Christmas joy in Antarctica
It will be a different kind of white Christmas for Dr Clive Strauss, writes Shannon McKenzie.
It’s a cool -6°C when Dr Clive Strauss picks up his telephone.
“It’s a beautiful day down here – blue skies and sunshine. Another typical summer’s day in the Riviera of the South,” he says.
The Riviera of the South – most commonly known as Antarctica – is where Dr Strauss, and about 70 other scientists, will be spending Christmas this year.
Despite being so far from loved ones, Dr Strauss is looking forward to the festivities that will take place at Davis Station, the most southerly station in the Australian Antarctic Division.
“I have family and friends all over the world that I will be missing this Christmas,” he says. “But then again, you tend to develop a new family down here – everyone is in the same boat.”
A glorious feast is planned which, along with the traditional Christmas dishes, will include salads from fresh vegetables grown in the station’s hydroponics shed.
There will a culinary competition with a twist, with the station chefs crafting ice and butter sculptures for the tables. Last year, Dr Strauss notes, one of the chefs managed a very impressive penguin.
Carol singing is also planned, along with a Secret Santa gift-giving. And yes – Santa himself is scheduled to make an appearance.
“I think there will even be some elves,” Dr Strauss laughs. And what would an Australian Christmas be without a Boxing Day cricket match?
“The cricket is always a lot of fun – though ad hoc rules apply to boundaries – there are plenty of fours and sixes in the limited space available,” he says.
This is in fact Dr Strauss’ second Christmas on the ice. He first took a position with the Australian Antarctic Division – at Casey Station – in 2009.
“I had such a great experience the first time around that I wanted to come down again,” he explains.
Hailing from Vancouver Island in Canada, where he has a GP practice, Dr Strauss has a long-standing passion for expedition medicine.
In his 30 years as a GP, he has worked in Africa with Médecins Sans Frontières, and has been aboard Greenpeace vessels as they pursued Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean. When he learned of the Australian Antarctic Division, he simply could not pass up the opportunity.
At the medical facility, Dr Strauss has the responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the people and the maintenance of the medical equipment.
Coughs and colds are always present, he notes, especially with the arrival of new boats, bearing new people and new germs. And then there is polar hand – where repeated exposure to the elements causes the skin on the hand to harden and crack. Though this is nothing that a bit of medicated super glue can’t fix.
Maintaining equipment at the medical facility is also a key part of his role.
“Out in places like this it is all about being self-sufficient – you really can’t rely on anyone else,” he says.
“I like this type of work – and I think it would appeal to anyone who wants to be a generalist.
“It is also a great adventure.”
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