NUTTY ENOUGH FOR THE ANTARCTIC .

It takes a particular  personality  to thrive in the Antarctic. It is harsh,  yet breathtakingly beautiful. It is isolated, yet lacking in privacy for those who live and work there. David Barringhaus fits the bill; a tough, knock about Aussie who is also reflective and  creative. It’s a privilege to have him share something of his life and his wonderful photography in this guest post.

Icebreaker Aurora Australia

A PRETTY COOL LIFE

My  name is David Barringhaus,  which is why my nickname name is Horse. I live and work in Antarctica, and on the sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island, for the Australian Antarctic Division. I’m employed in  the trade fields of boilermaker and fitter/Machinist.

Bar-b-que fashioned from a grader bucket on remote Macquarie Island

Of course my wife  (and especially my mum) would never call me Horse .   And Dad calls me something else! I’ve been married  for 34 years to the same lady I fell in love with at the age of eighteen. We married three years later. We have two dogs,  but no children. Kids and a life of travel do not go together.  Besides, my wife may say, ‘Why have a kid when you’re married to a big one?’

I’m not in the science field, though I do support  my scientist colleagues  by manufacturing gadgets for them from to time to time.

How did I get the Antarctic gig?  I saw an advert in a paper and applied.  Went to an interview, passed both physical and psych medicals.  and was judged  ‘just  nutty enough’.  I also had some skills they were looking for.  Pretty simple really. I still have to re-apply every year and jump through the same  medical ‘hoops’.

I’m with the infrastructure group in Antarctica who construct and maintain buildings and site services on all four Antarctic and sub-Antarctic stations. I’m a jack of all trades sort of fella. I fix things with barbed wire and a roll of duct tape; ‘silk purses from sow’s ears’, so to speak. I fabricate new items or modify engineering ‘stuff ups’. I help build scientific gadgets, repair welds on excavator buckets and dozer blades, build wharves, boat sheds and waste water treatment plants.  I remove asbestos from decommissioned sites and  lay fuel and water lines.

Refuelling

I have pumped high saline water from a near frozen lake in winter, and pumped sea water from under the sea ice back into same lake to be converted into potable water. They tell me it’s called being  multi-skilled nowadays; I call it ‘having lived’.  In Antarctica I also  clean toilets, wash dishes, vacuum hallways, tend hydroponic gardens and drink home brewed beer.

AN ARTISTIC SIDE

My real passion is photography. It came first as a means of keeping me sane whilst working away from home in mines and on heavy construction sites around Australia.

 

Elephant seals

 

I make both static and interactive copper/brass sculptures when the weather is being too  unkind for  photography to maintain my  ‘just nuts enough‘ status.

Emperor Penguin

Not  having a science doctorate meant that to work in these spectacular, out of the  way places I had to have a trade. Working in Antarctica, for me at least, is a great privilege and borders on being spiritual. Not in a religious sense as I’m agnostic, but  rather a place where you know that no matter what image or video footage you capture, few will ever know, the majesty of the icebergs and their colours, the beauty of the wildlife, the atmospheric spectacle of an Aurora Australis. Very few people on the planet will ever get to Antarctica let alone live and work there. Looking out at the icebergs has a distinct eeriness about it. No sound, just the odd “creaking”, punctuated by the thunder of a berg calving and loud classical music booming out of ‘Horse’s’ workshop.

 

The Beauty of Icebergs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even when you are surrounded by talented individuals, you can be overwhelmed by a sense of isolation. Being away from home from 5 to 18 months straight has consequences on your social skills. It can  put you in the ‘too nutty’ category,  which is monitored by the  Antarctic Division and NASA.  NASA has an interest in Antarctic wintering expeditioners for reasons of their own. They  need people with the right  qualities  to go to Mars and other space missions.

There is no privacy in Antarctica, no ‘my space.’  We share the toilets, showers, work space, breakfast table, laundry, drying room… even our  Twisties (an Australian snack food) . I hate sharing my Twisties! The drying room is interesting when retrieving your gear, because most of the tradies wear the same coloured clothes, with sizes being the only difference. Underwear can cause grief as well, because us fellas wear pretty much the same there as well. No mistaking the ladies underwear though. You get your own bar of soap and  a bedroom complete with air ducts that transmits neighbouring phone conversations and a whole lot more.  You can hear everything your neighbour two doors down is doing sometimes – everything.

Returning home after long stints away is difficult for me. I find it especially hard having to pay for all your food and beer. No really, it’s getting back into a routine with your wife and discovering that she now keeps the peanut paste on a different shelf or she goes to a social function with her cancer group on a different day. She goes about her daily routine without the need for me to be there. But as she reminds me, “There is a difference between needing someone and wanting that someone to be home.”  Thanks Yvonne.

Gentoo penguin and chicks.

THANKS TO YOU TOO, DAVID. I THINK YOU SHOULD HAVE ADDED THAT A SENSE OF HUMOUR IS A BIT OF A NECESSITY IN THE ANTARCTIC, AND YOU CERTAINLY HAVE ONE.

HERE IS A LINK TO DAVID’S OWN BLOG.  IT HAS MORE GREAT PHOTOGRAPHY AND MORE  INSIGHTS INTO LIFE IN THE FROZEN ZONES

AND YOU CAN SEE MORE HERE

AS ALWAYS, FEEL FREE TO LEAVE A COMMENT OR A QUESTION IN THE BOX BELOW.  JUST MAKE SURE YOU COMPLETE THE ANTI-SPAM SUM BEFORE PRESSING ‘SUBMIT’.

10 Comments
  1. What a fascinating place to live and work, and love the photos shown here.
    Coincidentally, I have been working today on the archives with a fellow volunteer at a museum in the Yorkshire Dales. Her name is Janet, a former scientist. Janet worked on BASS – British Antarctic Scientific Surveys, the first British women ever to have done so. Apparently she fought long and hard to get on the team as they didn’t take women! Her husband Mike also worked for BASS. She’s a modest, rather reserved lady who has turned out to be a delightful colleague, but it has taken me a long time of working with her to even scratch the surface of knowing her. And even more of a coincidence, I have a cousin Tony who lives in the same market town as myself, and he also went out several times with the ships bringing supplies.

    • Pauline

      I love seeing and hearing about it all, but I don’t think I’ll be visiting. My cousin Rodney the chef does amazing things down there for parties etc.

      • I’d forgotten about your chef cousin Rodney down there. However good his kitchen skills are though, I don’t think I’ll be visiting either. Love hearing about all the goings on in such communities.

  2. Another great story in reading about David’s life in a very different world than ours. The scenery and the icebergs must contain exquisite shapes and sculptures. I note his sense of humor, which surely has to be part of a prerequisite for anyone working in mostly isolated, and yet at the same time, in close contact with non-family members. It can be a necessity to be kept busy and with David’s skills he would never be caught without something different to do than reading or watching videos in the leisure hours. I’ve never visited Antarctica and I don’t think I’ll put it on my bucket list. I’m not too comfortable in a very cold environment. Good luck for many more years in doing what you enjoy, David.

    • Pauline

      I thoroughly enjoyed this too, Heather. My cousin Rodney is a chef down there and he is also very artistic.

  3. Great post. I am not sure I could hack the lack of privacy, or the extreme cold, but to work in such an amazing landscape is obviously highly inspiring judging by David’s creativity. Thanks for the insight.

    • Pauline

      Thanks for leaving a comment Christine. Yes, and people certainly form special friendships working down there.

  4. Great post – I loved David’s photos and descriptions of life there, and can imagine how it draws out the creativeness in people. In some respects, it reminded me of life at sea, trips of many months in (for me) a largely male community. You do bond with people, they become like family – and it’s hard for those who have been away to just slip back into life ashore. I can empathise with David’s wife!

    • Pauline

      Thanks Ann. Yes, many parallels with shipboard life. Did you do a lot of writing when you were sailing the high seas? I think a combination of creative skills and practical ability must be just perfect for a job like David’s.

  5. Neat! I’m a former Alaskan myself, and there is something about the wide open wild spaces, especially the cold ones. Thanks for the chance to see it through your eyes.

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