Kim has a new blog at betruegreen.blogspot.com
Sunday, May 23, 2010
are days when I feel proud to be Australian and then others when I
cringe at the culture of the tall poppy syndrome in full flight. Whether
it’s due to our convict roots (and I have them too), or just part of
our sceptical Anglo heritage, the TPS has been on full display in recent
Jessica Watson’s triumphant return last Saturday brought the tall poppy
naysayers out of the hidden success closet. A young male I know in his
mid-twenties proclaimed “I hate Jessica Watson”. I asked if he knew her
(he does not) and for a list of his recent achievements as I was looking
forward to reading the book of his inspiring life. Another much older
man, an experienced weekend sailor, told me “she must have been very
of course, is always a contributing factor in any endeavour, but maybe
it was also good planning, skill and experience, good equipment, shore
side professional support, calmness under pressure, tenacity and a love
for what she was doing. But she is only a girl, and it’s so easy to make
judgements from the cheap seats, isn’t it?
here is Australia’s latest hero (although she had the gumption to tell
the Prime Minister that she’s no hero, just a girl with a dream) and
many in the media and the public were ready to cut her down to size.
They might as well have said: “don’t get too big for your boots young
lady,” as I remember being told.
next to me on the steps of the Opera House last Saturday patiently
awaiting Jessica’s arrival was an Aboriginal woman from Mount Druitt.
She had travelled to the city by bus with her five grandchildren, all
dressed in pink, to welcome Jessica home. The woman, whose eyes revealed
her life stories, was one of the stolen generation. Taken from her
mother at age two, she was not possessed by bitterness but by hope for
the future – for her grandchildren’s future. The kids, all lively and
excited young teenagers said they thought what Jessica had done was
incredible and they wanted to be part of her welcome. She told me all
this from those free, cheap seats.
behind me were three Muslim women along with their children celebrating
Jessica’s triumph as were thousands of others inspired by her
achievement. The new face of Australia was all around me and there was
not a knocker in sight.
the late 1960s as a child living in London, I was inspired by Sir
Francis Chichester’s solo circumnavigation. I kept a scrap book of
newspaper cuttings of his voyage and made my father take me to see him
knighted and then to Greenwich when Gypsy Moth IV was put into dry dock .
remarkable voyage and courage have stayed with me and inspired me as
have many solo sailors and adventurers since – and I’ve been fortunate
to know and work with many of them.
I was a simply a spectator last
weekend at the climax of a real ‘reality’ show which celebrated pure
human endeavour and where a young woman received accolades for having
achieved something – as opposed to looking good in a short skirt (move
on you Jessica. You are an inspiration and you’ve reminded this
mid-life woman to continue to strive for my goals and stand tall. We
should all celebrate success and achievement and encourage greatness –
Australia will be a better country for it.
Kim’s Antarctic Blog –
Kim McKay was a member of the Expedition Team on board the cruise ship
Orion for an 18 day voyage in January 2008. This is her log/blog of the
Mawson’s Antarctica – Aboard the M/V Orion
30 December, 2007 – 17 January, 2008
Me at Cape Denison
Have you ever been somewhere that is so spectacular you think it can’t be real?
somewhere so unworldly that you think you could be visiting another
planet? I had that almost ‘out of body’ experience in January when I was
lucky enough to visit Antarctica for the first time and be exposed to
one of the world’s last untouched places – where Adelie and Emporer
penguins, weddell seals, leopard seals, albatross and countless other
seabirds thrive…..but all the time I kept thinking that this incredible
place was being impacted by the effects of global warming.
Adelie Penguins at Commonwealth Bay
One penguin scientist recently called the Adelies (those fun little
dancing penguins featured in the movie Happy Feet) the ‘canaries in the
coal mine’ of a warming planet. Their colonies are diminishing as the
krill they feed on becomes scarcer…because the algae the krill eat is
much scarcer….there are less ice floes (where the algae grows) as the
Antarctic pack ice diminishes each year. Nowhere else I’ve seen, is the
food chain so evident and the biodiversity of a continent so visibly
BOUND FOR ANTARCTICA ON BOARD THE ORION
Some of the expedition team on the dock at Hobart
L-R Guillaume, Kim, Di, Rex, Margie & Don
My friends, Antarctic adventurers, Don and Margie
McIntyre invited me to join the Expedition Team on board the ruise ship
M/V ORION for an 18 day voyage across the Great Southern Ocean visiting
Australian Antarctic Territory – specifically Commonwealth Bay, Cape
Denison – known as the windiest place on earth and the location of the
Huts built by the early Australian Antarctic Explorer Mawson and his
My role on the Expedition Team was a simple one – to give lectures to
the 97 passengers about the environment, our True Green books and my
past adventures with National Geographic. Don and Margie also had me
double check and count the passengers as they disembarked the ship for
landings or zodiac cruising around the sub-Antarctic islands. I had to
check they were dressed correctly for the icy conditions and that their
life jackets were on the right way round!
Passangers aboard the Orion’s Zodiac’s
The McIntyre’s are old hands at visiting Antarctica. They lived
together, but alone, wintering over in a hut at Commonwealth Bay in 1995
– testing their relationship and survival skills (check out their
excellent full colour book Two Below Zero, published by Australian
Geographic). Don & Margie ensured I had all the right gear to keep
me warm, dry and comfortable. Surprisingly, it really wasn’t that cold –
I think the coldest day was minus 1 degree celsius and our first day on
the Antarctic Continent was zero degrees – a fine, sunny and almost
windless day – perfect conditions for an Antarctic novice like myself.
Don & Margie ‘inside’ the small space where their hut was located during their year alone in Antarctica 1995
LEAVING NEW ZEALAND, SNARES AND ENDERBY ISLAND
left Bluff near Invercargill on the South Island of New Zealand on
December 30, 2007. The ORION is a beautiful ship 103 metres long and
only 4 years old which usually cruises the Kimberly and Papua New Guinea
during the cooler months and does three cruises to Antarctica each
The Orion stands offshore at Enderby Island
After one day’s comfortable sailing and finding our sea legs, we
reached the Snares Islands – the first group of New Zealand
sub-Antarctic Islands known for their Crested Penguin colonies. After
zodiac cruising, we set sail for Enderby Island. New Year’s eve
celebrations were underway early and about 50 hardy souls welcomed in
2008 (I think all that rocking onboard made me tired and I went to bed
early – the first time I think I’ve ever missed a party!).
Skua’s wait for action on Enderby Island
My cabin mate, Di Patterson was also an experienced Antarctic
expeditioner. i was the first woman in the world to be an Antarctic
station leader – at the Australian Mawson Station in the 1980′s. She was
such an inspiring person to be with and she gave me a lot of confidence
to face the journey ahead. We also were able to join the passengers at
the bar each night for additional rounds of ‘courage’ when needed!
My cabinmate Di Patterson, the first woman in the world to be a station leader in Antarctica
A day later we made our first landing at the stunning Enderby Island –
also under the New Zealand Department of Conservation’s skilled
management. One of their team joined us on the cruise to ensure the
highest standards of environmental practice were observed.
NZ Sealion & Pup, Enderby Island
Enderby is home to the rare yellow-eyed penguin along with a colony f
nesting Royal albatross and an array of colourful flora which I didn’t
expect to see this far south (50 degrees, 30.6′S). The beach near our
landing site was teaming with rowdy New Zealand sea lions – the huge
dark coloured bulls determined to round up more females for their harems
while the pregnant cows, sandy and smooth, gave birth or fed their new
born pubs nearby.
Me outside a survival hut on Enderby Island
From Enderby it was another days sailing to Macquarie Island – the
Australian sub Antarctic base at 54 degrees 30.4′south. We arrived on
Thursday 3rd January and the temperature dropped to a mild six degrees.
Macquarie is notorious for its fickle weather (storm clouds gather on
its green mountainous peaks) and the seas were deemed too rough for us
to land – it even became too rough to continue the zodiac cruising. It’s
such a beautiful place – green peaks and rocky cliffs as well as
beaches teaming with wildlife – located about halfway to Antarctica and
home to tens of thousands of pairs of King Penguins as well as seals and
southern ocean seabirds like the albatross and the giant petrel.
The Orion heads towards Antarctica
The weather map’s isobars showed the barometric pressure dropping and
we knew we were in for a few rough days of sailing as we crossed the
Antarctic Convergence Zone and sailed deep into the Southern Ocean.
CROSSING THE SOUTHERN OCEAN
I had always wanted to cross the Southern Ocean as I’d heard so much
about it over the years and lived through the trials and tribulations of
the solo sailors in The BOC Challenge single-handed around the world
yacht race (I was a project manager in Australia for The BOC Challenge
in 1982/83; 86/87; 90/91 and the last race in 94/95).
Icebergs in the distance
Ian Kiernan, AO, with whom I co-founded Clean Up Australia, had
sailed in The BOC race in 86/87 aboard the 18.2m (60′) Spirit of Sydney,
designed by Ben Lexcen. He’d always said the Southern Ocean was his
favourite place in the world describing it as “remote, yet not desolate,
teaming with sea birds and other wildlife”. I couldn’t wait to see it
first hand and experience the long, rolling swells and often giant
waves……until we were in those conditions!
Luckily, I don’t get seasick (just a bit queasy on the first day of
rough weather), as balancing walking along the corridors or sitting in
the dining room became quite a challenge in the 20′- 30′ plus swells.
With snow on the deck and storm clouds gathering, sailing between 50
degrees and 60 degrees south is certainly is an experience I will never
Icebergs in the distance
At night, we were strapped into our beds and Di and I laughed loudly
every time we dropped off a wave – this is fun! We turned over our cabin
furniture and put everything away in the lockers to ensure we weren’t
hit by flying objects telling each other tall and true tales to distract
us from the huge and confused seas (we were sharing a beautiful cabin
immediately aft of the Bridge on one of the top decks so we moved around
quite a bit despite the ship being equipped with stabilizers – I’d
recommend a cabin on a lower deck to anyone thinking of making the
southern ocean crossing).
We were all excited to be heading for Antarctica and choose to forget
that once there, we’d have to sail back this same way……it’s funny how
you bond with people through adversity. Ours was a combination of luxury
living (great food, wine, superb service, accommodation and good
company) blended with adventure and unpredictable weather and seas. The
Southern Ocean takes no prisoners and you realize just how insignificant
you are in the scheme of things. I now know why sailors refer to the
southern latitudes as the Roaring 40′s, Screaming 50′s and Shrieking
60′s – that’s the sound the wind makes the further south you go.
The Orion moves through the pack ice
Once we were south of 60 degrees the seas began to calm a little (the
effect of the Antarctic continent land mass interrupting the ocean
swells swirling around the globe) and the weather improved. We saw our
first iceberg at around 65 degrees south and it became icy out on deck
-you had to be careful taking photographs of the seabirds (the wandering
albatross were always with us…sleeping on the wing) or whale spotting
(we saw pods of killer whales regularly). Soon massive icebergs were a
common sight and we sailed through our first round of pack ice.
COMMONWEALTH BAY, CAPE DENISON, ANTARCTICA
Expedition leaders Don & Margie McIntyre at Commonwealth Bay
Nine days after leaving New Zealand we arrived at Cape Denison and
took the zodiacs ashore to Commonwealth Bay – known as the “Home of the
Blizzard’ and the windiest place on earth.
I hadn’t been this excited in years – and spent the next 10 hours
ashore taking advantage of the 24 hour daylight and the near perfect
weather conditions – sunshine, warming temperatures and only a light
Penguin rookery at Commonwealth Bay
It was magical. Rookeries of Adelie penguins (they are truly funny
birds – inquisitive, entertaining and busy) surrounded the ‘bowl’ of
Commonwealth Bay – thousands of them busy nesting on their eggs or
feeding their new born fluffy grey chicks. The noise of the Adelie
colonies was quite comforting and while their song isn’t exactly
tuneful, each penguin has its own call recognizable by their mate and
hey really do look alike – dressed in their fine black and white with
stunning bright blue eyes – and when not waddling down the hill in
packs or dancing as they walked, they slid on their tummies to cool down
(yes, it was warm there at the height of summer – I think it even
reached one degree around midday as I undid my jacket, removed my gloves
and hat and enjoyed the clean, fresh and crisp air.
Adelies are entertaining - this inquisitive one climbed into one of the Orion’s Zodiacs at Commonwealth Bay
I sat down on the ice and waited for the Adelies to approach (we had
all received a briefing on the Antarctic Treaty and sustainable tourism
practices for landing in Antarctica – you must not go within 5 metres of
the wildlife – but if they walk up to you, that’s different!). They are
so inquisitive, and one daring penguin even jumped into one of our
zodiacs and sat happily inside an orange life ring for hours.
Nearby about half a dozen Weddell seals bathed in the sunshine all
day only occasionally flicking a tail or rolling over to indicate they
were still alive! But it was the pre-historic looking Leopard Seal,
laying in wait on an ice floe that commanded most of our attention.
Adelie penguins alongside a ‘resting’ leopard seal in Boat Harbour
Leopard Seals are known for their predatory behaviour and like to eat
Adelies for dinner! True to form, three Adelies taunted one lazing
Leopard seal all day – playing at his tail and teasing him relentlessly
until he slid into Boat Harbour searching for dinner! It was exactly how
the Leopard seal and the Adelies were depicted in Happy Feet – I
couldn’t believe I was watching it for real instead of an animated film.
Outside Mawson’s Hut
We were allowed to roam around Commonwealth Bay (keeping within the
flag zones established by our skilled landing team under Don McIntyre’s
direction) and climb up to the Memorial Cross commemorating the two
members of Mawson’s expedition team in 1912 who died during their
historic trip (18 men comprised Mawson’s original expedition party). A
team of Australian conservationists from the Mawsons Huts Foundation
were stationed nearby and provided insights into their preservation work
of the huts. Two of our Expedition Team members, Di Patterson and
Alasdair McGregor (photographer Frank Hurley’s biographer) are official
Mawsons Huts guides and provided a brilliant glimpse into the life of
these early explorers.
A bunk still with its pillow, frozen in time inside Mawson’s hut
Bottles from another era, on shelves inside Mawson’s hut
Mawson’s hut – books & periodicals are sill on the shelf from when he left in 1915
It was cold inside the Huts – looking at all the objects left behind,
literally frozen in time and taking in the surroundings, imagining what
it must have been like living there. Shivers went down my spine on a
few occasions as I walked around, peering into Hurley’s darkroom and
Mawson’s own room with its solitary canvas chair.
Sir Douglas Mawson’s chair inside his bunkroom
Coleman’s mustard was on the menu
Most Australians know about Mawson because his face graces the $10
note. But seeing where he and his team lived, and then imagining him
wintering over on his own for another year after he arrived back late
from the fateful expedition, during which his companions died, made me
realize the fortitude and courage these early explorers possessed.
It also made me appreciate the incredible skills and fortitude of my
modern day explorer heroes, Don and Margie McIntyre. They mapped out for
me in the ice where gadget hut was located (pictured) and the view from
the rise which was their home for a year.
Margie atop ‘Ava Maria rock’
Margie even stood atop Ava Maria rock and sang for me (she has a
beautiful classically-trained voice) as a penguin wandered down to see
what was going on.
The next day about 80 miles east along the Antarctic coastline at 66
degrees, 43′ south, Don and his team decided to try for a landing at
Cape Jules. The team worked all morning to cut stairs in the ice and fix
a rope to allow the passengers to go ashore – and Cape Jules provided
another spectacular afternoon of ice wandering and penguin observing in
this most pristine and rarely visited area of Antarctica.
Penguins on a passing ice floe
Our third day cruising along the coast of Antarctica saw fierce 40
knot Katabatic winds prevent us from zodiac cruising at Port Martin. But
it was the most spectacular day as we sailed through the pack ice (ice
master captain Sven took the helm) and we spotted penguins taking a
break on passing ice floes. Our intended destination – the French base
at Dumont D’Urville (named for an early French Antarctic Explorer) was
not able to be reached as a French supply ship had already reached there
before us – and it’s not wise to have too many ships in close quarters
in these waters.
Margie McIntyre & Di Patterson
Homeward bound, the isobars again bunched up as a low pressure system
descended on us and between 60 and 50 degrees south we encountered four
full days of southern ocean swells in all their glory. I’m sure our
biggest wave was almost 40′ in height – the one that saw our ship roll
33 degrees (it gets bigger every time I tell the story). It’s also the
wave that flung me across the cabin and into the wall. I ended up wedged
on the floor between the wall and a bed nursing a big bruise on my arm
and an injured neck and shoulder (and a damaged pride).
Di & Margie going ashore – Enderby Island
After a bit of prodding and poking, the Doctor said I was going to
live and hadn’t broken anything….he put me to bed for 24 hours to
recover from the impact of the ‘crash’. Margie, a former nurse and my
cabin mate Di were terrific bringing food and other sustenance and the
masseuse on board, visited the cabin to give me Reiki.
A day later we reached Macquarie Island and the troops roused me
from my bed – no time to feel sorry for yourself with this gang – we
were treated to a spectacular vista at the other end of the Island.
Again, landings proved too difficult due to the swells but most of the
passengers got to cruise around the beach at Lusitania Bay where 70,000
King Penguin pairs were crammed on the beach. Whole gaggles of King
Penguins swam out to the ship and we were entertained for hours watching
them swim and fish and pose for photographs!
Home at last…the entrance to Storm Bay, Tasmania
With my ego and arm a little bruised we headed back to sea, homeward
bound for Hobart, Tasmania another 5 days sailing away. As we entered
Storm Bay at the mouth of the Derwent River, I imagined how the early
explorers must have felt as they returned to their home shores after a
long expedition of months or even years. Here I was, just 18 days at
sea, living in complete comfort, full of gourmet food, safe, warm and
dry and more than a little excited to be returning home. I took more
than 500 photographs (enough to bore my friends and family for an
eternity) but wished I’d taken more…and shot lots of video footage with
my new Sanyo HD camera. I’d made new friends and cemented friendships
with old ones. But it is that first-hand experience of standing on
Antarctic soil (and ice) that will stay with me forever and has renewed
my commitment to continue to work hard and protect our environment. I
can’t wait to go back.
MV Orion docked in Hobart
**Please send any feedback/comments you may have to firstname.lastname@example.org
would like to thank Don & Margie McIntrye, Expedition Leaders on
the ORION along with all the members of the Expedition Team; ORION
Cruises and their incredibly professional crew and staff who made the
voyage so enjoyable – it has to be the best way to get to Antarctica;
and the penguins for putting on the best show in town!