Luke Searle is the Australian hero, and Maddie Wildman, the heroine, of my latest thriller, THIRST. When sailing to Antarctica I met an Australian, also named Luke, whose passion for Antarctica is mirrored in my hero’s passion. To understand enough of station life to write with authenticity, and to get into the mind-set of a female station leader, I interviewed Joan Russell, one of the first female station leaders with the Australian Antarctic Division. If you would like to meet these inspirational people, then join me at Customs House Library, Circular Quay, tonight at 6pm as we debate Antarctica Under Threat.
I would like to share with you Part 1 of an interview I did with Joan, which reveals her love for the great white continent and her role as station leader. Part 2 will be posted next week. Tomorrow I will post Part 1 of an interview with Luke Saffigna.
1. Why do you feel so passionate about preserving Antarctica?
As far as I’m concerned, and I’ll die believing this, Antarctica is the last great wilderness; a treasure, “common wealth”, held in trust today for the future. Whatever is there, must stay there, like a perpetual archive. I believe our geographic, geological, seismological history is locked in the Antarctic ice. Apart from that it is the most beautiful place on earth, in my eyes.
2. What role do you think Australia should play in ensuring Antarctica is not exploited or spoilt?
Australia has already made a mark as a guardian of Antarctica at the ratification of the Madrid Protocol. The sad thing is that the Madrid Protocol is merely a political “holding device” with an end date which is zooming towards us. Australia has the Antarctic presence, history and scientific standing to expect to be heard within the Treaty Organisation. I can only hope we continue to stand firm on our commitment to “Antarctica as a land of peace and science” and continue to hold out against mining, over-fishing, whaling, radio-active waste dumping, military installations and land-based tourism.
3. The Antarctic Treaty is a unique agreement but relies on the signatories’ good will. Do you think the agreement is under threat and from whom?
Yes, I think the Treaty is under threat from nations who need/want to exploit its natural and mineral resources, including high end land-based adventure tourism and the other threats listed above (Question 2).
4. You were station leader at Casey 1990, Macquarie Island 1994 and 2002, and Mawson in 2004. Can you summarise the role of station leader?
In my more trivial moments I have described the Station Leader’s role as a cross between the Quarter Master’s sergeant and The Big Tit in the Sky! In truth, it is a most difficult and complex role. The two main elements are being an appointed (not chosen) leader of a small enclosed community (role model, setter of standards, shaper of group norms, keeper of the peace) and supervisor of a multidisciplinary work force in a remote and isolated location. There is no overarching administrative capacity on station, so the SL is also a glorified clerk who draws up rosters, designs “station duties” and does the annual stocktake of items not covered by the various work groups. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to the requirement to “be all things to all people”. In truth, no-one really knows/understands what the Station Leader does (it’s a highly responsive work-in-progress) and if he/she does it well, no-one even notices!
More of the Q&A will be posted next week.