Of the 27 countries taking part in The Last Desert (Antarctica) 2012, nearly a quarter of participants hail from Australia. As the M/V Plancius lurches about on its second day crossing the Drake Passage, we set out with our sea legs intact to locate these Ozzies and ask: Why are you here in such great numbers?
Colin Suckling informs us that it isn’t a matter of geographic proximity but the fact that Australians have a great sense of adventure. “Australians are adventurous types,” he points out. “The great history of Antarctica and the desire to follow the early explorers—that attracted me and I’m sure other Australians as well.”
Colin and his wife Sandy are both taking on The Last Desert to make their way into the 4 Deserts Club. Both have jobs as business managers with the Australian Department of Education, and, as Sandy points out, she has her own family history to trace here.
“My father, who is now 86 years old, served in the Royal Australian Air Force and spent three months servicing mapping planes while based at Wilkes Station in December of 1962. When I finish The Last Desert, it will be 50 years since my father worked here. Once my father’s ship got locked in by ice for 12 days!” She then adds, to reassure family back home, that she is feeling much better now that her body has adapted to the ever-rolling motion of the ship and she is able to eat once more.
“We are making good progress, rocking and rolling our way to Antarctica,” says Greg Donovan, who has thus far exhibited extremely durable sea legs. The 51-year-old is here with his team, JDRF Born to Run, a group of five Australians who are aiming to be the first team to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam—and smash all manner of records along the way.
For others, such as Sarah Lord, who works as a transactional banking specialist in Victoria, Antarctica was the draw all along. “Four years ago, I Googled Antarctica and The Last Desert popped up,” she recounts. “I noticed that it took a completion of two other deserts before getting an invitation, so I signed up for the Sahara Race and the Gobi March in order to get to Antarctica.”
The more we talk to these intrepid competitors, the clearer it becomes that having a supportive family back home is of key importance—regardless of where you are from. This is particularly obvious in the presence of Garry Prendiville, who is here with his wife who is watching from the sidelines. Garry begins the interview by throwing out a personal thank you note to Michael and Pia: “We are missing you and thanks for all your help.”
The 55-year-old has raced with numerous family members over the years. Ten Prendivilles have taken part in RacingThePlanet events—eight of them took on RacingThePlanet: Australia in 2010. Garry assures us that a large audience is watching back home right now. “Sixty-odd Prendivilles are looking on from Sydney and Perth with a note of envy,” he assures us.
“The races have been a right of passage for the young Prendivilles. Now it’s time for the ladies to show up.” And with that challenge, and another roll of the ship, the Australians make their way to their cabins to start vacuuming their bags and getting ready to race.
By Clare Morin