In late October Dubbo’s Jamie McGaw learned how to survive falling through ice, built shelters to combat blizzards and slept comfortably in a “coffin-shaped” hole in the snow.
His introduction to work and life at the Australian Antarctic Division’s Davis research station reflects a unique and potentially deadly environment.
“It’s very easy to forget where you are,” he told the Daily Liberal in a telephone call from Antarctica on Friday. “But there are so many precautions and procedures to actually keep you safe because the weather can turn in a 15-minute to half-hour block and go from shining sun and stillness to howling wind, ice and snow. It’s dangerous and people have died here. It really is one of the most beautiful and treacherous deserts on the planet.”
The Antarctic reality check followed Mr McGaw’s admission he wants to stay beyond his summer contract that expires soon.
The former IT expert at Dubbo Police Station is loving the challenges and opportunities at Davis where 80-odd people live and work in multiple buildings on a site “probably the size of the TAFE campus at Dubbo”. “Everyone gets on,” he said. “It’s something I have never seen in a workplace.”
It really is one of the most beautiful and treacherous deserts on the planet.Jamie McGaw, Davis research station
He puts that down to a rigorous but “fun” selection process where an applicant’s skill set is just “part of the puzzle”. At Davis Mr McGaw is a “one-stop IT guy” who is “never really off duty”. He works on everything from IT systems through to personal devices. But like his colleagues, Mr McGaw is also stepping out of his comfort zone. He’s being trained to drive and operate a Hagglunds vehicle used to control fire at the station and has joined a hydroponics team helping to supplement “our fresh vegetable supply”. He welcomes the chance to help out on scientific excursions to the likes of penguin colonies.
On his four-week journey to Antarctica on the icebreaker Aurora Australia he saw icebergs, frozen oceans, 18-metre-high seas and snowstorms. He has enjoyed watching summer change a frozen landscape into the “surface of the moon”. “It’s a gorgeous five or six degrees today,” he said on Friday.