Handel’s Water Music meets a Darlek


keymaticProfileJPEGorigThe Kista has gone and the team are settling into a happy rhythm knowing they’ll be here for fifteen months. “It’s our show now!” is how Syd Kirkby felt as he watched the little red Danish vessel disappear over the horizon on 1 March 1956.

As there are twenty expeditioners, everyone will have a turn at nightwatchman, except the chef. In a nineteen-day cycle, it will be someone’s duty to stoke the night fires and watch over the sleeping station.

It’s a rare treat they will all come to love for the night watchman can do their laundry in a little Hoover washing machine. Many of you will remember these twin tub machines. They noisily tied  clothes in knots as they rattled and vibrated, effectively walking themselves around the laundry like little darleks.

Alone in the frozen night, the nightwatchman checked the instruments, and visited the dogs staked outside in the cold. The rituals affected each man differently, but for all of them, the pleasure of the hot bath due exclusively to the keeper of the night fires made the solitary duty a privilege and pleasure. The water that was melted around the diesel generator exhaust pipes ran through a tank and heated enough water to fill a deep tub. Syd’s diary entries as night watchman were his most lovely for there was time to play classical music loudly and think philosophical thoughts. Syd’s first watch was on 6 March, 1956 and here is a brief excerpt from his diary:

 Tuesday 6th March 1956

Impressions as night watchman.

 It is 3.30 and I am sitting in the mess playing Handel’s Water Music. I reckon tonight I will run through that and Brandenburg concerto no 5. It is rather pleasant sitting alone with music and one’s thoughts … what a fantastic place this is. Just before I came in there had been a burst of strength four aurora. Great green-white bands undulating across the sky with rays bursting from them towards the zenith. The air is as clear as a bell, I’ve seen stars twinkle the way they do here. It is breathtaking with the moon and the aurora lighting the scene up. There’s our little group of huts sitting on the bare rock with the bay in front and behind the towering white mass of the ice cliffs to the plateau. The wind is whistling round the huts and their guys and moaning through the wireless mast. It is like a gigantic discordant wind orchestra.



About lynettefinch

Dr Lynette Finch. Once I was a poster designer and illustrator. I ran a small poster business called Mantis Prints, specializing in political posters during the odd days of the Bjelke-Petersen Government in Queensland. I’m told my posters hung on the walls of Rizhsky railway station in Moscow, although I’m not sure about that. They are in the collections of the Queensland Art Gallery, on several on-line websites, and in the following book: Lynne Seear and Julie Ewington, eds. Light II, Contemporary Australian Art 1966-2006, Queensland Art Gallery Publishing, 2007, pp. 110-117. In my next incarnation I was a senior lecturer in history. I published books and articles on urban health and feeding people in modern industrial cities, on the Queensland home front in the second world war and the role and history of war propaganda. Sometimes I wrote about Marxism and its impact around the world as well as intimate oral histories of communists in Australia, their experiences in conservative society, their role as social and political radicals in small towns and cities. Once I went through a death phase and wrote about the role of the Coroners Court in colonial society, about abortion and infanticide in nineteenth century cities, and about the role of gossip in policing. My research took a decidedly happier direction when I was granted an Arts Fellowship to Antarctica in the 2007/08 season, as research for a biography about Antarctic surveyor and explorer Syd Kirkby. I bunkered down in a blizzard in Brooke's hut near Davis station and imagined what it was like for Syd, caught for twelve days in a 150-knot blizzard, high in the plateau beyond Mawson in 1960. Some of my books: Australia’s Frontline: Remembering the 1939-45 War. With the rapid escalation of the Pacific War in 1942, Queenslanders suddenly found themselves perilously close to the frontline, especially those in the far north. The book is based on interviews of men and women who worked their farms in the north, some of them Italians and Germans who were interned as enemy aliens. Nevertheless, the book is essentially a story of courage, of community spirit and neighbourliness, and of the public and private war effort of a community facing crisis and loss. Dark Angel: Propaganda in Modern Warfare. This book traces the origins and development of propaganda and media manipulation from the 1800s to today’s ‘spin’ and ‘false news’. Why have governments at war allocated resources to propaganda leaflets, broadcasts, movies and art during major military conflicts? Read the book. You’ll find the answer. The Classing Gaze: Sexuality, Class and Surveillance. Concepts like sexuality and class share the same moment of birth during the nineteenth century as social inquiry turned to analysis of the workings, population growth, thought patterns, economic systems and internal bodily workings of humans (or Man, to be historically accurate). How did these ideological concepts impact in the real world? A great deal, is the short answer, outlined in this book. Young in a Warm Climate: a history of childhood in Queensland is an edited volume about childhood on the Queensland frontiers, at school, at home, in hospitals and other institutions. Fixing Antarctica: Mapping the Frozen South. In 1956, in the height of the cold war, the biggest wintering expedition that Australia had ever sent to Antarctica set out to map the great frozen landmass of Antarctica, driven by official fears that the Soviet Union meant to take the continent for themselves. The fourteen scientists were chosen from a field of hundreds of applicants. The surveyor, the central character in Fixing Antarctica, was Sydney Kirkby. Over the next twenty years, Syd Kirkby explored and map more unknown regions in the world than any other person in history. Earth, Wind and Fire is essentially twelve generations of my father’s mother’s family but it’s much more than that. It’s kind of Game of Thrones without the dragons. It starts with a kidnapped girl in Shelford, Nottinghamshire in the east midlands of England in 1618 and follows an unbroken chain of recorded births, deaths and marriages which spans four centuries until, six generations later, her descendants flee their farms in Ireland and join the diaspora to Australia. Using family stories, family photographs, published diaries and official documents, it’s the interwoven stories of five families struggling to survive amidst the most tumultuous times in European history. What’s next? I’m wandering into the boggy territory of creative fiction, writing a series of crime stories set on King Island, a beautiful windy island in the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania. I’ve finished the first draft of Book One, The Rock. There will be seven, I think. I’m also writing a stand along novel, called The Key Collector. It’s about a World traveller, Angela who settles in a Tasmanian village near her daughter and grandson where she witnesses a car crash that kills three women. Convinced the collision was an act of murder, she digs into the tragic lives of the victims and is mired in a mystery stretching across three continents and reaching into the second world war.

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