Love and work in the Antarctic with the Bureau of Meteorology

COUPLE GOALS: Bureau of Meteorology forecasters and husband and wife Damien Everett and Rachel McInerney in Antarctica. Picture: supplied
COUPLE GOALS: Bureau of Meteorology forecasters and husband and wife Damien Everett and Rachel McInerney in Antarctica. Picture: supplied

It is not the summer holiday that most couples would picture.

But for Rachel McInerney and Damien Everett, it was a holiday that they spent years planning.

The Blackmans Bay couple has just returned to Tasmania from “summering” in Antarctica, where they both worked as forecasters for the Bureau of Meteorology at the Davis station.

It’s not common for a couple to take the trip to work out of Antarctica together.

And it’s not an easy gig to get.

The bureau’s regional manager for Antarctic meteorology Scott Carpentier said those posted to Antarctica underwent stringent tests to make sure they could physically and mentally handle the placement.

Mr Carpentier said the mental side of spending a spell in Antarctica was often overlooked.

Whenever someone returns from the continent – whether on the bureau’s summer posting of four to five months, or the longer secondment of about a year – they’re given “recovery time” when they return to Australia.

“They come back, and things have changed,” Mr Carpentier said, and added that it took time for people to readjust to the over-stimulation of modern life.

Not that life in Antarctica is without its challenges.

“There is 24 hours of sun in summer – you have the learn how to self-regulate,” he said.

Fairfax Media spoke to Ms McInerney and Mr Everett as they were on the voyage home from Antarctica.

It was Ms McInerney’s second trip to the continent, having been posted there over the summer of 2010/2011.

“I joined the bureau as a graduate to become a forecaster and I was very excited to discover that there were opportunities for forecasters to work in Antarctica,” she said.

“[My first summer] was a wonderful experience. The only bad thing was that my husband was still in Hobart. Only one way to fix that - and it was for both of us to go south together!”

“...we decided to try and do a stint down there together,” Mr Everett added.

“It would be a great opportunity for a shared experience, plus I didn’t want to be left behind again. It did take a few years for our dream to come true.”

It was not a surprise to their families, then, when the couple was finally accepted for the trip.

As adventurers who are fond of hiking and exploring, it was, almost, Mr Everett said, expected of them.

“They all knew how much Damien and I had been wanting to go to Antarctica together and how long it had taken to have all the ducks line up, so everyone was very supportive and happy for us when we found out we were going. Our mums were probably a bit worried about us disappearing to such a remote place, but that's part of their job!

Damien Everett in the elements in Antarctica. Pictures: supplied

Damien Everett in the elements in Antarctica. Pictures: supplied

“They’re familiar with us disappearing to remote places so they were like, ‘here they go again!’ and ‘who’s going to look after the dog?’,” he said.

Ms McInerney added that while their mothers were a bit concerned that they were “disappearing to such a remote place”, their family and friends were “delighted”.

“They all knew how much Damien and I had been wanting to go to Antarctica together and how long it had taken to have all the ducks line up, so everyone was very supportive and happy for us when we found out we were going,” she said.

Both were experienced forecasters with the bureau, but still underwent about a month of work-based training to become familiar with the different weather patterns and conditions that the continent would throw up.

For their personal lives, there were the standard boxes to tick off – packing, finding house sitters, and making sure that dog, Nell, would be well looked after. Still, there was an adjustment period.

“One of the biggest challenges was finding some time to ourselves,” Ms McInerney said.

“It also takes some time to adjust to the way things work on Antarctic stations - especially as you just want to get out and start exploring.

“Forecasting can be challenging at times - there are some subtle local effects that can have a significant influence on conditions in Antarctica that then affect the aviation and science program, and some challenges in identifying when these conditions will become critical to operations.

“Also, sometimes the weather just doesn't play the game, and it can be a challenge sitting down to dinner with fellow expeditioners who are frustrated at being hampered by the weather.”

Mr Everett said that apart from missing the dog, he also had to learn to adapt to a new environment that brought its own numerous rules and restrictions. 

These were all minor setbacks.

The untouched beauty and once-in-a-lifetime experiences that Antarctica provides trumped everything for the pair.

“The team at Davis were a great bunch of professional people with a fantastic outlook on life, and were a pleasure to spend the summer with,” Ms McInerney said.

“It was also pretty great seeing the stunning scenery of the Vestfold hills around Davis, checking out penguins and seals, and doing it all with my husband by my side.”

The Examiner.