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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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