The coolest job in the world COOL JOB: Electrician Steven Hankins is nine months into his 12-month stint working at Casey Station in Antarctica.
PENGUIN SELFIE: Steven Hankins with some of the summer wildlife.
TRADITIONAL ICE SWIM: Steven Hankins had a (very) quick dip in the icy water to mark the winter solstice, albeit a few days late because of bad weather.
CHEERS: Warming up in the outdoor spa.
RECREATION: Steven Hankins teeing off for an Antarctic golf session.
SOUTHERN LIGHTS: The aurora australis over Casey Station.
SOUTHERN LIGHTS: The aurora australis over Casey Station.
COOL JOB: Electrician Steven Hankins is nine months into his 12-month stint working at Casey Station in Antarctica.
FIELD HUT: Arriving at Jack’s Hut on quad bikes in the summer.
TweetFacebookSource: Port Lincoln Times
FORGET the ice bucket challenge, how about dunking yourself in the icy waters of the Antarctic?
That was how Steven Hankins celebrated this year’s winter solstice with his colleagues at Australian Antarctic base, Casey Station.
The electrician has been working at Casey for the past nine months braving blizzards and minus 30 degree winter temperatures as he experiences things most people will never get to see or do.
After getting his trade in Port Lincoln and working in some of Australia’s warmer climes around the Sunshine Coast and Karratha, Mr Hankins spent some time as a hot tub technician in Canada, but obviously that just wasn’t cold enough.
Mr Hankins had always imagined what it would be like going to Antarctica but thought working there was only for scientists until he met a fellow electrician who had spent a year at Casey Station.
“(He) told me not only could I get down there but I would get paid quite well,” Mr Hankins said.
“I went straight home and applied.”
He applied in November 2012 and after passing the selection process and undergoing training in Hobart, he was on his way in November last year.
“I flew down on the A319 flight and landed at Wilkins Runway, then had a 70-kilometre trip in a Hagglund (all-terrain vehicle) to Casey Station.
“On the way down I remember feeling very excited and almost an overwhelming feeling of ‘what the hell am I doing?’
“It was also my 30th birthday on the day of the flight but that was a long way from my mind as we flew south.
“It’s very strange looking at the navigation screen on the small TV in the back of the seats and seeing your position on the coast of Antarctica.”
Mr Hankins is one of two electricians in the infrastructure crew, which also has a carpenter and two plumbers.
All up there are 18 people on station during winter, down from about 95 at the most during summer when planes and ships can get in and out, and the weather is warm – around 0 to 7 degrees – with only the occasional blizzard.
With the sun up almost all day every day in the summer there was plenty of time to get out and see things.
“Seeing the icebergs float past everyday was amazing,” Mr Hankins said.
“The size of some of them were as big as small cities.
“There were always birds flying around and you could always hear the penguins from hundreds of metres away.”
By the end of April however, all the wildlife left and the sea started to freeze.
“It’s quite eerie and all you can hear is the hum of the generators.
“It’s just white snow and ice as far as you can see.”
The average temperature over the winter months has been around -20 to -25, getting as low as -32, with the wind chill sometimes making it -50.
“The sun disappears for most of winter, giving us only around two hours a day in June and the blizzards are a lot more fierce, reaching speeds of 100 knots plus,” Mr Hankins said.
“It’s a lot different than the summer weather but they are both really cool to experience.
“Wildlife during the summer is awesome.
“There are lots of weddell seals and elephant seals and thousands of adelie penguins, snow petrels, storm petrels, skuas all around the station but during the winter, between April and October, there is not a single sign of life except the 17 other people on the station.”
At Casey, his main jobs are taking care of the generators and power, plus a lot of maintenance on the fire detection system, refrigeration, and electric motors.
“There’s always a lot of ongoing new installations of buildings and appliances too.
“We use normal electrical tools like pliers and screwdrivers but we tend to use the heat guns a lot more than you would at home.
“Electrical tape and even cable, doesn’t roll out very well in -30 temperatures so we have to carefully warm it up first with a heat gun.”
Missing his girlfriend, family and friends has been the worst part about being so far from home, especially at the beginning of the 12 months.
“It can be very daunting but the good times far outweigh the bad.”
He said the best thing was getting to see and experience things he wouldn’t be able to anywhere else in the world – the auroras, the wildlife, the 100-knot plus winds at minus 60 temperatures, trying to walk to another building in a blizzard and leaning forward on a 45 degree angle to not get blown away, and getting a lot of time to do things he wouldn’t normally do.
In his spare time he has done online courses in photography, psychology, fitness and Spanish, and tries to get to the gym five or six times a week, along with a lot of TV watching.
“We also just sit around drinking coffee and talk about solving the world’s problems a lot too.
“I also like to spend a lot of time growing my beard, which is a great way to pass the time.”
Despite these activities, spending months on end with the same 17 people can lead to “cabin fever”.
“Waking up after a bad sleep, walking into the mess to have breakfast and seeing the same faces and listening to the same conversations every day starts to wear thin but you just have to realise it’s a ‘you’ problem, and get over it.
“Everyone starts to get very comfortable and honest with each other, which can lead to arguments, never anything serious though.”
Huts up and down the coast are popular spots for weekend getaways to “escape the monotony of groundhog day” and the food also helps – from Friday night “counter meals” in the bar to formal, candle-lit Saturday night dinners featuring confit duck, slow-cooked pork belly or giant rib eye.
“The food is as good, if not better, than any restaurant I’ve ever been to,” Mr Hankins said.
His post is 12 months but during the summer months people can do one to three-month stints, depending on their job and those who stay for 12 months can also apply to stay on for the next summer, making it a 15-month post.
“Most people that have been south before or plan on it again, do a 12 month on, 12 month off kind of roster or, if they prefer to not stay for the whole 12 months, they just come for the three months each summer.
“I think once may be enough for me, but you never know.
“I’m sure that once I get home, I will miss it and want to do it again.”