The post office also serves as a museum and is run by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Each year, the British charity hires four postmasters to live on the island from November to March.
Although the employees each have unique roles, they are collectively responsible for maintaining the historic site and catering to the thousands of tourists who come by boat during the season. Staff are also responsible for wildlife monitoring – which includes counting penguins – and collecting environmental data.
Candidates are warned that this is not glamorous work. Employees must live without running water, internet or mobile phone service for five months. The team resides together in a small lodge, where they sleep in bunk beds and share a single bathroom and camping toilet. Visiting ships will offer showers while in port.
“Living there is quite a tough job,” said Camilla Nichol, the trust’s chief executive. “You work maybe 12 hours a day. There is not much time to rest and relax.
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Still, the job is in high demand. The charity – which preserves and protects several historic sites and artifacts in Antarctica – receives hundreds of applications each year for the position of postmaster. One year, more than 2,500 candidates applied.
“We get people of all ages from all over the world,” Nichol said, adding that applicants “from all walks of life” are applying for the six-month contract. “We’re looking for fit, resilient people who really enjoy meeting people and visitors.”
Candidates for the four positions – which include base manager, store manager and two general assistants – must be eligible to work in the UK, and the application deadline is April 25. Successful applicants will complete a week of training in Cambridge and then head to Antarctica in October, where they will stay until March 2023.
Depending on the specific role, salaries range from around $1,600 per month to $2,300. Each contract covers six months, including one month of training before the Antarctic excursion.
Given the coronavirus pandemic, the site has been closed to visitors for two years, “so there’s a real return to Antarctica this season,” Nichol said. “We are very excited about this.”
Applicants are often drawn to Port Lockroy, both for its history and its scientific significance. Port Lockroy, also known as “Base A”, was established in 1944 as part of a top secret mission during World War II by the British government called Operation Tabarin, intended to strengthen British sovereignty over the region and establish a permanent presence. in Antarctica.
In 1945 the post office – which handles around 80,000 pieces of mail per season, all written by tourists – was the original founding location of the British Antarctic Survey, a polar research institute. The island has been a major center for atmospheric science research for nearly two decades.
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Port Lockroy became a Historic Site and Monument in 1995, and after restoration efforts, the museum was established in 1996, surrounded by dramatic glacial scenery.
Around 18,000 tourists – about half of whom come from the United States – travel to Port Lockroy each season on cruise ships and yachts to marvel at the sights and learn about the history.
Seasonal Postmasters must gain a solid understanding of Port Lockroy’s past to guide and educate tourists. According to the job description, they must also be prepared for a “physically and mentally challenging” experience.
“Living takes a little more work there,” said Lucy Dorman, who was base manager at Port Lockroy during the 2019-20 season. “There are a lot of things to carry.”
Not only do staff carry “boxes, buckets and jerry cans through snow or slippery rocks most of the time,” Dorman said, but they are also responsible for keeping the site clean, which means spending “a lot time brushing penguin shit off the rocks. ”
Dorman originally applied for the 2016-17 season, after friends and family read the position online and encouraged her to apply. At the time, she was guiding dog sledding expeditions in Canada.
The five-month posting at Port Lockroy intrigued her for several reasons. Primarily, she was excited about the rare opportunity to spend an extended period of time in a wildlife sanctuary and embrace a slower, less hectic lifestyle. Also, as someone who had studied science for many years, Dorman was eager to delve into the scientific history of Port Lockroy.
Dorman was stunned and thrilled to have been selected for the position, she said, adding that the application process involved several steps, including a medical screening, as well as a week-long group meeting with pre-selected candidates to ensure strong team dynamics.
“The most important thing is to pick people who will get along,” Dorman said. “During the training week, you get a sense of each other’s habits and quirks.”
“You have to get along, because you can’t walk away very easily,” Nichol repeated. “We are looking for a team; four people who can live and work together.
Arriving on the island, Dorman and her fellow postmasters quickly realized that “it’s not all snow and penguins”, she said, adding that staff chronicle their experiences in a seasonal blog. “There is a lot of hard work.”
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Even though the work can be difficult at times, “there is a real sense of community,” she continued. “That kind of togetherness and what you can accomplish in a short amount of time is very rewarding.”
Dorman – who returned to Port Lockroy as base manager during the 2019-20 season – cherished the chance to meet thousands of visitors from around the world and share with them the significance of the site.
“For a lot of people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime journey, and to be part of that is pretty special,” she said.
She said she considers tracking the presence of penguins on the island a professional perk, despite the fact that “most people probably aren’t that aware of their scent.”
“You just get used to it,” she says. “You give way to the penguins. It is a privilege to spend time near wildlife.
As part of a long-term study of the breeding cycle of the penguins that live on the island, the team keeps a careful record of the number of breeding pairs, the nests they make, the eggs that are laid and hatching chicks – with the aim of tracking potential population growth or decline. They are working with the British Antarctic Survey on the ongoing research project.
While many would-be postmasters are initially intrigued by penguins, the total experience offers “a different perspective on the world and a new perspective on your role in the planet,” Nichol said.
“You can watch the sun go down and hear the glaciers melting,” she added. “It’s an amazing place.”
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