Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the Aussie plumber who moved to Antarctica and now casually hangs out with penguins

Coolest job ever?

By As told to Take 5

Todd Heery, 31, from Gold Coast, Qld, shares his cool story:

I wasn't able to see a metre in front of me.
The ground was so slippery and if I fell I'd be in serious trouble.
It was both scary and exciting.
I was in Antarctica, which was notorious for its wild weather and winds, and we'd had over 30 days of blizzards.
Some of them lasted six days with 220km/h gusts.
But we were on a call-out after one of the sewerage pumps on the other side of the station became faulty.
I never imagined, that my job as a plumber would be what got me here, to this frozen continent.
"You've got the job – you're heading to Mawson Station," the hiring manager said to me on the phone months earlier.
I'd wanted to use my skills in Antarctica ever since hearing about a colleague's friend making the trek.
It's a long way from home! (Image: supplied)
I'd always loved travelling.
Antarctica was the last of the seven continents I was yet to visit.
The wild weather and the challenge of being so isolated was something I wanted to experience.
I hated cold weather, hence why I moved to Queensland from Victoria, so I knew it was going to be tricky, but the adventure seemed worth dealing with the freezing temps.
And finally, I'd achieved my dream.
I was going to work on the iciest continent.
My friends and family were extremely supportive, but some people did look at me as though I was crazy.
It is the windiest, coldest and driest continent on Earth, after all.
It was a three-week trip on the ship down from Hobart with amazing views over the frozen ocean, spotting incredible wildlife along the way, but part of me just wanted to get there.
The station had 19 people on it, and we all arrived together.
Not a bad effort for a guy who didn't like the cold weather! (Image: supplied)
Plumbing's not usually the most exciting thing in the world but it was interesting in Antarctica because of the infrastructure – the water source came from the continent itself.
There was something called a 'Melt Bell', that constantly circulated warm water into an ice well, which is where we'd pump our fresh water from.
On the other end of the scale, we had a sewerage treatment plant which pumped the almost drinkable water back into the ocean.
The most important job I had was to stop pipes from freezing.
I also had skills as a firefighter and surgical assistant so I could help out, if needed – although, thankfully, I've never had to use them.
There have been so many incredible moments working on the station.
I've seen the Southern Lights regularly, climbed mountains and abseiled structures as big as skyscrapers.
One of my favourite things about my time on the continent has been the uniquely Antarctic holiday called the mid-winter celebrations, which takes place on the winter solstice each year and has been going since the first explorers arrived on the continent.
We have a huge feast and jump in the icy water after cutting through it with a chainsaw.
The lights in Antarctica are a real sight. (Image: supplied)
Another highlight has been visiting the Emperor penguin colonies.
It's the most beautiful and surreal experience – the penguins are just as curious of us as we are of them.
There are distancing rules to abide by to give the animals space but they often come right up to you.
And if you waited long enough, you'd be surrounded by nearly 50 of them.
I have no regrets about my trip, but there have certainly been tough moments.
I've missed the warmth of summer.
And there's been bouts of loneliness and homesickness, especially during the colder and darker months of winter.
The sun doesn't rise here for three weeks over the middle of winter, which was challenging.
With the Emperor penguins. (Image by Adam Schiefelbein)
But I've learned to become more resilient and not lose my cool, as the conditions make the most basic tasks extremely frustrating.
In the year of COVID, Antarctica had a lot more freedom than people did back home.
We could have an Anzac Day dawn service, when people in Australia were commemorating on their driveways.
Growing up on the NSW/Victoria border, it was hard for me to fathom that it was closed down and permits were needed to cross.
It sounded insane.
I couldn't recommend this experience of travelling to Antarctica more.
I can see why people come back to work here. It's unique, interesting and a great way to save money as there aren't any expenses.
We even brew our own beer!
Returning to Australia will take some getting used to, but until then I'll enjoy my time hanging out with penguins!

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