Stuart has asked me to be a guest writer for his blog just to give another perspective from the Shaw family during his stint in Antarctica. I had thought about writing a regular blog about my time left behind however quickly discounted this as being far too boring, so condensing this into one post is probably the best option!
We were at Sea World on the Gold Coast about 18 months ago in the penguin exhibit when we read the blurb about life in Antarctica, on the very last slide was an offer Stu could not refuse, Australian Antarctic Division were always looking for staff & why not take a look at their website?
A little bit of explanation here as to how Barking boy Stu & myself ended up in Sea World in the first place…….after our first born Stanley was born on 11/9/2001 pretty much as the towers collapsed, we reassessed our lives in more ways than one. We decided that London might not be the place for us to raise our family & as we couldn’t afford to move to Devon – Decided to try New Zealand. After Stu completely gutted our house & redecorated every room, we sold (thankfully) at the top of the boom & Stu went ahead to NZ to find work & a new home for us – Visas could be sorted when we got there (haha this was a wing it & see adventure) Within a month of landing, Stu had a job, a house & a 3 year work visa so Stanley & I followed……..We arrived in Wellington early February & by April had our permanent residency status. We stayed for 8 years, during which Stu slaved at various IT contract jobs & I had George (AKA ‘The Bog’) & was lucky enough to be a stay at home Mum.
We were happy in NZ& explored its beauty, we were lucky enough to spend our summers sailing around the Marlborough Sounds, winters in the mountains & our Easters canoeing down the Wanganui River. It did feel literally like a million miles from London.
After 3 years we could apply for our NZ citizenship which we did eventually after living in NZ for about 7 years…….George having been born there had his kiwi passport already!
Over Christmas of 2011 Stu’s contract finished unexpectedly & a new opportunity presented itself in Queensland – thankfully as we were now Kiwi citizens’ entry to live & work in Aussie is a breeze. He left within 2 weeks & started work in Ipswich QLD by mid Jan 2013…….I stayed behind to firstly see how Aussie worked out for him & then to pack up our kiwi lives, rent out our home!After 3 months, with our home rented out & 99% of our possessions sold on trademe the boys & I joined Stu – which in a full circle kind of way brings us back to Sea World & the Antarctica application.
When Stu applied we knew that the interview process would take months & that he would be in with little chance of being offered a role – AAD only take the best of the best & although Stu presented an amazing CV naturally feeling of doubt crept in. Unperturbed the application was submitted around November 2012 & we waited……& waited……….then he got an invite to a 2 day / overnight interview. Off he went, was put in groups with all sorts of scenarios & did all manner of those horrendous team building type things…..Stu is OK at these, I detest them!
I can’t remember the exact sequence, but a few weeks later he got a call back & then was told to wait …if he got a call for a medical that would be good news as only strong candidates are put through the medical process. Sure enough the medical request call came through……Stu was subjected to so many tests, it was kind of comforting in the end that if he didn’t get the job I knew my husband would have a clean bill of health. Poor Stu with his fear of needles found the blood tests particularly challenging, especially as they lost his first samples & then had to take more! During the skin check (mole map) some abnormal cells were found which resulted in the remodelling of his earlobe & he was also told her was very deaf. Despite all this it was around June 2013 that he got the call to offer him the job. The whole interview / selection process had taken about 6 months & had been pretty stressful for all of us as Stu wanted the job so much, but it was all worth it in the end. We then had to begin to prepare for him being away for 18 months!
By this time I was back in full time work after my 8 years ‘off’ – this was challenging for me to start with – especially as I was working in IT (hahahahaha!), but I felt that my job would give me focus while Stu was away. It was Stu who managed to wangle me my job persuading our boss I could co-ordinate a service desk – despite me not being able to tell the boss at my interview which version of excel we use at home!! My personality & all my other excellent skills must have shone through & I was hired. Stu & I worked for the same client, in the same office on the same floor, it has been comforting that all our colleagues knew us & of Stu’s adventure – I have to say they have all been so supportive to me, asking questions, seeing if I am OK; it makes a huge difference – thank you FITB team!!!
Stu was due to leave for Hobart for training mid July 2013 with deployment to Antarctica in October. So we were ‘eased’ gently into him being away. He took the boys on a mammoth adventure driving in the Landover across the Simpson Desert about 3000km, an amazing father / son experience which the boys continue to reminisce & laugh about what they shared & the crazy things they saw & did.
The biggest decision we made before he went was to change the boy’s school. Stan wasn’t happy in his current school, he was half way through Year 7 & with him due to start high school in 6 months’ time we decided to move him early. After looking around the options locally we found the best school for him – which was Prep to Year 12 co-ed school. It had a fantastic feel to it, offered extra care to children with absent Dads & was also a rugby union school – Stan was sold! The jammy Bog was enrolled too, as we thought it would be easier for them to be at the same school. Our decision has paid off, Stan is so happy & the transition to High School was merely the matter of putting on a different uniform. Both boys are flying high at the new school, inspired, happy & settled. Stanley is pulling in A & A+ grades regularly & messages his Dad as soon as he gets home to celebrate each new achievement. He has also started training for the High School rugby team & will play U15’s next semester, he can’t wait.
Having happy boys has helped enormously with this whole experience. They help me around the house, putting rubbish out, whipper snipping the garden, vacuuming & even cooking dinners! They are in touch with their Dad almost on a daily basis – or when the Bog remembers to check its emails! It was a big surprise to both of us that Stanley (the older of the two) confessed tearily to missing his Dad much more often than the Bog (George – the younger one) did. Since the summer teams have left Stuart has had more time to email the boys & speak to the boys which makes a huge difference. I know they will say their highlight was post from Antarctica from Dad with $50.00 each enclosed, a small fortune for them, so straight to the toy shop the following weekend. A DVD posted to me (no cash enclosed, humph!) was also replayed again & again, a commentary of Stu’s life on base. The seals section had them both laughing so much they could barely breathe!! Fabulous!
I have made a real effort to get out & ‘have fun’ during the weekends. We are so lucky to be ‘left behind’ in sunny tropical Queensland that it almost feels like a constant holiday. We have yearly passes to 3 theme parks on the Gold Coast & also to a local koala sanctuary / zoo. How lucky are my boys??!!!! We can go to the Sunshine Coast beaches or explore the rainforest in Moult Tambourine. Plenty to do!!!!
As we still have our home in NZ rented out – never say never about going back!!!! – We are renting a lovely place here. It made sense to stay here as we have a great relationship with the agents & if anything breaks, they can arrange for it to be fixed. Typically as soon as Stuart got on the boat things started breaking about the house which when I don’t have a handy husband on hand to fix causes more stress and angst than normal! I am thankful for amazing neighbours with toolsets who have fixed my lawn mower more than once & even finished mowing the lawn for me when I couldn’t. Its little things that mean SO MUCH!!! I have built a great support network here & made deep friendships based on weekend wines & cheese platters.
So at this halfway point of Stu’s trip it is fair to say we are doing OK! This experience has made me a stronger person I have had to step up & learn how to make up a fuel mix, the difference between a Presta & a Schrader valve & do tyre pressures on the car for the first time in years!!! (I can see Stuart rolling his eyes at these comments!!!) ((Ed. Correct…)) Stu has missed our birthdays & one Christmas, with Easter soon & another round of birthdays – at this stage we don’t even know when he is due back! I have down days, we have been struck down with bugs recently & being ill & looking after the boys is hard, sometimes working full time & being a single parent is exhausting, I am usually asleep by 8:30pm!!! But we keep positive – that is what wine& chocolate is for right?!!
Clearly we can’t wait for Stu to come home & be a ‘proper family’ again as the Bog says regularly, but until then we will soldier on in the sunshine, work hard, have fun & make the best of the adventure.