Sunday, 11 September 2011

Meet 'Mountain Woman' Williams

Last week I spent three days filming with the lovely Nancye W.
It turns out that Nancye could give Bear Grylls a run for his money any day of the week. “See that mountain?” she asked me as we stood on the misty plateau. ‘Yes…?” was all I could manage  (as I was still recovering from having just sidled up the steep grassy jump-up out of Waterfall Bay). “Well, that’s where we’re going,” she informed me cheerily.
Like the other six MIPEP team dog handlers, Nancye spends 28 days out hunting one of the six blocks that Macquarie Island has been divided into.  This month she’s working the fourth block down.  When I caught up with her, she and her hunting partner Tony were based out of Waterfall Bay hut, a googie hut that resembles an orange UFO.
The team is working the block systematically. While Tony walks on a north-south axis, Nancye and her two dogs Finn and Katie work from east to west, usually two sweeps a day.
For the purposes of filming, Nancye relaxed her routine slightly – the moonscape-like plateau can get a little monotonous on camera after a while. So on the second day, after a morning of climbing mountains, we veered north to walk around Earnslaw Lake (a large tarn), where Nancye’s favourite dog Katie promptly decided to go for a swim.  The return trip via the escarpment took longer than expected, and by the end of the day we realized we’d walked for nine hours.
That’s why it was such a nice surprise when Tony had a platter of hors d’oeuvres waiting for us back at the hut on our return. Cheese, ham from a tin, smoked mussels (also a la tin), pickled onions and crackers were devoured with such enthusiasm that noone had room for dinner.
The third day was equally eventful. We spent the morning on the plateau again, and yes climbed another mountain (the top of which was so windy that my beanie blew off my head… amazingly I found it again, thanks to its hot shade of neon orange). We dropped down the escarpment for lunch, and located a cosy nook in the tussock overlooking Lusitania Bay. The beach was packed with hundreds of raucous king penguins and chicks. Further out at sea the elephant and leopard seals were hunting penguins and giant petrels floating on the water. Unfortunately you can’t sit and watch the natural dramas for long, because the cold starts turning your cheeks and lips into funny shades of purply-blue.
So we continued north along the coast, where we came across nesting giant petrels, a sleepy leopard seal, king penguins and huge elephant seal bulls. The coastal areas need to be searched for rabbits just as intensively as any other area, but Nancye is very conscientious about disturbing the wildlife as little as possible, bringing her voice down to a whisper at times.
Tony once again had a platter waiting for us on our return, and was stirring a delicious-smelling stew prepared with the last of the beef that the pair had carried out from station. For dessert Nancye served up some of her delicious home-made slice. Even the dogs feasted that night, their dinner supplemented with a stew made from beef trimmings and out-of-date canned vegetables.
I had a new spring in my step when we parted ways the next day, thanks in part to Nancye and Tony’s fine hospitality, as well as their amazing attitude towards their work.  Thanks guys, you’re an inspiration.

Nancye and Gary stop for lunch

Nancye and Tony overlooking Lusi Bay

Overlooking Waterfall Bay

Quiet time before lights out

West Coast

On the plateau

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