ANARE news: Bill Burch to Antarctica


Plan #23 Keep the fuel well off the rocks.

This cartoon by Nick Cartwright, which will be the rear panel of the voyage T-shirt, aptly captures the ‘A’ factor – resolving by practical unwritten solutions based on experience – the unexpected, unscheduled issue like an iceberg blocking Horseshoe Harbour thereby forcing the need to hold the ship close to the rocky edge in Kista Strait for a day while pumping oil to Mawson.

From Bill’s last message from Antarctica, 13 March 2008



Bill Burch at Wilkes 2008
Photo: Tod Iolovski

Here you can read, and Leave a Reply to, the journal of Bill Burch, ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions) Club representative traveling in Antarctica.

Messages sent from the Australian icebreaker, Aurora Australis and Antarctic bases, are being relayed to this page by fellow ANARE member and Radio Operator Colin Christiansen.

You can see a more extensive version of this journal, with more photos, at the NSW ANARE Club website.


For those of you awake early enough on Sunday morning, I will be talking again to “Macca” on his program “Australia all over” after 07h00 AEDT on Sunday. I leave for Hobart on Wednesday am and sail on Thursday. We visit Casey, Davis and Mawson over a 7 week voyage. What a privilege!


31 Replies to “ANARE news: Bill Burch to Antarctica”

  1. burch-wilkes1961s.jpg


    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 Antarcticans. 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.

    Bill Burch

  2. #1 February 4 2008 52.33′ S; 132.09′ E

    Just when I think its calm enough to get this blog off we start to go
    into a roll! Anyway, here it is……

    We’re almost halfway now on the first stage of our journey to Casey.
    apart from a fairly rough couple of days to start with out of Hobart
    to sort us all out – your correspondent was an early casualty of the
    ‘mal de mer’ – we’ve really had a dream run to Casey thus far.
    Betting sheets for the first iceberg are now up and the modal time
    seems to be mid Wednesday next.

    >From initial observations it seems very clear to me that the ANARE
    spirit of old is well permeated through this latest generation of
    “explorers”. Sure the technology is different and the science more
    technologically sophisticated than it was in the past; and there is
    no question that the levels of comfort available are much higher, but
    the motivation,drive and camararderie of the present expeditioners
    are indistinguishable to that which prevailed among our own crews.
    Indeed the very fact they are still called ‘expeditioners’ remains a
    strong bond with the original ANARE. Perhaps it is not beyond the
    pail that the Club could diplomatically work on the senior
    politicians of the new government to reinstate ANARE as the official
    name behind each of the station and marine programs. Thus even
    though some might only stay a few months, each segment of the program
    could be an ANARE “summer at Casey” or whatever is its function. It
    is significant that there is a strong urge among the newer explorers
    to link with the old and some have even had shirts embroided with
    “60th ANARE at Casey” to make the point.

    Bill Burch

  3. #2 February 5
    As we pass through the middle of the ‘furious 50’s’ the Southern
    Ocean has turned from a relatively benign organism into a ferocious,
    wild spray-filled tormentor of ships daring to traverse her randomly
    heaving surface. The barometric pressure has taken one of those
    sudden drops to near the bottom of the scale, ever the harbinger of
    bad weather. As I finish this off next morning, we are a haggard
    bunch of intrepids who had little sleep alternately being thumped on
    the head and feet – human shuttlecocks in our bunks, being played
    with by the wild waves.
    On the brighter side, yesterday two whales were sighted off the port
    bow – always a smile-inducing event.
    This morning I learned about the 500 Club. This is a select body of
    ‘explorers’ who have spent 500 days or more on the Antarctic
    continent. So it does not include travel to or from, but it can be
    accumulated over multiple short stays as well as long ones. One
    fellow I’ll meet at Casey has qualified 3 times over, and by the
    anecdotes I’ve had should be the subject of a great yarn in Aurora.
    The ANARE Club should liaise with these folks to see about some kind
    of recognition which of course will also apply to many of our old
    Another story told me this morning was about the last of the VW
    buggies at Mawson. Apparently the AAD had been trying to get it
    RTA’d for years, but when the ship was due in it would have
    mysteriously vanished in a blizzard, only to be ‘rediscovered’ some
    time after it sailed. It would seem some of the folks would dig a
    deep hole and bury it in the snow out on the hill away from the
    station, but have a GPS marker of the spot. Then they’d go and
    recover it when the coast was clear! I understand the ‘system’
    finally won out a year or so later. I hope to find out the ultimate
    fate of the BSA 125cc motorbike I had at Wilkes in 1961, while I am
    there. I handed it on to Pancho Evans when I left I think, but have
    heard no more.

    Bill Burch

  4. Funny you should mention the water over
    the porthole! We did a small course correction after tracking into
    the swell to allow checking of the container fastenings – we had a
    rough night last night – and I was having a cuppa in the library when
    we did a massive roll! I reckon the porthole was a couple of metres
    underwater!!! I am working on blog #2. There’s a wealth of good
    yarns down here isn’t there? I reckon we could fill Aurora’s for
    years with interesting stories.

    Bill Burch

  5. #3 February 6-7
    Late this afternoon our first iceberg emerged out of a grey mist off
    the starboard beam about 3km away. Your correspondent narrowly
    missed the sweepstake prize, being pipped by his cabin mate Peter
    Corcoran, ex Davis 1997 and now travelling as the Voyage Management
    Trainee, cheerfully known by the acronym of ‘vomit’. seeing it sent
    a thrill even through the many hardened polar travellers on board,
    and this well-sculptured specimen, holding a seemingly disdainful
    calm in the stormy sea breaking against its blue/white cliffs, was an
    entirely appropriate subject for the many pixels of data consumed to
    record her passing – like ships, I am sure they are best addressed in
    the feminine gender! Another event for the day was the “crossing
    the line” visit from King Neptune and his helpers. Your
    correspondent thought he was immune from their attentions, smiling
    smugly as these youngsters were put through his team’s rituals. But
    such is his dictatorial nature, King Neptune decreed that all those
    who had not passed through 60degS in this ship were required to be
    re-initiated! We had to make much supplication to the King, then
    taste some foul liquid, be smeared with some very fishy pottage, kiss
    a large gutted fish, and eat a royal haemharroid. Fortunately this
    last item was in fact a red wine grape! The crew went to a lot of
    trouble to conduct the ceremony, which was appreciated by all the
    onlookers at least. The newly inducted subjects retired quickly for
    a shower!
    The weather has been overall moderate these last two days making
    progess fairly rapid, and sleeping not the shuttlecock experience it
    had been! We’ve just passed through 61.45S and 116.44E with some
    predicting we could be at Casey as early as tomorrow (Friday)

    Bill Burch

  6. On 2 February 2002, at 56s 112e, I saw my first berg.

    Identified as casselated (in a book I later found at Davis Base), it’s profile was jagged, like a crumbling medieval castle.

    I made a drawing of it from life, and later wrote:

    Nothing could have prepared me
    for the strangeness of it –
    the first iceberg
    only just visible through night and mist.

    I will never forget its form.

    It seems that first iceberg etches itself permanently in one’s mind.

  7. #4, February 8 65.32S; 109.09E in the pack at last!
    Two days ago, some wag was spreading a rumour that we were actually
    somewhere off the NSW coast because we had not seen any ice, then the
    first iceberg, then nothing else for a day. But today its all
    happened in a big way. First a scattering of very reasonable
    tabular icebergs, with their individual trails of scattered bergy
    bits, then small outcrops of old pack, then finally some floes and a
    little clutch of Adelies to welcome us. They were new guys
    themselves as there were lingering brown moulting feathers on their
    backs and they did not quite know how to handle the red monster
    nudging their platform out of its way. So the solution was a
    spontaneous group dive into the sea. Shortly after came our first
    seal, a Crab Eater, who was equally nervous deciding not to wait for
    his floe to be nudged. He slithered to the edge and gracefully slid
    into the deep blue water. All the while small flocks of Antarctic
    Petrels and the odd sooty Albatross are surveying our giant grumbling
    floating red steel capsule. Now we are pushing through fairly heavy
    broken pack at about 4 kts, just 5 nautical miles away from Casey.
    This alone has revived everyone’s spirits, folks pass each other with
    a big smile in the gangways, silently sharing a wonderful uplifting
    experience. Even among the multi-trippers, there is an added
    sparkle in the eye and a lightness of foot. We are undoubtably in
    Antarctica at last.
    Today also marked the time for us to perform a thorough vaccuum clean
    of the clothing that we are taking ashore. Some of us volunteered
    to do the “IPY clean”, part of an international survey of “Alien life
    forms in Antarctica”. Special filters in the vaccuum cleaners
    captured what was found in our pockets and velcro straps and camera
    bags and day packs, and these were all combined with a questionnaire
    so that individual samples could be traced back to geographical
    locations elsewhere in the world in the recent past. Australia is
    playing a leading role in working to keep Antarctica free of
    introduced organisms. It might seem like an overkill to some, but
    its a small price to pay if it stops any spread of foreign living

  8. #5, February 10 at Casey and Wilkes


    What an amazing site, sliding gently into anchor off Casey station at 07h00 February 9 in a dead calm sea, mainly an overcast sky, with the
    meteorological Radar dome at Wilkes and some of the old radio antennae clearly visible across the other bay, off the stern of the ship.

    From the bow, Casey looked like a huge mining camp complex scattered around the hill at the head of the bay.

    The current Station Leader, Jeremy Smith, came out to the ship and gave us a detailed briefing of things happening at Casey, especially the do’s and dont’s moving about with all the heavy machinery trundling around during the resupply. Later in the morning most of us going ashore were ferried across in the barge to our allocated accommodation in the big red shed.

    The first impression of what I imagine an arctic mining camp might look like was reinforced once we got into the base proper. What a massive high tech operation the station is! And what luxury is the Red Shed – like a 4* hotel! For all that, it was very pleasing to see the ANARE lettering on almost all the machinery, usually as part of the roundel logo we old timers were used to – keeping the link through our long history well and truly alive. Even in the 2007-08 Casey Handbook prepared by Jeremy Smith for the proposed visit of the G-G, he refers to the current operations as the “61st ANARE”.



    Wilkes 2008
    Photo: Tod Iolovski

    Former Wilkesians will be delighted to know the red shed – the main accommodation module and heart of the station – is well percolated with photographs and even a
    special exhibition of artefacts, from those good old days in the “banana belt” of Antarctica! It was a thrill to your correspondent to see so many of the 1961 photos hanging in pride of place there.

    To cap the Wilkes experience, I was included in a party of 6 yesterday afternoon to go to the ‘Wilkes Hilton’ for an overnight field trip “jolly”. The Wilkes Hilton, complete with sets of slippers supplied by the hotel chain, is in fact the new transmitter hut our 1961 party assembled that first summer we arrived. It took us about 45 minutes to travel the 7km by a tandem Haaglunds vehicle, and on arrival we did an extensive walking tour of the old station.


    It was an extraordinary experience that will remain an abiding memory, revisiting a place that effectively transformed my life, but was now a derelict abandoned ruin!

    Without exception all the buildings were filled with ice and snow, completely inaccessible, but the aura of its previous vibrancy was still almost palpable for me as I walked around on the roofs pointing things out to the others.

    One of the urban myths doing the rounds is that there is a piano still buried in the ice of the recreation hut. Unless a piano was brought in after our time and somehow left behind, I assured folks there was no piano in 1961.

    Perhaps a reader might care to comment and either validate or refute the myth.

    After a simple but nourishing meal heated on the gas stove by our very enthusiastic, wonderful guide, Vonn Keller, a very comfortable night in the Hilton followed, for three of us, as three others decided to try the bivouac experience outside. One, Craig Cormick, claimed he was attacked by a penguin during the night, but the absence of tracks tended to dispute this, and it was generally agreed he had been dreaming! As he is a journalist, we felt he was building up a story for the tabloid press.

    Next morning we skiied over to the graves of Robinson and Sullivan to pay our respects, then did an extensive ski tour around the greater Wilkes area, noting the large number of empty fuel drums blown by blizzards into all sorts of nooks and crannies over the years.


    Photo: Craig Cormick

    Wilkes from the Robinson and Sullivan grave site. The red Hut on the right is the remains of the magnetic hut. The broken edge of the snow cliff just to the right of centre is where the access ramp was cleared for DUKW access each summer.

    Finally after lunch we did another extended walk through Wilkes station soaking up more of its ambiance, then headed back to Casey in the Haaglunds.

    The weather throughout remained calm but overcast with a ribbon of clear sky out over the sea generating first a spectacular sunset, then next morning some brilliantly illuminated large icebergs parading in a line from Cape Folger in the North.

    There seemed to be a vastly greater number of bergs in that line than we had 47 years ago.
    Another sign of global warming?

  9. It’s interesting that you can remember seeing less icebergs calving from the continent 47 years ago.

    I wonder what other changes in the landscape you will spot?

    And I’d love to hear more on how your first voyage transformed your life.

  10. Bill,
    Re the piano at Wilkes, YES there was one there in the sixtys, in the rec. room/cinema, because I have played it on a stop-over during REPSTAT building days. It was not moved to Casey 1, but maybe RTA’d, I can’t recall.
    Enjoying your Blogs

  11. My supervisor, Simon Pockley, wrote to me about changes in the ice noted by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in 1911.

    We thought this relevant to your observation that there are more bergs calving at Casey now than 47 years ago.

    Simon wrote, “I thought this little excerpt (from Cherry Apsley-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World – Antarctic 1910-1913, 1922) might be of interest from March 1911:

    …Meanwhile Captain Scott walked over the shoulder under Castle Rock to see down the strait and came back with the intelligence that he could hardly believe his eyes, but half the Glacier Tongue had broken off and disappeared. This great Tongue of ice had stood there on arrival of the Discovery, ten years before, and had remained ever since; it had a depot of Shackleton’s on it, and Campbell had depoted his fodder on it for us. On the eventful night of the break-up of the ice at least three miles of the Tongue which had been considered practically terra firma had gone, after having been there probably for centuries.

    (My reference: The Worst Journey in the World, Cherry-Garrard, Penguin Pub. 1970, p. 195)

    I replied to Simon that “Since the Industrial Revolution in Europe, Global Warming had begun. Scott’s party could well have been seeing the first Antarctic changes in response to that.”


    What do our correspondent and his readers think?

  12. This message from Bill arrives via my Email:

    #6 February 11 at Casey Just a quick update before a small party of us heads out to “Robbos”, a field station at Robinson’s Ridge, some 15 km South of Casey. It was named in honour of Hartley Robinson who was killed in a tractor accident at Wilkes in July 1959.

    Our journey will be another overnight stop, mainly for moss sample collection by our experts. For me, it will be just a very pleasant “jolly”.

    My comment about the mythical piano at Wilkes has already been
    refuted by our Doctor, Lloyd Fletcher who crawled into a tight space
    through an opening in the roof of the old recreation building back in
    1986, when you still could, and saw a piano and movie projector
    through the clear ice within!

    Today, I had volunteered for “slushy” duty along with Andi Smithies,
    Head Librarian with the AAD. We were kept pretty busy most of the
    day with the usual kitchen hand chores of washing up all the pots and
    pans generated by our Chef, cleaning tables and mopping out the
    dining area after lunch, refilling various containers of cereal and
    biscuits, and so on. But with 2 hours off during the afternoon we
    had the opportunity to walk around this extensive station complex and
    get some good photos in what was a perfectly clear sunny day.

    Bill Burch

  13. Bill,
    When you visited the Red Shed at Casey, you might just have spent a few minutes in the bar. If so, did you see a pair of wooden cross-country skiis attached to the wall? When I was there in ’89, my Norwegian wooden XC skiis, with lignite edges, proved useless in the icy conditions around Casey. We mounted them decoratively in the bar, hoping that they would contribute to the “atmosphere”.
    Thanks for the regular reports.
    Owen Holmwood

  14. Bill writes:

    G’day Folks,

    Bit of a rambly one here…

    #7 February 14, passing through “iceberg alley” en route to Davis.

    If ever we needed reminding of the state of modern communications, two elements were highlighted yesterday.

    Firstly, an e-mail was >circulated reminding expeditioners that orders for flowers through >Interflora for those who had not prepared their Valentine’s token in advance, would close at midday.

    Secondly, there was some debate about the significance of the iceberg at the entrance to Mawson’s horsehoe harbour for our resupply of the station when we arrive there in a week or so’s time, as we watched it ‘live’ on the webcam from the comfort of the Casey library.

    These past two days I have had the privilege of being on a ‘jolly’ over to Robbo’s Hut some 15 km south of Casey.

    It is a little red field hut out on a ridge named after Hartley Robinson who tragically died in a tractor accident at Wilkes in 1959.

    Four of us journeyed out in a Hagglunds vehicle going via morraine lines so that moss samples could be collected by Anja Steinwender and Antek Skotnicki.

    Our expert guide was Nick Cartwright, a very competent and experienced fellow from Casey and a delightful traveling companion, whose day job was as a Carpenter/Builder.

    The weather was mainly overcast but calm, with an estimated temperature of -12C overnight.

    When we arrived, the sea below the Hut had that greasy pre-freezing appearance, and by morning this had thickened into sizeable pancakes several cm thick.

    While the moss gatherers rolled their stones, Nick and I had the unmitigated joy of just sitting on a rock a few metres above a clutch of adelie penguins who were in that restless niggly stage of final moulting.

    The newly formed sea ice was gently surging to and fro on the coastal rock shelf below setting of a light crackling sound in the otherwise infinite silence that so characterises Antarctica. Occasionally, we heard a louder distant gun-shot of an iceberg calving from the Vanderford Glacier a few km away.

    Last night there was a special handover party at Casey, where the ceremonial keys to the station were passed from the Summer outgoing station Leader, Jeremy Smith to the incoming wintering Station Leader, Bob Jones.

    Former Wilkes explorers will be delighted to know they still call the secure grog store “Fort Knox”, complete with a real key, included in the handover.

    Also I learned that the local radio station known as Radio KOLD, is perpetuating the name coined by Steve Grimsley for his station at Wilkes in 1961.

    These minor examples illustrate what is a real hunger for history among today’s expeditioners.

    On numerous occasions in the past few days at Casey, expeditioners have come up to query me on many different aspects of life at Wilkes.

    There was a poignant moment too, when on responding to a question about my feelings on revisiting Wilkes, one listener commented that at least there was a relic to visit! He was at Casey 1 in 1987, and it was completely dismantled and returned to Australia when the new station opened. One building at the top of the old station, the workshop, still stands on the eastern perimeter of the new Casey station. But that complex of tunnel linked buildings, so charactersitic of old Casey is not there to trigger memories.

  15. On Sun, 17 Feb 2008 17:51:58 +1100


    G’day Col/Lisa,

    Herewith today’s blog offering.

    I understand from Sally Chambers, Head of Multi-media, AAD want to use my Casey blog in their newsletter with the odd photo – any photo of me is odd! Its probably being sent to Kingston in the next day or so, with a link to your website, so don’t know when it will actually be printed.



    #8. February 17. At sea on the way to Davis.

    Soon after leaving Casey we entered broken pack ice, then out into clear water with occasional icebergs, then back into such heavy pack, sticky with new falling snow, we had to do a bit of a turn back north to get clear of it.

    Night-time in heavy pack and drifting snow with the ship’s searchlights scanning out front, seeking out a likely lighter patch or watery lead, and all the time 10 million watts of diesel power is throbbing through our red floating steel capsule churning ice floes into mush off the stern as in a giant blender.

    What an awe-inspiring demonstration of technology fighting nature, and only just winning!

    Now we’re out in benign open water cruising along at 13 knots, with several pods of humpback whales sighted, some breaching within a few tens of metres of the ship.

    Just this last few days in addition to the whales, we have seen Weddel seals, a Ross Seal, penguins – both Adelies and Emperors, and one particularly aggressive leopard seal, who, as we scraped by his floe, became very agitated, barking at us like a guard dog, while standing his ground.

    Is it any wonder so many of us get hooked on Antarctica once we have experienced it?

  16. I am hooked on a leopard seal.

    A week ago I went to Tooronga Park Zoo, specifically to revisit him. A zookeeper I got talking to said he was his favourite animal there.

    What is it about him that we are attracted to?

    Do we find some pleasure in fearing him?

    I love his sleek motion, his power and independence. Like the Antarctic landscape from which he comes, he is indifferent to humans. He makes me re-think myself and my purpose, and the idea of life without us.


    G’day Lisa,

    Thanks for forwarding on the responses.
    Herewith my comments back.

    For Lisa:

    I cant say I noticed any other changes in the environment other than the particular concern about meltwater pooling under low parts of the various trails we have been on. Around Wilkes in our year, I don’t recall it ever being an issue. But again, the experience of a single season cannot really be extrapolated to a trend.

    I think I can sum up the life transforming bit as accelerated maturity! I went down as a boy, just out of University, so effectively I had been in institutionalised learning factories all my life thus far, not really having to do much more than follow the well-worn tracks laid down on life’s landscape. Suddenly, I was thrust into a grown man’s world – literally – sharing a mutually dependent existence with fellows who had lived lives across a wide spectrum, ranging from Korean war veteran, sailor, SAS Army Captain, experienced tradespeople, amateur adventurers and the like. I know that when I returned home, I had great difficulty resuming friendships with old University colleagues as they seemed so immature!


    For Doug:

    Thanks for that info Doug, it closed the loop and helped validate the story from Lloyd Fletcher who had crawled down inside the rec room and seen it through the solid ice. He described it as as spooky sort of feeling, seeing a piano completely encased in ice.


    For Owen:

    Yes, I was admiring those skis in the “Splinters Bar” Owen. They complemented the decor very well, adding to the atmosphere. Mind you the very high quality home brew helped a ‘good deal more than somewhat’ as Bertie Wooster might say!




    G’day Folks,

    Just a short one as we approach Davis.



    #9 A fishy story

    One of our barge skippers, Les Sims, a professional mariner, wooden boat builder and fishing tour operator from Hobart, obtained an official permit, and could not wait to indulge his passion when we anchored at Casey.

    Here he is fishing from his cabin porthole, and proof of his skill!

    My cabin mate Peter Corcoran, captured the evidence.

    Bill Burch

  19. Colin Christiansen writes:

    Just checked the webcam, you’ve drifted out of the picture. TRM, yesterdays
    timelapse picture shows your arrival very nicely, a couple of views of you
    further out before anchoring.


    #10. Davis, Feb 23.

    Well I have planted it at Platcha – insider’s joke!

    Its been a fairly ‘different’ few days compared with the original plan outlined by our ever-cheerful Voyage Leader, Nicki Chilcott.

    We arrived at Davis to a beautifully calm morning, with little clutches of penguins on ice floes playing chicken with our slowing but inevitably overpowering orange steel juggernaut, Aurora Australis.

    And as soon as we were ‘barged’ ashore, three of us, Ross Harwood (AAD Logistics Officer), Andi Smithies (AAD Chief Librarian) and myself were taken by Station Leader, Peter Petersen up to the helipad and flown out to Platcha Hut in the care of Glen Hoger from Davis who is an Air Operations Ground Support specialist and a very experienced field guy. He has been at Davis since October 2006.

    By the time we reached Platcha, a most picturesquely sited little Hut – well two Huts actually, the original one now almost entirely given over to house the toilet and two emergency beds, and a few metres away, the later one built in September 1982 – the wind had risen considerably.

    We only had time for an hour or so wandering around the area, admiring the kaleidoscope of different boulders and stones in the rocky landscape scoured out by past eons of ice abrasion, the plateau ice cliffs a mere 50m from the Hut, and the head of the fjord, now ice free, just about 20m in the other direction.

    Come lunch time we were tucked up safely inside our reverse freezer box coccoon, from where we were effectively confined by the ever stronger gusting wind for the next two days!

    Glen estimated some of the gusts were reaching 50 kts, and they certainly gave the Hut a good shaking on its steel guy tie downs from time to time.

    During two of the comparative lulls, I enjoyed being just a little intrepid by going out and collecting buckets of ice for water-making from a nearby drift bank. It was important to scrape away and discard the surface layer first to eliminate collecting the frozen salt spray flung up from the waves crashing against the ice edge below the hut.

    The four of us, above average sized males, quickly became adept at moving around the confined space, a very necessary skill, as our boundaries were an overall 3.3m square already partly filled with two substantial double bunks, food shelf, stove, sink and a table and bench! Needless to say, the bulk of our time was spent lying on our beds.

    The winds moderated enough by lunchtime on the third day for the expert helicopter pilots to negotiate the still pulsing winds and land cleanly on the little helipad nearby to take us back to Davis.

    Once ‘home’ we learned about the other dramas affecting both another field party and the ship in the adverse wind conditions.

    One woman on another field trip broke her arm and had to be airlifted back to Davis, the ship dragged on her anchor and had to go back to sea to do ‘laps’ up and down the coast for the time, only arriving back at Davis this morning to get us all back on board ready for the last port of call, Mawson.

    As you might imagine, the resupply was significantly delayed, so the teams are working flat out now to make up as much time as possible.

    So in the few hours spent at the station at Davis, I have enjoyed the very welcoming hospitality of the team there who, just like those at Casey, are fully imbued with the ANARE Spirit and its history, an unbroken continuum dating from Heard and MacQuarie Islands in 1947.

    It was especially pleasing to be taken on a guided tour by Ray Morris of the latest Physics experiments involving both basic geosciences, like magnetic field variations, through interferometry, all the way to the spectacular LIDAR pulsed laser work unlocking more evidence of probable climate changes in the very outer reaches of our atmosphere.

    The sophistication of the technology, and the enormous download of data these computer-controlled instruments generate, completely dwarf the fully manual, basic instruments of our time.

    Our Antarctic science is world class, being performed at stations of world class in the harshest climate our planet can generate.

  21. G’day folks,
    Here’s #11.


    #11 en route to Mawson February 24-26

    This leg of the voyage has been a mixed bag from pushing through
    thick pack, cruising North up close alongside the big berg from the
    Ross ice shelf for many km – someone had estimated it held enough
    water to keep Sydney going for 400 years, the only problem would be
    getting it there! – some open water then as we headed mainly West,
    and now back into pack as we head due South into Mawson.
    Most of us have been reading, watching the odd movie, but importantly
    there have been some afternoon lectures of considerable interest.
    Dave McCormack has been making a detailed history of the “Weasel”
    over its life in the service of ANARE, and gave us a most interesting
    illustrated talk he called “Weasels I have known”. His passion for
    preserving what is left of the weasel fleet radiated from his
    discourse, and he focussed strongly on the so far fruitless search
    for Bob Dover’s weasel #3 that was abandoned by John Bechervaise’s
    team xkm from Mawson when it broke down in 1955. Only the engine was
    removed, the men being towed home on sleds by the remaining weasel,
    camping in tents and lugging the engine along with all their other
    goods. Major hi-tech surveys have been undertaken over the years to
    find this weasel without success, despite its position being known to
    within a square km or so. But it is buried sufficiently to defeat
    discovery thus far. Dave certainly had his large audience enthused
    with the heritage value of finding this machine for ultimate
    conservation in a future museum of Australian Antarctica.
    By way of complete contrast Gary Miller gave us a very erudite
    presentation on the project he and his partner Robyn Mundy will be
    conducting with the Emperor penguins at the Auster Rookery out of
    Mawson this Winter and Spring. They are seeking to piece together
    evidence for why the penguins seem to carry anti-bodies for a
    specialised virus common to domestic poultry in temperate latitudes.
    There is no obvious mechanism by which the birds could become
    infected by this virus, and unravelling this could also help to
    understand other viral transfer mechanisms in isolated colonies like
    these. Its going to be a very technically challenging task for
    them taking blood and faecal samples, especially during the coldest
    time of the year. But they have had some years of practice, from
    King Penguins at Macquarie Island to Skuas at Casey. The extra size
    of adult emperors will no doubt make it more daunting.
    Well we have just come up against some fast ice a few km from Mawson,
    there’s a fierce wind blowing and the dark streak on this shot shows
    a cluster of penguins sitting on the side of an iceberg just off the
    port side of the ship.

    Sorry Folks,

    One of the problems with writing this stuff in bits, and trying to
    send it off in a hurry once I had the piccie, was that I did not
    proof read it! In the text about Dave McCormack’s search for the
    Dover’s weasel, the distance was about 200km from Mawson, and the
    search area as recommended by Syd Kirkby was 1km by 2km.

  22. Colin Christainsen writes:

    Morning Bill

    #11 received, and amended ok, tks. Received both by wix and suburbia, seems
    all is working properly now.

    A great picture at the ice edge, I’m surprised you found fast ice, guess
    its caught up in iceberg alley, from the Mawson webcam its blue water to
    the horizon. I note the water sky in the picture.

    I also note its very windy at Mawson, 81 km/h on the latest picture. Good luck.


    See Photos photos, at the NSW ANARE Club website:

  23. Colin writes:

    Gidday Bill

    Its 0930 Sydney time and we can see you on the Mawson webcam. Clearly
    you’ve found a way around that fast ice and rapidly approaching Mawson with lights blazing. A great sight!



  24. Colin writes:

    Morning again Bill

    Just downloaded yesterdays Mawson’s timelapse picture from yesterday and I see your lights have been visible since the 10:12pm (Mawson time) last night, picture. Also while I’ve been watching you clearly have not moved. So the conclusion is that we are watching you way out, 20km, at your fast ice edge position. Given the visibility now you must be enjoying the sight of plateau, mountains and perhaps Mawson itself? The greatest view on earth!



  25. HAPPY Feet was screened at last week’s t ANARE Slide Night in Sydney.

    One expeditioner there described it a ‘synthetic’, and that it did not relate to his experience of the landscape.

    What do other people think?

    I asked Bill for his thoughts, and he wrote:

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the note.

    I am glad that I saw Happy Feet, simply because there was so much hype around it and I wanted to make my own mind up.

    I enjoyed it at a fairly superficial level and more for the background scenery, as it used shots from around Dumont d’Urville I believe.

    So certainly it resonated in terms of the scenery – well most of it –

    …but the penguin behaviour was at complete odds with reality; and I don’t mean just the dancing.

    Although Adelie penguins are often seen in groups, the suggestion that they might look out for each other is anathema to reality. Its every bird for him/herself living, the ultimate in survival of the fittest.

    But the show was harmless good fun, and if you sit and observe them in reality for a while, at a superficial level you get the feeling they are acting as a community, when in
    fact they join up for no apparent reason into random ‘clutches’on a temporary basis.

    I am no expert on behaviour – a world authority is Richard Penny from the USA who in fact spent two years at Wilkes studying behaviour in one big rookery, 1959-60. I bought his BSA bantam motorbike from him for 25 quid, but that’s another story! I believe he is still around, although I have not had any contact with him since Wilkes in
    January 1961. There must be papers he has published on the subject.

    Does that help?




    Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 22:31:49 +1100

    G’day Lisa,

    Some corrections on my notes on Happy Feet.

    As luck would have it, the topic of the film came up over lunch today, and Gary Miller, who gave the talk I mentioned in an earlier blog, said he was involved as a consultant in the early phase of the film’s production! So, he corrected my comment about the scenery.

    It was ALL animated, but probably based on some photos from around the Ross Sea area.

    The other point I lost track of was that there were both Adelies and Emperors represented in the film.

    As a little side point, Gary said that in a former life he had done some dancing, and he demonstrated the ‘penguin waddle’ for the production team based
    on his long experience of working with them! He had met Richard Penny some years ago.

  26. Hi Bill,

    Thanks for this insight into Happy Feet, and

    These kinds of kind of chance happenings are always a delight.

    It seems everywhere I go, there are connections to Happy Feet!

    A cousin of a dancer friend of mine in Melbourne, was one of the animators. And at the ANARE slide night someone there knew someone who worked on the film too.

    Garry Miller came back with me on the Aurora on my return from Mawson
    (v7 2002), and showed me some of his wonderful photos.

    I am really starting to see what an interconnected, community,the
    Antarctic community is.

    It is also very creative.

    For example, at last week’s ANARE meeting I heard about the skiddoo hovercraft contraption some people apparently made in Antarctica the 1980s. And it flew!

    Hilton described a kite he make on Maquarie Island, with my partner Ken’s help. made it out of a sleeping bag liner, and MET string – both very strong materials. The fierce winds carried the kite off shore a little way, and Hilton swap out to rescue it, and succeeded! So inventive, intrepid and creative.

    I’d like to see more of the arts of Antarctica!

  27. Colin writes

    Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 22:48:40 +1100

    Fan-bloody-tastic Bill

    [See photo on the ANARE website]:

    A great blog, and picture of the greatest view on earth! The adventure just
    keeps getting better!

    Counter = 129 at 2315 Sinny time.

    On the Mawson webcam I see your choppers and note the wind is down to 11
    km/h. Clearly it’s going to be a busy night!


    Date: Fri, 29 Feb 2008 09:22:31 +1100

    The berg is moving.


    Morning Bill

    I, and no doubt many others, am currently totally glued to the Mawson
    webcam! Such a display of the ANARE Spirit! The ships lights are really a
    focus of interest, you have moved right across the horizon and clearly
    closer and brighter. The picture of course is not exactly hi-res but the in
    last couple, I think, we are seeing other ship lights, presumably in
    addition to the main searchlight. With increasing daylight I’m sure we’ll
    be able to see the orange roughy properly, A fantastic sight!

    And, I take it that you will be aware of the movent of “the” iceberg, since
    just before midnight, your time, it has drifted away from the entrance,
    well over towards East Arm, and back to the entrance, not quite in the same
    position, a bit further South, a little blow now and I reckon it’ll be
    gone! Fingers crossed.

    Bill, by my Mawson watching over the years I don’t recall any other time
    that any ship has tackled fast ice to this extent, are we watching the AA’s
    finest moment?

    Bill, we really need another blog here, and closer in picture. If I was in
    the media I’d have you blokes front page news!




    Date: Thu, 28 Feb 2008 20:32:18 +1100

    G’dayy Folks,




    #12 Tantalisingly close to Mawson February 28
    What a beautiful sight this morning! A sunny perfect windless Mawson
    day. One can well understand why ex Mawson ‘explorers’ drool over
    the awesome scale and natural beauty of the station setting,
    especially with this big patch of fast ice out front, the various
    discreet mountain ranges starkly piercing the snowy plateau backdrop,
    and a line of icebergs guarding the coast. The only problem for us is
    that we have been bashing our way through a barrier of thick fast ice
    since yesterday am, so not much sleep last night. Aurora Australis
    is really guzzling her fuel from the effort of it all – about 40
    tonne per day – double the usual cruising rate. Each 100m charge
    into the ice has only gained us about 50m. At last count we had
    made about 4km with another 20 to go! But helicopter operations
    have now started with the first run being to deliver mail and fresh
    food, returning with the Station Leader, Narelle Chapman, for a
    briefing for all those going ashore. If all goes well with the
    weather and operations, three of us will be taken out to a field hut
    at “Fang” Peak in the David Range, some 30km SW of Mawson for a night
    followed by a further night on station. Yet another wonderful mini
    adventure in this ever shifting kaleidoscope of Antarctic experiences.

  29. Hi Bill! Just caught up with your reports after a few days’ absence and oh boy, that shot of approaching Mawson really got me! Amazing, really, because I “only” spent a summer there, and most of that time was spent in the PCMs, but my return trip in 2001/02 and your shot and writings of Mawson pulled at my heartstrings – there is just something about that place. What a shame if Australia will no longer be responsible for that station… Am enjoying reading of your exploits – not as much, I am sure, as you are enjoying having them!

  30. #13 Mawson -Rumdoodle – Fang – Mawson Sun March 3.

    The dream “Jolly” continues while the “A” factor bedevils the resupply
    operation! Three of us, Peter Corcoran (remember VoMiT!), Andi
    Smithies and myself, shoehorned ourselves into the immersion flying
    suits with some necessary help and were helicoptered into Mawson
    around 10h00 local time Friday. There we had time to help our
    guide Rob Brittle (Field Training Officer) with some preparations for
    our field trip to Fang Hut via Rumdoodle. We had a little time to
    explore the station first while he delivered another group to “Hendo”
    (Mt Henderson) in the one Haaglunds unit available, returning to
    collect us. Then it was off over the endless expanse of blue ice
    streaked with long broad splashes of white, up the edge of the
    plateau and over to Rumdoodle to deliver a primus stove and share a
    brew with another party doing a field training course. What a sight
    those dessicated rock pinnacles are, piercing the plateau’s ice
    fields like jagged offset serrated teeth in a giant shark’s mouth!
    And it just kept getting better. We buzzed across from the Rumdoodle
    serrations to the David Range serrations and one sharp edge in
    particular, the appropriately named “Fang” peak. Through a gap
    between the teeth, we turned right up a long snow bank complete
    with an intricately sculptured wind scour that must have followed the
    vortices of wind around the curved rock face which dropped into a
    large frozen meltwater lake about the size of a big ice skating rink.

    Where the snow bank ran up into the rock scree is Fang Hut tucked in
    the lee of the Fang itself. Fang Hut is a very cosy litle structure,
    smaller than Platcha, so 4 large males had to sashay around each
    other, taking it turn about even to change clothes. But we settled
    in quickly, and Rob soon had a fine meal of a tomato-based ‘soup’and
    cuscous, preceded by biscuits and cheese, set in front of us. It
    was gusting and overcast when we arrived, and overnight the INSIDE of
    the hut went to -9deg, as the gas heater is turned off for safety.
    But next day dawned without a cloud in the sky, although the wind
    remained around 50kph, and before being collectd by the helicopters
    we had two magical walks, one to the ridge line leading up to Fang
    peak from where we could look back to
    Rumdoodle, and the other across the snow bank to the ridge
    overlooking an expansive valley of blue ice and many crevasses across
    to the Casey Range. No words I can find are adequate to describe
    the awesome spectacle of Nature at her most majestic, yet seemingly
    serene icy best. We all just sat there entranced and humbled by the
    timeless infinity of it all, noting how our presence in place and
    time was unregisterable on the scale of this landscape. I am sure
    even our best photos will not do justice to the whole aura we
    imprinted in our memories on that ridge line. But I include 3 as a
    sample of what we saw. One, from the window of our hut after the
    -9Deg overnight ice crystals had cleared, the second looking back
    down the long snow bank to the South Masson range, and the third from
    the Fang ridge into the sun across the plateau towards Rumdoodle in
    the North Masson range.
    Even the helicopter ride back to Mawson was special as we were taken
    over the wreck of the Russian plane, equivalent to our wartime DC-3,
    that blew away from Rumdoodle many years ago, presumably while the
    Russians were bivouacing there with one of our parties. It became
    lodged in one of the many crevasses in the area, a total wreck, and
    there it lies still. I heard part of a story about one of our teams
    trying to recover an engine, but lost one of their vehicles in
    another ‘slot’ on the way out. There’s an intrepid yarn in there I
    am sure!

    Bill Burch

    G’day Folks,

    #14. Mawson March 3.
    Ex Mawson ‘explorers’ are renowned for their bias, referring to
    Mawson as “The Premier Station”, and now I would have to say that in
    terms of its overall setting and strong links to its history, this is
    not unreasonable bias at all. Having now visited all 3 mainland
    stations in short order, there is a stronger visceral feel about
    Mawson as a polar outpost with a long tradition than was evoked by
    Davis and Casey. Informal chat with other unbiassed travellers on
    this voyage indicate similar feelings. Its a coalescence of factors:
    the compactness of the buildings around Horseshoe Harbour with the
    immediacy of the plateau and those wondrous mountain ranges behind;
    the way the new buildings wrap themselves around the original
    structures of Biscoe and Weddel Huts as though cherishing and
    protecting that history; the creation of the “dog room” on the scenic
    end of the Red Shed upper floor looking out over the harbour with its
    guard dog at the entrance, dog photos on the walls and a fully laden
    sled inside, all dedicated to the memory of the Mawson dogs; and even
    the pseudo heritage wooden box filled with -dare I say lovingly
    -restored “Playboy” centrefolds rescued from the ceiling of one of
    the old huts and now placed at the head of the stairs leading to the
    bar and rec. room.
    There’s a very real sense of living history here, from the wharf and
    the walk past the bronze bust of Mawson by the flag poles, to the
    various mooring bollards where ships have tied up here over the
    years, even to the scatter of seal bones along what had clearly been
    the dog lines of old. Back to the East, there is the old aircraft
    hanger still in good shape, and seemingly being well maintained.
    I had the privilege of a personal guided tour around the old
    buildings by the Heritage Carpenter Mike Staples, who is doing a
    superb job restoring Biscoe Hut after a near disastrous fire some
    years back. Mike is funded from the insurance payout after the
    fire, but is really concerned that even this wont fully cover the
    outlays needed to complete the job. Biscoe Hut is a Swedish
    structure prefabricated in 1948 originally for Kergulen Island I
    think, and modelled on one of Mawson’s original Huts for the AAE in
    1911. Mike has successfully restored the structural members, but he
    would like to have any photos of how the inside was laid out in terms
    of the partitions and other fittings. If anyone knows of photos of
    the inside of the Hut which could be made available for the
    restoration project, Mike would love to hear about it. Biscoe is
    linked via a sealed 2m long section to “Weddel” Hut, which was one of
    the original Australian made modular wooden huts shipped to Heard
    Island in 1948 and relocated to Mawson in 1954. The unique feature
    of Weddel is that every panel is identical so it could be placed in
    the roof or wall. However, time and weather have played havoc with
    the structural integrity along with some modifications made to the
    hut, with the result that Mike is concerned about it collapsing in a
    big blow. There is no plan to restore this hut, and perhaps this is
    where old Mawson explorers could offer some financial aid through
    bequests or up front donations to ensure the Weddel-Biscoe complex is
    retained as a heritage site. Mike said the linking section housed
    the early Met Observers equipment, another element of history to be
    I have chosen this non-traditional Mawson photo to exemplify the link
    from the old to the very new in the 54 year story of Mawson. The
    other shot is taken of the inside of Biscoe Hut.

    Bill Burch

  31. Hi Bill,
    It’s Ivan Greguric’s wife here. We were making arrangements to have a dinner party/ANSTO reunion at our new place when I found out via Nabil and Andrew that you could not join us because you were in Antarctica. I couldn’t believe my ears and although you were greatly missed that night, I was very excited because I’m currently teaching my 5/6 class a unit of work on Antarctica. I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m in awe of your adventure which must be such a rewarding and personally satisfying experience. Your writing is highly descriptive, providing excellent imagery, yet the amazing photos speak for themselves. So far, my students have researched Antarctic survival and transportation. They are currently inventing a new piece of survival equipment which needs to replace at least three other pieces of equipment in their survival kit, in order to save space. Once they have completed this task they will be required to choose a Station in Antarctica and play the role of a scientist whilst rearching living conditions, the natural envirionment and physical features. Then they will have to choose a topic to research and present their findings. Ultimately, a trip to Antarctica would be the ideal culminating activity. You are as close as we can get to Antarctica! I was wondering if you would be able to come to our school as guest speaker and talk about your adventure. If this is not possible, would it be o.k if the students emailed you from time to time? They are extremely keen and have lots of questions for you. We would be very grateful and appreciative of your time.

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Posted on Sunday, February 3rd, 2008