A life on the ice isn’t for everyone, but a growing number of pioneering female scientists and expeditioners are opting for extended stays in Antarctica.
The head of the Mawson Research Station this year has been Cat Humphries, who admits she’s always had a sense of adventure. Her role is to look after the physical and mental wellbeing of those staying.
It’s a completely new experience for her. “As a station leader, we need to be able to look after our community, to see what people require, both for their physical and mental wellbeing, and to ensure that they pull together as a community and look after themselves and look after each other,” Cat says.
Field training officer Maddie Ovens has also been down south this year leading training expeditioners in the skills they need to stay safe in the harsh Antarctic environment.
From setting up a tent, making emergency shelters, staying warm and navigating a blizzard, Maddie says working in Antarctica was a dream opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“Like many, I suspect, Antarctica has always held a kind of unknown and magical appeal to me since I was little. So when I found out I might be able to get paid to go there, I went for it.”
Living and working together on station for an extended period of time builds a sense of community. “We are also forced to get creative and come up with fun ways to spend out time – dress up parties, karaoke, mini golf, dart competition, ski days – it’s a great time,” Maddie says.
While women remain under-represented on the ice, the Australian Antarctic Division has been working to improve gender balance on the ice for years, actively encouraging more tradeswomen to apply for roles.
Electrician Lisa Wilkinson has contributed to keeping the lights on in Antarctica for the past two decades, and has been a staunch advocate for women’s participation in the Australian Antarctic program.
The most celebrated ‘first’ for women was in 1935 when Danish woman Caroline Mikkelsen became the first women to set foot on one of Antarctica’s islands, where she raised the Norwegian flag.
The first Australian women to travel to sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island were scientists Susan Ingham, Isobel Bennet and Hope Macpherson in 1959-60.