DOGS ON ICE

May 31, 2010 at 6:52 PM 3 comments

Miss Minnie

I was outside, under the stars recently, waiting for the pampered and pyjama-clad little mutt pictured opposite, to do her final “business” for the day, when the Southern Cross caught my eye.

As I gazed at this constellation, my mind drifted to another time and another place, to where these same stars shone, but over a frozen, white and windswept land – Antarctica.  A place where real dogs had worked, lived, fought and died – the home of the Husky.

Disembarking from the ice ship, “Nella Dan”, at Mawson in 1964, there were just two sounds breaking the silence of that Great South Land.  The first was the deep throb of diesel electric generators and the second, a distant barking of 24 Huskies, welcoming us to our new home.  Dogs whose forebears came from Greenland, Labrador and other icy frontiers and who had been given exotic names such as;  Slink, Pong, Winkin, Orhog and of course – Flash Harry.  Over the next 12 months we grew to respect and love, these wonderful animals.

Antarctica however, is not for the faint hearted and we quickly experienced the reality of living in this unforgiving environment.  Because seal meat was always in short supply around Mawson, the previous handler had advocated a reduction in dog numbers and as a consequence, five were shot.  I still recall the stillness and silence  of those remaining, when the final gunshot echoed around the ice cliffs.  They knew.

But these were working dogs, expected to pull a payload equal to their own weight, which they did with enthusiasm

Training on Sea Ice

 -most of the time.  They had a firm grip on the Eskimo language – responding to “Mush”, (Go), “illi-illi-illi”, (turn right), “ee-yuk, ee-yuk, (turn left) and of course, “Whoa” and “Sit”, in English.  The first three instructions were accompanied with the crack of a 5 metre rawhide whip, to give added direction and urgency.  And, despite the discomfort of sled travel, these Huskies provided us with the safest form of transport, especially over crevassed terrain and on sea ice.

Each dog was a personality.

Flash Harry. All front - No grunt

Ian was the leader – aging, but still retaining the respect of his team.  Flash Harry, being a stronger dog, was trialled to replace him, but when given the lead harness, he could be seen prancing out in front, pulling nothing but his enlarged ego.  The team soon woke up to Flash and jumped on him at the first opportunity.  He was subsequently demoted to running as a “spare” – the ultimate ignominy.

Poor Pong.  From being a strong and reliable worker and whilst on  a field trip with us, he was reduced to a cowering wreck after an all-in brawl, during which he was singled out for “payback”.  He could no longer work in harness and suffered the ultimate indignity in Husky Land, of being sent back to Mawson in a Snow-Trac.  Pong’s psyche was irreparably damaged.

It is to be remembered that these are wild animals, with a large  dose of wolf running through their veins.  Barely before the command “Mush” is uttered, there is the mandatory fight, when old scores and imagined  slights are settled.  They continually joust for supremacy and on many occasions we had to  stitch and salve wounds, inflicted after a dust-up.  Left to their own devices, they can kill each other and this is not a preferred option,  especially when there is work to do.

However, I never heard of them biting a human.  Once, when trying to separate 9 warring dogs at “Mush” time, I slipped on the ice and could do nothing but lie there, surrounded by snapping, snarling jaws.  But, so busy were they with their own, they ignored me.  Although, several used me as a step ladder, to gain better leverage on an opponent.

We were reduced to one female, (Husky that is), when Snooky died earlier in the year, after being frozen during an extended blizzard.  Connie, (named after Connie Frances – which gives you an idea of the era), came on heat in early September.

The dynamic of having;  26 male expeditioners, 18 randy male Huskies and one bitch on heat, was interesting.  The dogs howled each night, trying to escape their chains, for a close up of young Connie.  The rest of us, listening to our canine counterparts and having been “on ice” for some 8 months ourselves, were similarly restless.  I think the aging Ian, the “chosen one”, missed the boat, when upstaged by a younger competitor, who had chewed through his collar and had his way with the hapless Constance.

She produced a litter of six beautiful pups and it was as if they were our own – so proud were we.

Too soon, the year was gone and it was time to say goodbye to these dear friends and to hand them over to those sent

Orhog - a lovable larrikin.

 to relieve us.  We had experienced so much together and one could not restrain the tears, when walking the dog lines,  bidding a  final  farewell  to each of these faithful companions.

The Husky is no longer a part of Antarctica and it is now the responsibility of we who were there – to remember.

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Entry filed under: Antarctica - Eastern.

MEMORIES ON ICE FLYING ON ICE

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. safari  |  June 1, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    I found your postings about Antartica fasinating & an enjoyable read. You obviously have a great sense of adventure.
    (2ndlifeforearlyretirees) – safari

    Reply
  • 2. lesliedavid  |  June 1, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    Hi Narelle.
    Great to hear from you and thank you for your comments. It was good to have a chat with you on Saturday and I wish you well with all the activity you have planned for your 2nd life. Keep the Blogs rolling in.

    All the best.

    Les

    Reply
  • 3. low price power generator  |  March 11, 2013 at 6:11 PM

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