I’ve mentioned the importance placed on Midwinter celebrations by former Antarctic expeditioners. That leads on to reunions and, somehow, 40 years have passed since my year with a bunch of other ragged outcasts at Macquarie Island. It definitely was reunion time.
Our Tasmanian member was the organiser for our 40th Anniversary reunion and thirteen of the surviving members (from an original 20) were able to attend, coming from as far as Canada, the USA and Wales. The wife of one of our group very kindly made a special reunion cake (photo 2), in the shape of the island – complete with ship, miniature penguins and other details.
The reunion was held as part of the ANARE Club’s Hobart Midwinter Dinner (quite a large group) – beware that these events often have guest speakers who sometimes waffle on…. The Hobart Club wanted a talk from an ancient expeditioner and that’s him in the third photo, waffling on with some of the same tales and photos he has in his Macquarie Island page on VT!
Through the kindness of the 2005 Met Office staff, I was able to watch the preparation and launch of the morning balloon. As a comparison with the previous tip, here’s how it’s now done.
The first noticeable change is the added emphasis on safety. The balloons are filled with explosive hydrogen gas and we would always extinguish our cigarettes (but that was about all)! Now there are safety signs everywhere and safety gear must be worn. Where we splashed caustic soda and other chemicals together in steel gas cylinders for a rather hazardous high-pressure brew, the hydrogen now is produced by automatic equipment. Everything in the balloon shed is sprayed with water to avoid the risk of static electricity.
Radiosondes are still slung below the balloons, but they are smaller and contain a GPS receiver, as well as the other equipment. The day I was there the launch was easy with light winds, but Macquarie Island would still produce those days where you wish someone else was on shift!
Once the balloon has gone though, it’s just a matter of watching the data come in, because it’s all done automatically. Have a cuppa and supervise while the temperature, humidity and wind data pops up on the screen – then the computer will take care of the data coding and transmission too. In my time, shifts of radio operators waited to transmit the data: now that also is automatic via a satellite link from this large radome. Amazing stuff to an old fogey!
Main photo: Modern balloon launch in gentle winds
Second photo: Filling the balloon
Third photo: The data pops up on the computer screen
Fourth photo: Satellite communications to the world.
Notice that nice pointed roof on the cream coloured building in the centre of the main photo? That’s “Chippy’s Church”, and the ‘gothic’ roofline may have something to do with the religious overtone. Yes, it’s the nearest thing to a church or chapel at Macquarie Island but, in fact, has always been the brewery! Goodness knows when it gained the name, but obviously the carpenter in some long distant expedition was the head brewer, and that would have been enough. There has been a tradition of home brewing beer since the first Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions in 1948 to supplement the official rations. In general, after the commercial beer has been in storage for most of the year, this is more palatable (and the brewers improve with practice)!
I don’t know why, but in 1996 Chippy’s Church was moved from its position in 1968 to nearer the old accommodation building (the cream building in the background of the second photo. Fortunately, no less a dignitary than the Governor of Tasmania was visiting Macquarie Island at about that time and officially re-opened it for business! It was a rare privilege to be given an inspection on my 2005 return visit (and also to taste the brew).
Main photo: Chippy’s Church in 1968
Second photo: Chippy’s Church (arrowed) now relocated and reclad
Third photo: The commemorative plaque
Fourth photo: Not everyone gets in here!
Fifth photo: The inner sanctum – the brewery
The meteorological office has released the main balloon flight of the day every morning since the station opened in 1948. Of course, during that time the technology has changed considerably.
Back in 1948 the balloons would have been tracked with visual theodolites. In the early 1950s, an old wartime AA3Mk7 antiaircraft radar was brought in, to help get results even in poor weather. In 1968 we were given the job of decommissioning the old radar. In its place, we installed a new WF2 radar, housed in the red radome seen the third photo. It was capable of tracking out to over 200km and, on some very windy days, the balloons (which rose at 300M a minute or better) disappeared out of range without rising higher than ten degrees above the horizon!
To make the balloons visible to the radar, a large triangular radar reflector was slung beneath them. A radiosonde also was slung beneath the balloons, to give data on atmospheric temperature and humidity, often to a height of 45km. So each flight required two people working flat out, one in the radar and the other in the office, to take the readings, turn them to usable data by making various calculations, then code it all up and pass it to the radio office for transmission to Australia and the world.
In strong winds, getting the balloons away with all the equipment was difficult and involved some unusual techniques. I still smile at the expression on the face of a visiting Weather Bureau engineer in 1968, as he watched one of the crew throw a radiosonde as hard as possible into the air, before the wind swung it down toward what seemed its doom, through the spray of a wave, before it went upward: finally he gasped I thought they were supposed to be delicate scientific instruments!”.
Main photo: Balloon launch, windy day
Second photo: Dismantling the building around the old radar
Third photo: The Met Office area 1968, with the new radar in the red dome.
Somewhere in the mid-1960s, a tradition of performing a pantomime version of ‘Cinderella’ at Midwinter commenced in Australia’s Antarctic stations. We didn’t have it at Mawson in 1966, but I gather it was performed at Wilkes. Either way, we had it at Macquarie Island in 1968 and that is the origin of these photos.
It must be said that this isn’t quite the kiddies’ bedtime story version, though the general plot remains the same. This version is entirely in verse and, for want of a better term, is somewhat bawdy – with copious side comments on local or topical issues, audience interjections, frequent prompting, stuffups, laughter and general hilarity.
Main photo: Cinderella meets Prince Charming, to the disgust of the ugly sisters (left and background) and the Villain: you have to love that sword!
Second photo: Classic line from Ugly Sister (left) “Strike me pink, the slipper fits! Now, wouldn’t that give you the s**s!”
Third photo: The cast as Cinders gets the ring – from left Fairy Godmother; Ugly Sister, Prince Charming, Cinderella, Villain, Ugly Sister