31 MARCH 1995

We are getting a lot of e-mail from students and we think it is terrific. I look forward to writing this journal each week. It gives me the same good feeling that you get when you write a letter to an old friend. Dubbo High School, I get the message. You are really interested in Antarctica and what we are doing. Some of question were very good and I'll answer them in this journal because other students will be interested I'm sure.

The photograph that appeared in The New Weekly magazine and The Sunday Telegraph in Sydney had a timber structure in the background. That is Mawson's hut. It was built in 1912 and would be completely gone today if it weren't for the solid block of ice inside. The drift snow sifted through the timbers over the years. It melt and froze, melt and froze and now this block holds the structure in place. Our lean-to, the one that Margie called a "Manly garbage truck" is outside "Gadget Hut." It is made of sheets of plywood that the ice-breaker Kaptain Khlebnikov brought down for us. We took sheets of plywood and leaned them against the hut at a forty- five degree angle. We anchored them in place with bolts and used silicon sealant between the cracks to keep the drift snow out. Is that a clear picture? "Gadget Hut" looks like a freezer, it is white with aluminium strips between the panels and along one side is this plywood angled "lean-to." Next time you see a garbage truck think of us. You'll get the picture.

Keira Technology High School wants to know more about the structural details of "Gadget Hut." The dimensions are 2.4 by 3.6 metres and the height is 2.4 metres. It was constructed from panels 49mm thick, which are a sandwich-like construction of timber, styrofoam, and GRP (fibreglass reinforced plastic.) The timber side faces the interior and the GRP surface faces the elements on the exterior of the hut. Between each panel is an aluminium extrusion. We bought the extrusions in shapes like the capital letter H, J, U and a block sort of Y. It's hard to type a shape like the Y, it like a square U with an L beneath it. Can you draw that? This "U L" that looks like a squarish Y is used for the 90 degree corners of the hut and for joining the walls to the floor and ceiling. The "H" goes between the wall panels, the floor panels and the ceiling panels. The "J" is for the door jamb; the "U" goes around the windows. The door of the hut is made of the same material and the handle is a commercial refrigerator handle. It is like a big lever that presses the door against a rubber gasket that lines the doorway. The gasket compresses giving us a seal, just like your refrigerator at home. Have a look next time you open your refrigerator and think of us. I'll bet your refrigerator door doesn't make your hand stick to it. Ours does. It has become such a problem that I am going to wrap the handle with foam. Our hands stick to the handle because of the cold. The moisture in our hands freezes onto the metal or the warmth of our hand melts the frozen metal and instantly re-freezes, I'm not sure exact which it is. Any physicists reading this journal, please let us know.
The hut has a very small room when you enter from the outside. This is our bathroom, toilet and camera storage area. We keep the cameras out here so that the heat inside the hut doesn't get them so warm that when we go out into the cold they fog up.
After the small room you enter our living space. Standing in the doorway you can see the dining table and settees, sort of caravan or yacht style. Beneath the settees on either side of the table is storage area. When we are seated at the table behind both of us are shelves. They are really timber crates that we used to transport food in but now they serve as shelves.
Our wonderful COMSAT Mobile Communications Inmarsat M sits on the shelf next to books, CD, French lessons, a model of Captain Cook's "Endeavour" that I plan to build and heaps more stuff. Our bed is above us when we are sitting at the dining table. It is close to the roof. I have put extra timber inside across the roof for extra support. The roof was creaking and the strain on it is incredible when the wind is howling which it always does. Since I added the extra timber our space is reduced. The walls freeze, I've written about the "defrosting" in previous journals, now our breath is starting to freeze. When we wake up our sleeping bags have frost and icy edges from our breath during the night! The temperature in the hut is very low in the morning when we wake up. It was minus nine one morning this week.

Several students asked about food, freezing and thawing. I'll tell you what happened this week. The cheese froze. When we thawed it out, it was all crumbly. We have to thaw out our fruit juice on the heater every morning so we can drink it. I nearly blew up a can of sardines when I put it on the heater and forgot about it. It got red hot and was nearly ready to explode. I caught it just in time and stuck it outside in the snow to cool it down quickly. We have Birdseye frozen vegetable and fresh meat buried in the snow outside. They won't last all year. We really enjoy then when we have them. One student asked if the penguins were after our meat. No, it's not the penguins. It is the Skuas or Giant Petrels. I found bird footprints as big as my hand near our meat stash. Margie made our first loaf of bread this week. The ingredients kept freezing so we had to put them in front of the heater to keep them warm. We sat the dough on top of the heater so it could rise. For her first go, she tried white bread and baked it in "Bart's bread tin." ("Bart" is girlfriend of Margie's from Queensland. They went to nursing school together.) It was really quite amazing--it was just like what you'd buy at the bakery. It had a crust and we actually had toast for breakfast.

We used the crumbly cheese and made toasted cheese sandwiches in the frying pan. I can hardly wait until next Sunday when she bakes bread again.

Save it. We save every single bit of rubbish no matter how small. We do not burn it. We will bring it back to Australia with us. We have a "nil environmental impact" approach to this entire expedition. It is surprising how small you can make your rubbish it you really try. Burning it would pollute the air. We know that our kerosene fumes are bad. We couldn't figure out a non-polluting way to heat the hut. The katabatic winds have probably sent our kerosene fumes half way across the Indian Ocean by now.

Margie was feeling a bit sick this week but I kept her eating even though she wasn't interested in food. She's all better now. She's taking a few extra vitamins. I had a cut on my head that has just healed. It took almost four weeks to heal. My ear is still red and still sensitive from the frost nip I got about 8 weeks ago. I put lanoline on it everyday. It is a good reminder that we don't want to get involved with frost bite! I was thinking of this the other day when I was digging in the snow to collect drinking water. (Sounds a bit crazy doesn't it.) My hands got very cold even though I was wearing gloves. I had to windmill my arms around to get blood going down into my hands. Later in the hut they went bright, bright red. Interesting? In the strong winds our ears are popping inside the hut. The increase and decrease in pressure as the wind gusts blast past makes a turbulence. It sucks the air out and then all of a sudden it'll blow it back in. We had one period of 12 hours where we were quite uncomfortable with our ears. We could feel the pressure going up and down. For those of you who have seen me this might sound a bit strange but I need a haircut and I'm getting worried. There isn't a barber within several hundred kilometres. I'm not worried about how my hair is going to look, it is the cheeky grin on Margie's face that has me worried. (For those of you who haven't seen me, I'm very sparse on top!)

Last Saturday, 25 March, we went out for a walk in a blizzard. It was blowing 40 to 50 knots (about 75 to 90 kilometres per hour) with light drift snow. We put on our full blizzard kit and crampons and went out for a couple of hours. We walked a mile or so. It was a good training exercise. It was also exciting to be out in a blizzard walking around. We'll probably do it once a week now to get the experience for our trek. Later this year we are planning a trek up onto the plateau. One thing we are both very aware of from reading Mawson's journals. Getting lost in a blizzard. Visibility can change quickly during a blizzard. One of Mawson's men got lost for a few hours just outside their hut. They searched for him and couldn't find him. He finally found his way back to the hut but they were quite worried about him for a while.

I am constantly thinking of Mawson and how it must have been for him and his men. In noticed in his journals that he got electric lighting this week in 1912! We started using our kerosene lamp this week. Mawson got modern the same week that we went back to basics! The kerosene lamp is what we call the "friendly lamp" compared to the 12 volt light that we've got. Those of you who have been camping know what I'm talking about. We've been using the kerosene lamps at night. We're both a little jealous of one thing that Mawson had, well two things. The one I was going to say was St. Elmo's Fire. (It is light from atmospheric electricity which looks like a bluish electrical glow. Sailors see it on masts at sea.) We haven't seen much of it and Mawson talks about it all the time in his journal. Margie saw it one night and said it was interesting. The other thing Mawson had that we're a bit jealous of is dogs. I have been reading about how the dogs with Mawson coped with the cold. During this week Mawson had to put a dog down because he suffered terrible injuries when the other dogs turned on him. I guess it is best that we just have the native wildlife nowadays. I'm sure you all know that the last huskies left Antarctica about two years ago. They went to live in northern Minnesota in the U.S. I understand that the first time they saw a tree they had the exact same reaction as all dogs, the watered it just like they had seen trees all their lives. Speaking of trees and plants...a student asked it we have seen any. The answer is no. Ice, rocks and snow. That is all we can see.

Keep warm,
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