It’s minus 35 degrees in Antarctica and the sun hasn’t risen for weeks. Winds howl around the remote Mawson Station at speeds up to 120 kilometres an hour, challenging people and structures with blizzards of cutting snow and ice.
These are the long dark days of July but for Mawson’s 14‐member skeleton crew this is also a great time to go walking and a chance to raise money for AMRRIC.
“July is traditionally a 'flat' month,” station manager Jen Wressell said.
The last ship left Mawson in February and there are no more arrivals or departures till the first plane in November.
“And we lose the sun for a month in July,” Jen added.
It was the station’s chef who suggested that a walk to the South Pole could lift the crew’s spirits; and it was the team that decided to make it a fundraising event.
With weather conditions making the 2,500 kilometre journey impossible outside, it was agreed to complete the walk inside – using measurable distances clocked up in the gym (although a few hardy crew members did do three kilometres outdoors using cross-country skis and mountain bikes).
“To make sure we completed the journey we decided to challenge other teams to join us,” Jen said.
Soon ‘Team Mawson’ was joined by the ‘Gumboot Ramblers’ on Macquarie Island; the ‘White Walkers’ at Casey station; ‘Team Davis’ from Davis Station; and ‘Remediation Rampage’ back at headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania. About 58 people in all.
By the end of the July, they’d stayed fit, completed the challenge and raised $1025.
But how did a group of people in Antarctica decide to support dogs and communities in Australia’s central deserts and tropical north?
“Before coming to Antarctica many of the team had worked in remote parts of Australia,” Jen said, explaining that she had also been a former nurse and health services manager in Arnhem Land, the Torres Strait, Central Australia and northern South Australia.
Others wintering at Mawson included tradies who’d worked in remote areas maintaining the essential services at mine sites or in Indigenous communities.
According to Jen, firsthand knowledge of the difficulties facing human and canine health, and the shared experience of living remotely, made AMRRIC’s work “close to our hearts”.
Photo: The crew at Mawson clock up distances in the gym to avoid the dark hostile winter conditions of July in the Antarctic. Credit: Shane Ness
Photo top: Station chef and originator of the walk-to-the-pole idea, Gavin Melgaard, takes his sled for a stroll in more favourable weather conditions. Credit: Jen Wressells