Behind the scenes with Behind The News on assignment in Antarctica – Television

When you’re planning a trip to Antarctica, you naturally prepare for the worst.

Below freezing temperatures, high winds and remote locations can make things much harder than usual.

But one thing we didn’t think to prepare for was perfect weather.

Cameraman Pete Curtis and I travelled to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) earlier this year as part of its media program.

Our pitch was focused on education, showing Australian schoolchildren what life is like in Antarctica, as well as highlighting the many scientific projects the AAD conducts each year.

Once the pitch was accepted, we spent months planning the coverage that would air on Behind the News, News Channel and other ABC programs on multiple mediums.

Before we even left Australia, we were shooting vision for the stories, documenting the process an expeditioner has to go through to before making it to Antarctica — safety briefings and clothing fittings included!

Everything we needed for working outside was supplied by the Antarctic Division — thermals, fleece layer, outer jackets and pants, plus extra things like a drink bottle, goggles and sunglasses.

The journey from Hobart to Wilkins Aerodrome takes four and a half hours.

Stepping foot on the ice was unlike anything I’d experienced.

The area was completely flat and in every direction there was nothing but white.

Once our plane had left, it became obvious how empty the landscape was and there was no sound — no birds or insects or any of the normal noises you are so used to at home.

We didn’t have much time to savour this as we immediately got to work, filming and interviewing the ground staff who were preparing the plane for its return to Australia.

Then we were whisked off in a helicopter to Casey Station, which is home to around 100 expeditioners every summer.

This was where we stayed for the next 10 days or so.

During our time in Antarctica we experienced helicopter flights over glaciers, iceberg cruises, penguin encounters and a behind-the-scenes look at every aspect of station life.

The AAD were very strict about how close we could get to the penguin colonies so we didn’t disturb them.

Media had to stay 15 metres from breeding birds (colonies and groups) but the penguins are naturally curious so they kept breaking that rule and coming towards us!

We just had to stay very still as the penguins walked past.

They tended to stick in a straight line, no matter if you were in the way or not.

Pete Curtis had been on Antarctic trips before so he was well versed in what gear we would need and how to prepare for the conditions.

For the first five days or so we had amazing weather, which made filming outside very easy.

We filmed almost everything on a compact and lightweight C100 HD camera and only used the larger P2 camera, a mainstay of TV news, when hanging out of helicopters or zooming along in dinghy rafts.

Of course, our coverage was starting to feel disingenuous because all the vision we had was of blue skies and calm conditions.

No-one at home was going to believe we’d actually been here if the temperature stayed above freezing every day.

Luckily, the weather changed quite dramatically on day six and we went from perfect sunny days to being stuck in the middle of a blizzard.

We had to take extra care with the C100 camera in this weather, particularly in the blowing snow.

If any of it managed to get into the camera we would have been in serious trouble!

It was also very fiddly, so poor Pete had to film most of the shots without gloves on because they made it too hard for him to push the buttons.

All up, we produced stories for BTN, BTN Newsbreak, News Channel and a 24-minute BTN special episode that will be aired on multiple channels.

Before leaving Australia, we asked schoolkids to send in questions that they wanted us to ask the expeditioners and we turned those into small online fact videos that are now on the BTN YouTube page.

Being so remote was challenging for filing stories.

We had internet but it was patchy and some apps worked, while others didn’t.

We managed to send back one story, but it would have been almost impossible to do quick-turnaround news.

One of the hardest parts about the trip was knowing when to switch off.

The sun rarely sets during the summer in Antarctica, so it’s tempting to film from 6:00am to 10:00pm every day while the sun is up.

We met and interviewed the most amazing people — some had been coming to Antarctica for years, while others were first-timers like us.

About 20 of them were staying on for winter at Casey Station, a challenge most of them were looking forward to.

And after experiencing the camaraderie there, I think I too would feel excited for winter!

Watch BTN’s Antarctica special on iview

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Australia News
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