I’m in classic Antarctica, where the phrase to live by is ‘Hurry up and wait’ and controlled chaos reigns.
Station work programs theoretically wrapped up on the Australia Day weekend, with celebrations including the summer dip (in sub-freezing sea water), and the world’s greatest drive-in cinema, seated on armchairs and/or heavy machinery in the mechanical workshop.
Now it’s station resupply – the transition between outgoing and incoming teams, stocking the station with the next year’s supplies, and taking away our rubbish and return cargo.
The good ship Aurora Australis arrived early in the week and then spent several days clearing ice from the harbour and straits in front of the station, making accessways for the barge and small watercraft. All cargo has to be shifted onto the barge with a crane, shuttled a few hundred metres across the water, and lifted onto the ship by crane. And the reverse for anything coming off the ship. It’s not just small cargo and containers – massive machines are also being swapped in and out.
People are swapping too – the new winter team has been squeezed into spare beds on station so they can help with resupply and have handovers from the outgoing team. One or two at a time, the outgoing expeditioners are shuttled over to the ship to take up residence as their presence is no longer needed.
Arts fellows are considered non-essential (who knew?), so Jane and I were the first to be sent packing to the Aurora Australis, to free up our rooms for the new team. It all happened in true hurry up and wait fashion – after three days on standby, we had an hour’s notice to finish up at slushy (kitchen) duties and then a mad rush to stuff our last things in our bags, get into our regulation hundred layers of survival gear and head to the wharf for our transfer. There to wait in a tiny container for two hours until the barge could take us.
It felt very strange to go – quickly, early and unceremoniously – but as it turned out, boarding the Aurora Australis was like coming back to an old friend – she’s a familiar beast, whose corridors and routines I know – and she signals the last phase of this adventure – the month-long journey home. Plus the views back to the station and the ice plateau – while being surrounded by icebergs – are pretty glorious.
There’s a sign bolted to the rocks at the entrance to Horseshoe Harbour that says ‘It’s Home, It’s Mawson’. This place has been home for the past three months and it’s hard to say goodbye. Being sent to the ship was a practice run, but when the time comes, we’ll all gather up on deck and watch the new inhabitants let off flares, sending us on our way with well wishes. Mawson will be their home, and we’ll travel back to our homes and loved ones.
I want to say a word about loved ones. They’re sometimes forgotten or overlooked, but for many expeditioners, the loved ones at home are what makes it all possible and that’s certainly true for me. My darling Andi freely encouraged me to go away for five months, and generously took over managing our home and unruly garden by herself. She’s been the loving voice on the end of the phone, the sweet texts to wake up to on station, the photos of everyday life, the sounding board for problems, and the absolute rock in hard times. She’s not the only one – family and friends have sent love, stayed in touch, spoken on the phone, texted, emailed, commented on facebook or here, and let me know I’m in their thoughts. At lonely and homesick times that has been a lifeline – and even in the midst of great adventures I’ve loved the messages from home, no matter how small. Thank you everyone – I hope you realise how much it’s meant to me (even if I haven’t always answered promptly).
From my social media posts you could conclude that I’ve spent this time out on one adventure after another – however I can report that actual and substantial work has been done. Plus, photos of writers at work are terribly boring. Jane and I are finishing a second draft of our kids adventure novel, and finalising work on the TV series so we’ll have a ‘bible’ (a blueprint document) done within a week or two of getting home. Other ideas have bubbled up during my time here, and some of them are now works in progress. I’m looking forward to a month on the ship without internet or mobile, to relax, rejuvenate, and focus on writing.
The time here on the continent is nearly done, but there’s still a month to go before reaching Australia – who knows what this time will bring?
It will be quieter though! With less social media, less time outdoors, and more sleep. A chance to reflect, decompress, rest and recharge before entering normal life again. I’m hoping for a very creative period.
Thanks for sharing the journey so far and I look forward to seeing you back in the real world.
Love Jesse xxx