Resupply voyage #4 Aurora Australis   January 31 – March 20 2008

Antarctica revisited after 47 years  

Journal by Bill Burch

Web pages by Colin Christiansen


The blogs:

Latest #15  12 Mar  The home run

Bills introduction

Bills photo album

#1   4 Feb         Depart Hobart

#2   5 Feb

#3   6-7 Feb

#4   8 Feb

#5   10 Feb       At Casey

#6   11 Feb

#7   14 Feb       Depart Casey

#8   17 Feb

#9   19 Feb       A fishy story

#10 23 Feb       At Davis

#11 24-26 Feb Approaching  Mawson

#12 28 Feb       Icebreaking

#13   3 Mar      Fang Rumdoodle

#14   3 Mar      Mawson

#15  12 Mar     The home run


The Station webcams, 10 minute updates.

Drawing South  Artist's journey to the Antarctic - 2008 - Nicholas Hutcheson


Return to Melbourne home page

Final count to 25/1/10 - 1061


A brash young, just 22 years old, and very raw Geophysicist, I was appointed to run the Geophysical Observatory at Wilkes for the year 1961.  A lecture from John Bechervaise had fired my passion as a schoolboy, and the Director of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, as it was then, responded to my plea to go to Antarctica and gave me the job when I finished my basic degree at Uni.    I was sent to the Mundaring Geophysical Observatory near Perth WA for most of the year in 1960 to learn how to drive the instruments and interpret the seismic and magnetic traces they produced.


So just over 47 years ago, I was aboard a little Danish Icebreaker, the Magga Dan, heading down the Yarra river from Port Melbourne  for the big southern adventure.  Then, I was a member of the Wilkes 1961 ANAR Expedition, all but one of our number, being first time Antarcticians.   There were 24 of us, from predictably varied backgrounds and life experiences, and with a 16 year span of age range among us.   Even our leader, Neville Smethurst – known as the OIC (Officer in Charge) - was among the younger bracket at 26.  Wilkes had not long been seconded from the US (February 1959), and so we had 5 Americans in our party, 3 as Weather Observers and 2 Marine Biologists.   We began to bond as a team on the trip down, and I recall the general feeling of relief when the little red ship departed, leaving US alone on OUR Station!  Overall we had a very harmonious time, despite the Chief Diesel Engineer being ‘sacked’ in May and spending the rest of the time reading books.   It was a testament to good leadership and the general level of tolerance of someone who had lost the plot in our tight knit community that indeed it did function so well.   Two years previously, an expeditioner at Wilkes had “lost it” and was kept in a purpose-built cell until the Russians sent a rescue flight in to bring him out.

So what do I expect this time?   Firstly, the 3 times larger ship will make the journey so much more comfortable, no matter what the weather throws at us!  I hear the Aurora Australis is equipped with a Gym and sauna.    What a contrast with the Magga Dan.  One particularly bad night, while I was on the bridge doing “Ice Watch”, the Magga was rolling alarmingly from side to side dipping the wings of the bridge in the larger wave crests, and the Captain, Hans Peterson and I had just been served our half mugs of cocoa.  Behind us the helmsman was fighting the wheel and the loading tilt gauge was ominously ticking loudly as the needle alternately slammed into the Port and Starboard stops set at 30Deg of list.    We each had one hand firmly grasping the railing, feet well astride for balance, trying to manage sips of cocoa as we stared forrard into the spray and sleet.  Captain Peterson turned to me with a wicked grin on his face and said matter-of-factly “Ah!  My ship she is very good in zee ice, but not zo good in zee vater”. 

Secondly, there is no doubt that modern communication will have removed the very real sense of isolation, the ‘romantic’ notion of being hardy explorers on an ‘expedition’ relying almost totally on our own resources.   No more will there be any guesswork as to where the leads of open water are in the pack.  You can see them on the satellite images, and plot your path through the ice.   No more the head scratching from the navigator when the radar showed “land” some 50km before we were supposed to be there.   That ‘land’ turned out to be a gigantic ice floe (30km long) calved from one of the shelves and drifting across our planned path.   Technology at a high level of sophistication provides the template in the Antarctic parties of today, although I am sure the enthusiasm of the people, now happily not exclusively male, remains just as vibrant now as then.  Particularly will this be true when we get in among the serious ice and begin to experience the amazing ambience of our surroundings.   I don’t know how anyone can be unmoved by the experience.

So now, as a retired Medical Scientist, who still retains that enduring fascination for this magical part of our planet, I am very privileged to have the opportunity to observe the modern resupply process at our three mainland stations, Casey, Davis and Mawson and absorb every aspect of today’s “explorers” going about their various tasks, hoping I am able to assist in some of them.

As the opportunity arises, I will send back snippets of Antarctic life as I see it, to this web site.