Antarctic veteran works with both sons on assignment down south 12 May 2024

Australian Antarctic Division

“There’s my oldest son”. One Australian mother’s remarkable Antarctic legacy.

It’s an incredibly long way to go for a family reunion.

But for the Australian Antarctic Division’s (AAD) Cathy Hawkins, the company and the destination made it all worthwhile.

Cathy has worked for the AAD since 2013, and she has made several voyages to the frozen continent as a watercraft operator, helping refuel and resupply Australia’s Antarctic research stations.

In 2016, Cathy and her son Flinders achieved a remarkable feat; they became the first Australian mother and son to work in Antarctica together.

Flinders was the assistant refueller on Aurora Australis while Cathy was a station and refuelling watercraft operator.

Flinders was also diesel mechanic on Casey station while Cathy worked for the inventory management team on Casey station.

“He was a station refueller and, as a watercraft operator, he was giving me instructions on the water from the ship’s bridge!” Cathy said.

“Over the radio, he’d say, ‘Mum, it’s time to disconnect the fuel line, there’s a front coming’.

“Hearing that sort of command over the VHF radio in that environment was extraordinary!”

For Cathy’s family, history repeated itself this year, when she crossed paths with her eldest son, Josh Johnston, who is an electrician at Davis station.

“I came ashore from the Nuyina and in the distance saw Josh standing on the Davis wharf, with Antarctica stretching beyond him.”

“I said to myself, ‘There’s my oldest son, far from home, and here am I, far from home, and we’re about to be together, far from home’.

“It was a surreal feeling of elation.”

Josh says the time with his mother on station went quickly.

“It was nice to see her in her working environment, she seems very well regarded and respected by her peers,” he said.

“We had a walk around station, looked at the penguins and seals, went to the hydroponics to escape the cold and attend to the plants.”

Cathy was keen to see everything her son had been working on during his time at Davis.

“Josh showed me the projects he’d been working on as an electrician over summer and the jobs he had to do over the coming winter.

“Josh is one of a group of expeditioners who grow veggies hydroponically on station, so we spent time in this toasty warm space while he did his rostered tasks.

Their reunion stretched long into the night.

“We played pool until midnight, shared meals and sat and talked in the station library,” Cathy said.

On Mother’s Day there will be another family reunion for Cathy and Josh, albeit electronically, with Josh still at Davis station, and Cathy working on the resupply voyage to Macquarie Island.

“There’ll be a WhatsApp video call back to mum and the family, for sure!” Josh said.

For Cathy, her family’s Antarctic adventures have created memories that will last a lifetime.

“It stays with you forever and becomes such an astonishing part of your family story,” she said.

“The one thing most people really miss on station is their families.

“So to be on station with a family member makes you feel that there is nothing missing in your life.”

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