I’ve been fortunate to have travelled all over the world – but there’s one place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I was a kid. The Antarctic. I used to read everything I could find about the southern polar region – accounts of the early explorers, memoirs by people who’d been there, anything. Antarctica captured my imagination and it still hasn’t let go. But so far, my only direct connection to the icy region has been as a supplier of news. In the 80s, long before the Internet, I was an editor at Australian Associated Press. One of my tasks was to compile the daily Antarctic bulletin, a digest of news that was sent by telex to Australia’s Antarctic bases.
This week, I got to meet someone who has been there – Cairns-based doctor Gerry Bulger. He hails from England, and has travelled the world practising medicine. Along the way, he’s developed a specialty in providing medical care in remote and isolated settings. Gerry has just returned from a summer posting to Casey Station, one of the bases maintained by the Australian Antarctic Division.
Australia has been involved in the Antarctic since Douglas Mawson took an expedition south from Hobart in 1911. Australia’s pioneering role and long association with the region is the basis of the Australian Antarctic Territory – the largest territorial claim over the continent at more than 5 million square kilometres. The other nations with Antarctic territory are Argentina, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Casey Station was built to replace the U-S Wilkes station, which Australia took over in 1959. Wilkes was being slowly buried by snow drifts, so work began to build a new station nearby in 1964. It opened in 1969 and was named Casey after the Australian Governor General, a keen supporter of Australia’s Antarctic presence. Casey station is located in the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle. And that’s where Dr Gerry Bulger spent the summer, providing medical care for the station team.He went there by sea, and returned on an Airbus jet that can operate from the nearby Wilkins ice runway during the short Antarctic summer. That jet flight puts Australian hospitals within reach for a couple of months each year, but Gerry says the Casey medical facility still has to be completely self-sufficient – even stocking malaria remedies, just in case. He says the Antarctic hadn’t been on his bucket list, but it was a great experience – especially the Australia Day swim, and the cricket match complete with a streaker.
ANTARCTIC PICTURES BY Dr GERRY BULGER