Celebrating solstice has become very popular again in the western world. On June 21st, thousands of people on the northern hemisphere celebrate the longest day and enjoying the longest sunshine of the year (if visible). But at the same time on the southern hemisphere, people celebrate the shortest day of the year and the return of the sun, especially in Antarctica. But how do they celebrate in the remote stations of the Antarctic continent?

Station personnel use chainsaws to cut holes into the ice near Mawson Station to prepare the pools for the traditional midwinter swim. Picture: Shane Ness
Station personnel use chainsaws to cut holes into the ice near Mawson Station to prepare the pools for the traditional midwinter swim. Picture: Shane Ness

A swift swim in icy waters marked the passage of midwinter for expeditioners at Australia’s Antarctic and sub Antarctic stations. Teams at Casey, Davis and Mawson stations cut a hole in the sea ice and plunged into the Southern Ocean, while on Macquarie Island, expeditioners dashed into the chilly surf.

The Australian Antarctic station Mawson is situated in Mac Roberston Land of East Antarctica and is the oldest Australian base as well as the longest running base south of the Antarctic Circle. During winter time, it holds around 20 base personnel. Picture: Shane Ness
The Australian Antarctic station Mawson is situated in Mac Roberston Land of East Antarctica and is the oldest Australian base as well as the longest running base south of the Antarctic Circle. During winter time, it holds around 20 base personnel. Picture: Shane Ness

Mawson Station Leader, Jenny Wressell, said wintering crews mark the winter solstice with a range of activities including games, pantomimes and a gourmet dinner. “This year the team of 14 people at Mawson will take part in a mini-Olympic games, with events ranging from ten pin bowling to ice cave construction,” Jenny Wressell said. Midwinter celebrations are a tradition dating back more than a century to Sir Douglas Mawson’s heroic era of exploration.

The pool for the midwinter swim is dug by tractors, chainsaws, and then by hand. Intrepid swimmers are secured with lines when they dash into the water in the twilight of the Antarctic day. Picture: Jenny Wressell
The pool for the midwinter swim is dug by tractors, chainsaws, and then by hand. Intrepid swimmers are secured with lines when they dash into the water in the twilight of the Antarctic day. Picture: Jenny Wressell

Jenny Wressell said midwinter activities boost team morale during the long, dark winter days. “During the depths of winter the sun doesn’t appear above the horizon, so we essentially have six weeks where we only have twilight for a few hours a day,” she said. “Midwinter’s day is really a turning point for us - we celebrate the fact we’ve made it through the shortest day and look forward to seeing the sun again.” Staff at Australian Antarctic Division headquarters in Kingston, Tasmania also participated in a midwinter swim in the less icy waters of Blackmans Bay. Kingston staff also held a memorial ceremony for Australian Antarctic personnel who have died in Antarctica. 

At the AAD headquaters in Kingston, acting director Rob Wooding lays a wreath at the Memory Rock to commemorate the personnel who had lost their lives in Antarctica.
At the AAD headquaters in Kingston, acting director Rob Wooding lays a wreath at the Memory Rock to commemorate the personnel who had lost their lives in Antarctica.

Source: Australian Antarctic Division