Lisa Wilkinson was not expecting to meet her future husband when she applied for a job as an electrician in Antarctica in 2005.
She has now been back three times and said it had changed her life.
“They reckon you get ice in your veins. That’s what they call it,” she said.
Ms Wilkinson was one of many non-scientific personnel working at the station, following up her first season there with a second, then third stint.
The latest recruitment drive for people to fill 160 positions is on, with electricians and other trades needed to keep Australia’s four Antarctic stations running.
The experience comes highly recommended.
“It’s like nothing you’ll ever experience, anywhere else,” Ms Wilkinson said.
“I was an infrastructure electrician, looking after all the station’s light and power, generators and wind turbines at Mawson Station.”
Ms Wilkinson said she also got roped into lots of other roles during her stay.
“I was the post-master, which is a proper Australia Post position. I was a librarian, I was a hairdresser, we all take turns being flushie which is basically a kitchen-hand.”
Ms Wilkinson even had a crack at being a garbage sorter: “Obviously we can’t leave anything down there, so it’s a huge job.”
She met her husband Chris there and they now have two children.
“We had a huge amount of Antarctic people at our wedding, really, really strong friends,” she said.
“I sort of make jokes about it being like the Big Brother house. You think you can’t get to know someone that quickly, but yeah, you get to know them like you’re related.”
She urged people to consider applying for the “life-changing experience”.
‘Even if you have just an inkling that you want to go, you should pursue it because I have no regrets and I think the opportunities are amazing – like nothing you’ll ever experience anywhere else.”
Antarctic Division’s human resources manager, Andrew Groom, said people did not have to be a scientist to work in Antarctica.
“I think that’s probably a bit of a misconception that it’s only the scientists that go,” he said.
“Obviously with all the buildings and infrastructure down there we need the people to support it and maintain it and keep it running.”
‘Amazing place to visit’
Mr Groom answered the question – why would a refrigeration mechanic be needed in Antarctica?
“A lot of [scientific] samples and other bits of food need to be kept at a temperature that’s actually above the outside temperature, so they’re pretty important,” he said.
He said there were a number reasons for people to spend up to 15 months at one of the division’s stations.
“How else do you get to live and work in Antarctica? Penguins, seals, icebergs and just the fact that very few people have lived and worked there, it’s an amazing place to visit,” he said.
But unlike fly-in, fly-out positions, there are no weekend breaks and the isolation is not for everyone, Mr Groom admitted.
“There’s lots of stuff to do on-station outside your work role, and the people we select hopefully are the most suited to the isolation and separation.
“The community down there is generally fantastic and supports people through the period of time that they’re there,” he said.
From the Pilbara to Antarctica
Amy Chetcuti is a spending this summer at Mawson Station working as a mechanic.
“This is my first time, hopefully first of many,” she said.
“I am part of a team of three, we maintain all the plants, the diggers, loaders, quad-bikes, the generators that power the station.”
Ms Chetcuti was previously a fly-in, fly-out worker at a mine in the Pilbara in Western Australia.
“I’m always up for an adventure, I love to travel and of course see the penguins. The best way to see a place is work there and get paid to see it.”
She said a trip to an emperor penguin rookery had been a highlight, with her seeing “up to 10,000 breeding pairs with their chicks”.
“It was like being in a National Geographic documentary, it was really something,” she said.
Ms Chetcuti said the isolation was not as bad as she expected.
“It’s a great community — everyone helps everybody,” she said.
“We have little events for birthdays or formal dinners where, instead of just wearing your trackies, everyone dresses up a little bit nice.”
She said everyone at Mawson was busy at the moment creating their own homemade secret Santa presents to be ready in time for Christmas.
The full list of job vacancies is available on the AAD website.