A Year in Antarctica

If Sir Douglas Mawson could survive two years at Cape Denison (considered the windiest place in Antarctica and on earth), Don and Margie decided they could do the same.

Following a hectic year of planning and another crazy year of preparation, reminiscent of mounting a military operation, they set course south in a new 18.5m expedition yacht ‘Spirit of Sydney’ on Don’s 40th birthday.

Low in the water with five tonnes of equipment, that voyage became a challenge in itself, pushing through the pack ice and extreme conditions.

This was Margie’s first visit to Antarctica. They built a 2.4m x 3.6m box, chained to rocks, just 40m from Mawson’s Hut.

Waving goodbye to the crew and left in total isolation for the coming year, they become the first ever colonialists to occupy Antarctica. It was a year of adventure, discovery and exploration, not only of Antarctica, but of themselves.

It was tough for both of them. The effects of constant blizzards and the intensity of an Antarctic winter, when all the animals left, played with their minds. At times, they were trapped for up to 20 days in ‘Gadget Hut’ – their little box.

Their outreach on Antarctic issues was massive, thanks to a regular weekly schools program and live tele-conferencing via sat phone, to New Zealand, Australia, Japan and America.

When the sun finally came back, Margie cried. When the first penguins returned in October, she cried again and when ‘Spirit of Sydney’ finally overcame some serious challenges and sailed into boat harbour to pick them both up, she cried for one last time.

Returning to Hobart with 90 new teddy bears (hand crafted by Margie during that year) was a triumphant return reported around the world. This intrepid year was the subject of an award winning documentary and bestselling book of the same name, ‘Two Below Zero’. Gadget Hut remained onsite and in 1997 after a global search for a volunteer, Don sent Alfred Winklmayr south on ‘Spirit of Sydney’ to live for a year in it alone.

It was not a good experiment. In 1999, following another selection process, they placed Jim and Yvonne Claypole in Gadget Hut for a year. With another solid outreach and school’s program it was a huge success.