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Anzac Day dawnless service in Antarctica

Friday 26 Apr 2013 11:23 a.m.

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By 3 News online staff

The Anzac spirit was felt as far away as the icy continent yesterday, as Antarctica New Zealand's team at Scott Base turned out for a dawn service, despite not having a dawn.

Antarctica New Zealand's mechanic at Scott Base Lex McKenzie spoke to Firstline about the commemorations in low-light, -43degC temperatures.

"It was quite a chilly one," he says. "We had quite a short service outside."

There were 15 Kiwis from the winter crew, as well as about the same number of American guests from McMurdo base.

"We read the ode of remembrance and we had the youngest Kiwi… [who] lowered the flag while we played the last post, and then it was inside for some warm coffees and Anzac biscuits," Mr McKenzie says.

Without a real dawn at this time of year - Antarctica had its last sunset until August on Wednesday - it was difficult to know when to have the service.

"We actually held the service off until about 10 in the morning simply because of the light, just so we had a bit more daylight, and of course safety's paramount down here and this time of year so we want to know what we're doing and see what's coming and what's happening."

VIDEO: Lex McKenzie talks to Firstline

With minimal daylight now for four months, workers in Antarctica have to take care when outside.

"As we get into the winter we could be up to -60 so you do have to be very cautious," Mr McKenzie says. "Dress appropriately, check what the weather's doing, what's coming. You always let someone know where you're going in case something happens to you and you don't turn up again, because you wouldn't survive too long out there if you fall over and break a leg or something."

He says different people have different ways of coping with the continual darkness.

"For me in my workshop I don't see right through the summer season, I'm not really seeing outside anyway, I'm working under artificial light, so it doesn’t affect me too much. Other people who are very outdoorsy people and like going for walks and skiing and that sort of thing, it's quite hard on them, they sort of get a bit cabin-feverish."

But some people can have a more serious reaction to the darkness.

"We have a polar T3 syndrome down here," Mr McKenzie says. "Some people get affected by that when the dark hits, sort of very similar to short-term memory loss, where you go to do something and when you get there you can't remember why you went there to do it. Some people get affected by that quite badly, other people don't get affected at all."

This is Mr McKenzie's second winter in Antarctica, and he is living away from family back in Invercargill.

"The first time was quite hard, you sort of hear what's happening at home and social events you would have been going to but you obviously don't because you're here - birthdays and special occasions.

"The second time you sort of know that life goes on at home, everyone copes and carries on as normal as if you were there."

But the environmental difficulty of leaving Antarctica sometimes bothers him.

"The thing that's always in the back of your mind though, especially at this time of the year, they cannot get planes here unless it's an absolute emergency, and then again it's weather dependent," Mr McKenzie says. "If you have a family member or friend who gets really sick or dies you know you're not going to get home to support them."

He says this time of year before it gets really dark is actually quite beautiful.

"Even though we're not seeing the sun, it hasn't completely dropped below the horizon. Every morning we're getting a very nice dark orange sky around the horizon, so it's still very, very pretty out there."

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