A POTTSVILLE carpenter will trade boardshorts and thongs for thermal underwear and a jumpsuit as he makes his fourth expedition to Antarctica early next month.
Peter McCabe will take up the tools to preserve heritage-listed huts erected 99 years ago by Sir Douglas Mawson and the first Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) team.
The 30-year-old has “ice in his veins”, a condition that took hold on his first trip to the continent in 2005, during 14 months at Australian research base Casey Station.
“Once my first trip finished I was pretty much already looking for an avenue to head back down there,” he said.
“The term they coin for it is ‘You get ice in your veins’ ”.
The Mawson’s Hut Foundation gave Mr McCabe an opportunity to return south through its work restoring the historically significant huts Mawson and the AAE team built at Cape Denison, one of the windiest places on earth.
Much of the past decade’s work has been restoring the main hut where the team lived, but this time an astronomical observatory called the “transit hut” is the focus.
The transit hut was first managed as a standing ruin and left alone to age and deteriorate naturally, but that has changed.
“In the last few years its condition has worsened dramatically and it is getting to the point where we could go down there one year and it will be completely gone,” Mr McCabe said.
“Once we realised the condition it was in every-one involved said we need to reconsider how we manage this building.
“All of a sudden the standing ruin classification wasn’t appropriate. We couldn’t let this thing blow away, we had to do something.”
Next year’s centenary of Mawson’s 1911 voyage is expected to bring a lot of visitors to the site, and Mr McCabe said “we need to make sure it is all ready for the big show”.
Two carpenters and a doctor will make up the team. They leave Hobart on December 8 and the journey to Antarctica will take six days across seas as high as 10m.
“Mawson was a really bad traveller at sea – that is what I tell myself when I am laying in the bunk feeling seasick,” Mr McCabe laughed.
Mawson was a man of remarkable achievement and it is hard not to be inspired by his exploits and the stories of the first AAE expedition.
The most disastrous, yet incredible, tale is about the trek Mawson took with Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis.
Ninnis fell through a hidden crevasse with almost all of the trio’s food and the other two started walking home.
Mawson somehow managed the marathon trek back alone after Mertz died, but when the ship arrived to take the rest of the team, Mawson had not returned.
Six crew volunteered to stay behind and wait for him, even though the boat would not return for 12 months and there was no guarantee he would ever return.
Mawson arrived back at Cape Denison only hours after the ship had sailed and he could still see it in the distance as he walked home to the hut.
“When you walk into the hut you see a lot of things sitting untouched like a pair of one of the men’s overalls hanging up on a nail and a frozen piece of seal steak sitting on a shelf – you can see all these little moments of history sitting there.
“You learn a lot about what all the men did in their time down there, and I have got a lot of admiration for all of them and what they went through.”
The crew will mark Christmas with a game of cricket on the ice and will watch the midnight sun for New Year’s Eve.
Mr McCabe said he would miss his new fiancee, Katrina.
“Due to extremely expensive phone costs we will only be able to get 20 minutes a week conservation time.”
Strange encounters with penguins and the sheer beauty of the icy coastline are some of Mr McCabe’s fondest memories of the Antarctic.
Last trip a penguin launched itself out of the water and into a zodiac Mr McCabe was driving.
“He hung out with us for a few minutes and when he thought it was time to go he jumped back in the water.”
You can keep updated on Mr McCabe and his team’s progress by visiting the expedition blog at http://www.mawsons-huts.org.au/cms/blog/.