So, how do I start this – Well, a long time ago, on a planet far, far away…I was visiting SeaWorld for the umpteenth time with the family to bother the rays and noticed a small sign in the ‘penguin encounter’ section about employment opportunities in Antarctica. I went home, had a look online, found the role that suited me most and spent the next couple of nights filling out the online application and trying to sound as dynamic and interesting as possible.
A few months later I was contacted by AAD (The Australian Antarctic Division) and asked to attend a two day assessment in January 2013 just North of Brisbane.
The assessment was different to your normal aptitude test, we sat and openly discussed pressured scenarios as a group to gauge how we would deal with them and how our opinions sat within our peer group – To give an example of the sort of situations that were being thrown at us:
“You’ve just had a call from home, one of your close family members has died, it’s April, the last ship has left and you’re unable to make it home until November…..What coping mechanisms do you employ to get yourself through an Antarctic Winter?”
Whilst this might sound extreme, it has happened down there, and likely more than once, during Winter it is nigh on impossible to get ships or aircraft in or out of the continent due to the weather extremes, once you’re down there, that’s it…You’re not getting out until summer returns…the questions were good, and you could see that some of the scenarios hadn’t been considered by some of the guys applying, it was as much of a realisation for the applicants as it was an observation by the assessors.
I left the two days feeling unsure of where I stood, whether I’d projected myself well enough to be selected and trying to guage what my weak points were – Likewise, whether I came across as positively as I could have I found myself constantly replaying moments where I thought I’d said the wrong thing and screwed up. Given the odds of a position (something like 2500 applicants) I really didn’t hold out much hope of being one of the 8 people for the comms roles on station but the two days was enjoyable so I didn’t leave thinking I’d wasted my time..
After a long wait (which is actually a good thing because you haven’t received the “thanks but no thanks” letter) I got a call about April time asking me to go for a medical – This was the first time I started to realise that things were getting serious, the medicals are extensive and costly and they won’t put you through these unless you’re in with a chance…That said though, you still have to pass the medical so it’s not plain sailing yet.
The medicals revealed a great deal, I’ve always thought I was fairly fit, healthy and, touch wood, trouble free….Then I find out I’m partially deaf 35% hearing loss across the board (which I put down to being married and being nagged), I am also particularly mole ridden to the state where melanoma tests needed to be carried out and that I needed a bit of my ear slicing off (see below) – Oh and I also realised that I really cannot stand needles in the arm for blood tests…
So, blood tests, I friggin hate blood tests, I black out, I’m violently sick, I get anxious for 2 – 3 days in advance of an upcoming test, I know it’s dumb, I have tried everything I can to control the fear but there’s nothing I can do about it – I also hate spiders with a passion but if I had to choose I would happily be thrown into a box with 300 Hunstman than face a blood test.
I think I had 5 or 6 separate tests during the assessment period……The levels of self control I had to maintain for me were astonishing…I am a complete coward when it comes to a needle in the brachial artery…..I think it stems back to when I did a first aid course with some military types about ten years ago, we all had to sit in a circle and insert a cannula into the right arm of the person to our left….Which of course means that we’re all doing it one handed, trying to concentrate on the guy to your left whilst a blood bath is occurring on your right arm is not relaxing…the course was designed to provide real world emergency care training and induce stress, lets just say it worked and I am still suffering post traumatic stress disorder!
Anyway, the day came when I finally got the call and the job offer, the role I’m doing is that of “Supervising Communications Technical Officer” which in laymans terms means that I’m responsible for any of the IT and comms systems on base for the duration of the expedition, Servers, PC’s, Laptops, a variety of satelite, HF, VHF and other methods of communications are all available to me for breaking at any time I see fit. The ‘Supervising’ part of the title means that I’m responsible for the scheduling and leadership of a small team of other technicans on site along with some comms officers who’s function it is to ‘man’ the radios and maintain a ‘watch’ of what is happening on the airwaves relevant to our base. This can mean aircraft, shipping, remote science sites etc…It also will likely mean we are the first to know of any incidents on or offsite that will require the appropriate assistance.
What followed ‘that phone call’ was a quick resignation, two weeks of ‘handing over’, ten days of driving my kids across the Simpson Desert during their school holidays and a bit of intense packing and paper work completion….That month was a blur…
I’m allowed to take one cubic metre of personal effects down south with me weighing no more than 250kgs, as much as I tried even I could not meet this requirement but I did try my best 🙂