"Absolutely silent." For 3 months, Jane Allen was one of 28 people to call Antarctica home.

For three months between November, 2018, and February, 2019, Jane Allen lived on top of an isolated rock outcrop, on the Mawson research station in Antarctica.

A writer, producer and screenwriter by trade, it was unlike any writer’s room she had previously found herself in. But thanks to the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship, there she was.

Like the other 28 expeditioners – some new like her, others veterans – she was taught outdoor survival skills, and pitched in with the day-to-day upkeep of the station. It was a fully immersive experience.

According to the Mawson station website, Saturdays are for duties like “vacuuming the living area, shovelling snow, cleaning the cold porches”, and expeditioners participate on ‘Slushy duty’ where they help the chef prepare meals. For other supplies like soap, linen and other household requirements, residents can access a walk-in cupboard, lovingly dubbed as their ‘Woolies’.

Jane Allen appears on our co-listening podcast for parents and kids, That’s Incredible. Post continues below.

Speaking to Mamamia on our podcast, That’s Incredible, Allen describes the two week journey aboard the Aurora Australis “icebreaker” she took to get there. An adventure in and of itself.

“If you’re going to the Australian base, you’re going on the Aurora Australis, an icebreaker ship that leaves from Hobart. It takes two weeks to get to Antarctica and you go across the Southern Ocean,” she says, describing the ocean as one of the “most dangerous on the planet”.

“There can be incredibly big seas, and sometimes you can see ships, where the whole front disappears under huge waves.”

As they got closer to Antarctica, so did the threat of looming icebergs.

“You need to have spotters on the bridge of the ship to keep an eye on where icebergs are. You see a bit of ice, and then a wave comes and it disappears.

“What we remember from the Titanic is that 90 per cent of the iceberg is under the water, [but] I’m pleased to say that in the two weeks down there, and the two weeks back, we didn’t hit anything, so I am here to tell the tale.”


The two week voyage took them to a frozen harbour, where they took a three-hour flight to Mawson station. Once the plane took off, the ice on the harbour broke up, leaving their team of 28 expeditioners isolated for the next three months.

“There was too much ice still for a ship to get in, but not enough ice to land a plane. For three months, nobody could get in or out of that place,” she remembers.

“I expected to be daunted by the fact of here are these 28 people, and these are the only people I’m going to see for three months. That’s it, and if something goes wrong, we can’t get out.

“But for some strange reason, I found it really exciting, and I never felt scared, or like I really just needed to see somebody else.

“It’s a really intense way of living.”


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view from the top of shark fin (with @npcullen and @patisfied) – @jesseblackadder

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Over the next three months, Allen was fortunate enough to see the harbour change and shift through the Antarctic summer. The ice around them began to melt, giving away to an expanse of water.

“This thing that had been a glittering blue, shiny, hard surface eventually [became] this deep blue beautiful water,” she says.

“Once the ice started to break up, the seals and penguins started to emerge. Occasionally you might be sitting in the sun, and you’d hear this squawk and a penguin would appear out of the pool in the ice.

“It was amazing to sit with these animals who have no sense of us as predators… they’d sort of look at you and go ‘whatever,’ then go back to lying in the sun.”


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view from the top of shark fin (with @npcullen and @patisfied) – @jesseblackadder

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The one thing Allen will always remember from her experience is the silence. She describes her experiences exploring the ice plateaus and camping on the mountains, in which the only sounds they heard were the ones of sporadic cracks, and the rush of ‘ice calving’ – in which a chunk of ice breaks off from an iceberg.

“When you’re actually up on the ice plateau it can be silent,” she says.

“You can look out from those mountains and see no sign of human life at all. It’s just ice, mountains and nothing else, and no sound.

“And that is absolutely extraordinary.”

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