

<rant ends>

Grrr. This is why I dislike IT work now – it also irks me and makes me curse a lot. I’ve tried to get out but it just keeps dragging me back in. Like the freakin mafia.

Maybe next year, eh?

ANYWAY the long voyage and then working 10 days straight is making me cranky and its a bit like groundhog day at the moment here. Work/sleep/work. The ship leaves on Tuesday and then (rumor has it) well get 3 days off and the bar will be open.

Well deserved beers for all AND hopefully none will ask me to fix their phone when the bar opens, cos after a few beers it’ll probably end up lodged in a penguins arse. Or theirs.

Tomorrow is another day…maybe a more positive post then, but remember this blog is also for my benefit as well.

But til then, raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens … I’ll simply remember my favourite things and then I won’t feeeel so baaaaaad!

See i feel better already.

🙂