Being a station leader in the antartic is not for everyone. But Narelle campbell truly thrives on the challenge.
You grew up and went to school in the Manning Great Lakes. What did you love about growing up here?
I was born in Wingham and then moved to Taree when I was 14-years-old. I completed my HSC in Wingham. We had a holiday house at Forster, so we would spend every Christmas at Forster. I was a member of the Nippers at Old Bar and Wingham Pony Club … I was involved with anything to do with the outdoors.
Every spare moment would be spent either going bush exploring, or to the beaches from Crowdy Head to Seal Rocks. When I got my license, most weekends would be spent at Forster and Seal Rocks diving, or kayaking on the Barrington and Manning.
I love the area because of its beauty and the communities; everyone is so friendly and community minded – something you miss when you move to Sydney. I lived in Sydney for 12 years, then on to Mawson and Casey.
I’m currently living at Diamond Beach and love how everyone says hello and stops to chat.
You began your career in print media with Rural Press and Fairfax; then you went to work for Mission Australia. They seem like two quite different organisations to work with. What made you switch careers?
I worked in print media for over 20 years and while I loved the work, I was keen to try something new. I had always wanted to work in Antarctica. Most of the jobs on offer are trades or science jobs, and I wasn’t qualified for either. I had extensive experience at management levels, so I thought I’d apply for the Station Leader’s position – not thinking I would have exactly what they were after, but giving it a go anyway. Not long after I applied, I received a call saying I had made it through to the next stage. Three more stages later and after attending a 6 day gruelling selection centre, I was told I had missed out. They were concerned that, having spent all my working life in the one industry, that I may not adjust to the career change.
Living and working in Antarctica is not the place to put it to the test. So I signed up and commenced a Bach of Social Sciences and Counselling degrees and changed careers. I then applied again in 2007, and this time around was successful.
As well as an interesting career, you have a keen sense of adventure and have completed many high altitude climbs. What is the appeal of this kind of adventure?
Because it’s there … I find I can’t sit still for too long. The world is an interesting place and should never be viewed or experienced from the living room of your home. It’s good for the soul to see and experience new things, and most importantly, it’s the interesting and inspiring people you meet on your journeys.
I think if I had to remain within a suburban fence watching sitcoms and serials on television, I would be bored and depressed. People think you need lots of money to do these things … I’ve always travelled on a tight budget. If you want it hard enough and you’re not afraid to take that first step, it will happen.
Is there a stand out experience from one of these expeditions?
There are so many. Working alongside the biologists during my winter at Mawson on the Emperor Penguin project. My involvement in a few medical evacs and aircraft recovery incidences were challenging but rewarding, and of course, it’s the personalities you work and live alongside for the year. In winter we are a team of approx. 18 personnel; there are many laughs, but also the occasional interesting interactions which can come with spending a long time together away from home, family and friends. By the end of the year, we are all better for it.
As the Station Leader at Mawson in Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division, what does your job involve?
Mostly it’s about managing the team and ensuring everyone supports each other. We are also appointed to the position of ‘Special Constable’ and ‘Coroner’ and hope neither of these additional responsibilities are required.
You then returned as Station Leader at Casey. What is the appeal for you in Antarctica?
I returned from Mawson in Jan 2009 and was keen to take a nice long holiday. Then in June that year I was approached by the AAD to do another year, this time at Casey (a much larger station than Mawson). What appeals to me? Everything about it: the scenery, the wildlife, the changing seasons, the community and the opportunity to go to a much larger station. There’s nothing that doesn’t appeal to me.
What is it like living in such an isolated environment with very few people?
It is challenging at times, but mostly it’s an amazing experience. The AAD (Aust Antarctic Division) does an excellent job selecting personnel to work on the ice. Not only do they need to have the required skills, but they also need to be patient, tolerant, resilient and community minded people – which is why most who are selected come from rural and regional communities.
I sometimes compare working and living on base to the TV show MASH. We have many theme nights, we entertain each other, lots of laughs and practical jokes, but it is a working station and everyone works hard and takes their roles seriously – especially if there is an incident on station.
Were you ever fearful for your life while stationed in Antarctica?
No. I was caught out in a few blizzards, but we have to undergo extensive training before we venture off station, so we all know what to do if we are caught out. Being fearful and to panic is a recipe for disaster.
What is a highlight for you during your time there?
Seeing the auroras, the seal pups, penguin chicks, the sunrises and sunsets, boating alongside Orcas and Minke Whales, the community – everything!
Do you have any plans to return to Antarctica?
What are your plans now you are back in the Manning Great Lakes?
Enjoy the beaches, the outdoors and not having to wear Antarctic boots and Canadian Goose Jackets every time you step out the door, the warmth, family, friends and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Thank you Narelle.