Sunday, January 11, 2009

Victory to the Antarctic New Zealand rugby team!

Today at Scott Base, everyone felt their New Zealand roots. This was for two reasons. Firstly, today is the anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s death last year. We all know Sir Ed, as an outstanding New Zealander, but lesser known is the legacy he has formed for New Zealanders in Antarctica. Here at Scott Base we have two buildings in particular that have strong links to Sir Ed. The Hillary Field Centre (HFC) has been named after him and is a relatively new addition to Scott Base (opened 2006). This area is where all cargo and field equipment gets held and loaded onto vehicles, it has large chillers for the storage of food and scientific samples/materials, the gym, and it is also where all the Antarctic Field Training is done. The other building is the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) hut, the first and founding dwelling of Scott Base. Sir Ed and his team built this hut as a base for their overland trip to the South Pole in 1957. This location was chosen as it was good ground, but also Sir Ed was a friend of Rear Admiral George Dufek who had already established his base just over the hill, which later became McMurdo Station.

The second reason for feeling a strong connection to the New Zealand mainland today was the rugby match between New Zealand and the United States of America. It really did feel like I was heading to a big rugby game at home. The field (slightly smaller than usual) was marked out with trail flags, the posts were padded with field sleeping mattresses, there was a referee, linesmen, a commentator, a scoreboard, lots of supporters in the grandstands (couches were put on cargo trailers), paramedics on call, the impressive Ross Island Cup, and on the New Zealand side we even had a water boy with oranges and a few cheerleaders. Around twenty minutes prior to the public transport out to the game (provided by hagglunds), I ran into Toni, a domestic hand at Scott Base. I’d talked to Toni earlier in the day, at that stage she was a little unsure she would make it to the game. How her tune had changed! Now she was head cheerleader and rallying up more. She had made pom poms from the different coloured waste bags on base and had written four cheers, a chorus for between the cheers, and a victory cheer (we were feeling pretty confident). This was to be the first and last time I am ever a cheerleader. I swear. I would have much rathered playing rugby.

We nipped upstairs to an almost secret room across from the library, where all the dress up delights you could ever hope for were stored. I imagine these outfits and props would provide a little light relief for those staff working over the winter stretch. Today the most ill matched cheerleading squad was created by picking the most outrageous dresses we could find. We were never going to look good, as conditions outside demanded we retain our thermals and massive boots while cheering on the sideline.

The game began with a minute of silence to remember Sir Ed. The national anthems of both sides were sung and a very impressive haka followed. The match was close. Both teams fought hard. There was a lot of heart put into the game, and a few injured players came out (thankfully no medevac/medical evacuation was required). I am proud to say New Zealand came out on top and is the first to win the new Ross Island Cup, scoring 8 points to nil. The annual rugby game between the bases is an old tradition, but this year was the first to have a cup, kindly donated by the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Following the official presentation, speeches from both sides, a few photos and a snow fight, the match after party was hosted at Scott Base. All the US players and supporters squeezed into the Scott Base bar where the unofficial speeches took place (the cheerleaders got special mention). What a great day. It was so well organized and a lot of fun to see everyone, New Zealanders and Americans, getting in behind such an event and having a great time.

Having cycled over to McMurdo Station earlier in the day, we knew the Americans were going to be present at the game in force. All around the station there wasn’t talk of the icebreaker (which was a matter of hours away) bringing valuable supplies, there was only chatter of the game. We’d passed through McMurdo Station on our way to Hut Point, from which we could gain a good view of the incoming icebreaker. Hut Point is the location of Discovery Hut, built by Scott and his men during their 1901 – 04 expedition. To enter the hut you must be with a qualified guide. We didn’t enter today, but I did during my last visit. I recall the hut feeling the most eerie of the three huts I visited (Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds and Scott’s Terra Nova hut at Cape Evans). It is a large hut that remains well intact and little disturbed. Seal carcasses, skins and fat still hang in there, well preserved by the conditions. There remain boxes of Huntley and Palmers biscuits and special dog biscuits made in London ‘for use on the voyage’. The Antarctic Heritage Trust (see links) is responsible for the upkeep of these huts. A major challenge that their team has certainly risen to.

The incoming icebreaker was quite an amazing sight. It seems to make slow progress as it thrusts forward, zig zags, reverses and thrusts forward again; but it is effective, leaving a channel of open water within the sea ice. The ship will dock at McMurdo Station where they have a fragment of ice shelf rigged up to the land to be used as a wharf.

Tomorrow is my last day here on base! There is still so much I would like to do and so many people I would like to talk to. In some ways the time has gone fast, but I am happy with what I have achieved so far.

The kiwi boys and girls warm up

The Antarctic USA team from the Mount Terror Rugby Club has a minute of silence to remember Sir Edmund Hillary on the anniversary of his death last year
The Antarctic New Zealand team standing on the side of the field, and the Ross Island Cup at stake
The New Zealand cheerleaders were well received. The grandstand can be seen up to the left

Scott’s Discovery Hut at Hut Point. In the background is McMurdo Station and Crater Hill. This photo was taken in November 2006


Broe said...

Bloody Kiwi's LOL.

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