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John Kelly's Antarctic Blog

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John Kelly's Daily Antarctic Blog

Bookend is offering school students the opportunity of an Antarctic or Southern Ocean Experience by responding to John Kelly's blog below.

Each day or so (communications permitting!), John will send through a short description of his experiences in Antarctica, from the logistics of working there to the artistic challenges of creating his art. These short updates may be brief, or they may be detailed, and they will be interspersed with longer blogs that John prepares for the broader media. His most recent comments are at the top.




18 December 2013 and onwards: SEE HERE

17 December 2013: Angel Wings. Behind me the photographer lays down in the snow as the beautiful white Snow Petrels flirt overhead investigating the alien species below. The day is bliss! Cookie, the station leader takes us to a frozen lake on whose edge the Snow Petrels bathe in the snow. It’s a beautiful moment watching nature enjoy itself in a white world made of ice. But nature always has an antidote. In this case it is the Skua. The ever-present lurking danger, ready to transform these beautiful dove-like creatures into Angel Wings. They strike dramatically, descending on the birds and, using their sharp beaks, penetrate their prey’s skull in mid-flight. The Snow Petrel drops from the sky and quickly all is devoured except for the wings, which are left, frozen, protruding out of the snow. (Photos: Justin Chambers).

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14 December 2013: the second half of the images from yesterday's post.

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13 December 2013: Looking back at the trip from Davis to Casey. We arrived at Casey after a long day waiting for a flight at Woop Woop (the ski base above Davis) and then a 5 hour flight. Flying from Davis to Casey involved a Twin Otter flight from the sea ice runway out the front of Davis up to Woop Woop the ice runway on the plateau. From Davis to Woop Woop we crossed the Vestfiold Hills with their distinctive black line markings. At Woop Woop we waited a few hours at the Domestic Terminal for the Bassler to pick us up. The five hour flight took us across some beautiful scenery including dramatic crevasses. As we got close to Casey the sea ice had broken out and the icebergs looked beautiful in the sunshine. (Includes photos by Ricardo Cavicchioli).

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12 December 2013: In the brief time I was at Davis, I had the pleasure of being shown two scientific buildings, one housing the Lidar and the other a Spectrometer. I was shown around by Theo Davies a professor from Latrobe University. The Lidar, built and managed by Andrew Klekociuk is fascinating because it shoots a laser light beam out into space, hence the name being derived from LIght Direction And Ranging (as Radar comes from RAdio Direction and Ranging). The Fabry-Perot Spectrometers, built by Theo, are also fascinating as they use the Auroras to study the atmosphere. Unfortunately Theo would not let me shoot off a laser beam into space!

11 December 2013: The Dingle Road runs out the back of Davis into the Vestfold Hills. The striking feature is the rubble of rocks left by the retreating glaciers and the distinct black lines left by volcanic activity where magna has risen through cracks and cooled. (With thanks to Ricardo Cavicchioli for photos).


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10 December 2013: John reflects on the recent incident at Davis, as follows:

A reminder that Antarctica is a dangerous place. On arriving at Davis from Mawson we just had time to have a meal and were then billeted to the Communications Building, which also had sleeping quarters. Within a short time of us being there I overheard the radio operator trying to raise somebody on the radio as another person rushed out the door. The radio operators voice had urgency to it. Very soon after the Station Leader, Bill De Bruyn arrived and one could clearly hear the conversation with the radio operator. “Whiteout, heli down, injured”.

I’ll let the press reports take up the story. The emergency turned our week upside down and whilst we waited for our injured colleagues to be rescued it was difficult to get on with any work. After the rescue it became apparent that air operations were in danger of being suspended due to the necessity to have two helicopters available to work in tandem. Actually the accident was a great example of how one chopper was able to rescue the other. 

And so it became necessary to take the next and possibly last flight out of Davis to Casey before air operations ended. So my brief visit to this station was cut short with just enough time to walk the Dingle Road (see next blog).

09 December 2013: John's latest longer blog for the Guardian. He adds: I highly recommend The Ascent of Rum Doodle. Essentially it is a 1950s comedic imitation of the mountaineering books of the time. Any students following this blog should read it!

08 December 2013: Great to see our friends are home safely. Waiting here at Davis for a weather window and a plane to Casey. No flight today - maybe tomorrow? Windy here!

06 December 2013: Note from website - for those who asked, John was not involved in the helicopter accident in Antarctica, but does know those involved. He cannot blog specifics about the event at the moment, but such incidents are unfortunately part of the hazards of working in remote locations. Something to consider in your interpetations of the landscape?

05 December 2013: On the way out to Auster we stopped at Macey Island where there is a hut. Painted the 'apple' hut with the Adelies behind it.

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03 December 2013: Auster rookery is about 17km out to sea nestled in a clutch of icebergs that form a large amphitheater. Every year the Emperor penguins hatch and raise their young on the ice here. It is an incredible sight and they are very inquisitive. It was a fabulous day and thanks to Richard Youd and Justin Chambers for the photos I am attaching.

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01 December 2013: And who do you think *you* are...?

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29 November 2013: Just waiting here for a plane. It was cancelled today so having packed everything up I have nought to do except start my fifth blog. Will let you know when I get to Davis!

 28 November 2013: A week or so ago my mobile studio was blown away in 97 knot winds. Yesterday we retrieved it some 3 km away. Pictures below are of us towing it back to base minus its doors which we located. They had been sheered off.

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27 November 2013: I painted out on the ice skiway the other day. A Twinotter landed and refueled before taking off again. Beautiful spot on the sea ice to view Mount Henderson behind Mawson.

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26 November 2013: Painting on the sea ice at Mawson. No words - just soak up the feeling of space!

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25 November 2013: A return to Peterson Island... 

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24 November 2013: Returned this afternoon to Bechervaise Island where there are several penguin rookeries (Adelie penguins). There are also some wonderful accommodation and science labs that look utterly alien on the Antarctic landscape. Here scientists observe and monitor the penguins which includes counting them daily and also weighing them using an automatic system. Always present are the skuas who are the penguins' biggest predator on land.

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22 November 2013: Spent an evening on Peterson Island, painting Mount Henderson. Confronting such a beautiful and sublime landscape is almost impossible to paint. however I enjoyed the experience of standing in front of it trying. As the evening progressed the wind came up and I had to use all my dexterity to stand on things whilst holding the easel to finish the painting and stop my materials blowing away.

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21 November 2013, part 2: What do you paint in a blizzard? How about a pair of snow boots with spikes!

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21 November 2013, part 1:  A great photo by Bianca Ka showing the 30 metre traverse between my studio and the living quarters. They have a blizz line (a rope) to help guide you during a whiteout. When I went through it the wind was gusting at over 90 knots and ripped my goggles off. The wind literally got behind my eyeballs!

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21 November 2013: A new longer blog from John on the Guardian site, adding to the media list below.

20 November 2013: Having set a 10 foot container on the sea ice securely staked and using straps (that tiny dot out at the end of the rocks), I painted Mawson.  One evening winds of 70 knots forced me to abandon my painting, luckily being picked up by Matt Donoghue on his way back from the airstrip. A few nights later the whole metal container got blown away in 97 knot winds. It was completely destroyed and ended up on an island 2km away. Fortunately I was not in it at the time!

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18 November 2013: Painting at Rumdoodle. Rocks sit  like abstract sculpture in etched pools of ice.

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17 November 2013: Yesterday I was taken up to what is called Fang Mountain where there is a hut. I spent the day painting whilst colleagues from the base went hiking up the  mountain. I spent about 8 hours on my own in this beautiful remote place about 1.5 hours Hag ride from Mawson.

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15 November 2013: Painting at Mawson today. Mawson is particularly windy as it's position is in line with the Katabatic winds. These winds are the result of cold air descending off the plateau. This makes it particularly challenging to paint outside.

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14 November 2013: We visited the Bechervaise Penguin Colony, about 3km from Australia's base at Mawson. Incredible experience seeing so many wild penguins. I did some drawings of them, filling a small sketchbook.

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13 November 2013: Wind abating today so plan to go to a penguin colony about 3km from the base here at Mawson. Will take photos and report back.

12 November 2013: I got to Mawson last Wednesday and have had such a blur of experiences including survival training (sleeping out) and a night out in the hut on Mount Henderson that  my mind falls into bed with me at night. I can start the daily reports immediately. However there are some days when I will be out of wifi access in the field and such!

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John's Guardian blogs also give a good intro to his trip:

(excerpts from John's Kelly's blog for the Guardian Australia)

davidpyefinch23I'm in Antarctica. I am standing on the blue sea ice and the sight is truly spectacular. Jagged and broken white forms crevasse and fissure off the descending plateau onto the edge of the sea ice, forcing it to buckle and crack under the weight. Ice smoke billows off the mountain peaks in a long horizontal line for miles. It makes one feel truly alive to stand in this wonderland.

The entire day has been spent walking on ice, survival packs on our backs, re-practicing the GPS, map reading and communications that we undertook on board Aurora Australis . Now it is for real, get lost here and survival is unlikely. Even on the base, Blizz Lines (ropes) connect the buildings whose central one is the Big Red Shed, the living quarters, alerting one to the danger that in blizzard conditions even walking a few metres has cost personnel their lives. Danger also lurks below - there is only a metre or so of ice between ones feet and the seventy metres to the sea floor, hence the need to carry a throw bag. It's a bag with a rope in it, to throw to the hapless victim who has gone through the ice. Within weeks this sea ice will break up, become unstable or it might be gone altogether.

It has been an intense and dramatic voyage to get here. Only the day before I was settled into my twenty-third day of being on an ice-breaking chain gang with a rather good cafeteria, with the thought it would be another week before arrival. Now I am standing here in Antarctica. It happened fast: the ice lessened, the ship was able to move unimpeded through the night and reached the Fast Ice, which ironically is where we stopped. You see Fast Ice is not fast, it is thick, fastened to the land and difficult to break. However, it put us within helicopter distance of Davis Station and it was decided to fly the few of us bound for the base at Mawson off the ship to the ice runway where the Basler DC3 awaited. Within hours we were packed and ready to go. The airlift elevated us over the orange ship, frozen in the thick ice, to the waiting Basler. From there it was reminiscent of stepping into an Indiana Jones film as the plane, a World War II veteran, lifted off the white runway, flying across the Amery Ice Shelf, over the mountain range of Skull and Monolith to land a few hours later on the ice outside Mawson. There, the wintering crew warmly greeted us after ten months of isolation. That night I slept in a bed that did not move for the first time in over three weeks.



Guardian Blog 5 - 9 December 2013

Guardian Blog 4 - 20 November 2013

Guardian Blog 3 - 08 November 2013

Guardian Blog 2 - 30 October 2013

Guardian Blog 1 - 14 October 2013

The Irish Examiner - 07 November 2013

The Age article - 05 October 2013

Mawson webcam




As a way of informing and educating Australians about Antarctica and Australia’s activities there, the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) administers the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship enabling those with a non-science focus to experience Antarctica first-hand so that they may communicate this unique experience and understanding to other Australians.

Australian painter and sculptor John Kelly is the 2013 Australian Antarctic Arts Fellow.

Mr Kelly currently lives in Ireland, but spent most of his life in Australia after his family emigrated from England the year he was born.  He has exhibited around the world, in many prestigious festivals and galleries and his work is held in art institutions throughout Australia and in France.

For competition detail CLICK HERE

For more information on John Kelly CLICK HERE

For more information on the AAD Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship CLICK HERE




Antarctic Photos by John Kelly and expedition colleagues . Background photos of John by Fran Vickers.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 12:02  
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