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Monday, 28 November 2005
Page: 128

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (10:04 PM) —Earlier this month Australia lost another of its unsung heroes when Peter Orbansen died at Davis, one of Australia’s Antarctic stations. Our hearts go out to all those people mourning his loss, especially his family and friends and those people currently at our Antarctic stations. Peter Orbansen—‘Orby’ to his friends—had spent nearly one-third of his adult life in Antarctica. I did not know him but Mark Reynolds, who spent a year working with him in 1993, and other friends and work colleagues say that he was an exceptional person, loved by all who knew him.

Last week, a very beautiful and moving memorial service was held for Orby on Anchorage Island, just offshore, across the sea ice, at Davis. It was a blue sky day with just a hint of wind and everyone present was spellbound by the spectacular location. Another cross was erected as a symbol of a life passed at Davis. An impressive rustic oregon timber cross was constructed by Orby’s fellow expeditioners and a plaque commemorates his many trips to Antarctica. That plaque reads:

In memory of Peter Orbansen ‘Orby’, 1962-2005, a gentleman carpenter, Casey 1988 and 1990, Macquarie 1991, Mawson 1993 and 2001-02, Davis 1997 and 2001 and 2004 and 2005.

As the island is situated at the front of Davis station, the memorial forms a haunting vista visible from many station windows.

Stations at Casey, Mawson and Macquarie Island, and those onboard the Aurora Australis and at the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters at Kingston, Tasmania, all held similar services. More services are scheduled this week on the Gold Coast in Queensland and in Melbourne. Condolences messages have been received from many of the countries with Antarctic programs, including South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, Argentina, Peru, France, Japan, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, India and Poland.

Orby first journeyed South in October 1987 as a member of the Australian construction services crew. He spent the 1988 winter fitting out the Casey red shed and was amongst the last group of people to occupy the old Casey station. He returned to Casey in 1989 and spent the 1990 winter fitting out the workshop, and completed the science building to lock-up stage in the summer of 1990-91. It was during this second winter trip that his habit of two tea bags per cup of tea was first queried. Orby’s response was: ‘It’s all right for you but I’m too busy to sit around and wait.’

In 1991-92 he spent the summer at Macquarie Island, where he worked on extending the biology lab and recladding the meteorological office. Most people wore overalls with their name on the back. That summer, Orby wore overalls with one word written on the back: ‘Me’.

In 1993 he spent the winter at Mawson as the maintenance carpenter. It was during this expedition that he would become known as ‘Kapitan Orbansen’. This title was bestowed on him after the all-terrain vehicle he was driving broke through the sea ice. He was forced to pilot his blue Hagglund, floating in its own hole in the sea ice—all captured on video in full colour, much to the amusement of the entire station in the club that night, and in the many years ahead. Another moment of note during 1993 was when he danced to Nutbush City Limits in the old club wearing rollerskates. In the 1993 yearbook, he stated that he enjoyed ‘good champagne and the company of positive people’. Orby listed his favourite pastimes as ‘hobbying, making sawdust and dreaming’. He said, ‘It costs nothing to dream.’

In 1997 he spent the winter at Davis. The highlight of the season was when Orby rolled the small tip truck. He alighted from the vehicle and with true Orby humour said, ‘It wasn’t me driving; it must have been someone who looked like me.’ He spent another winter at Davis, in 2001, this time as the building services supervisor. One of the major tasks was painting the bedrooms in the accommodation building. In his June report he wrote, ‘At this time we have 57.5 per cent of the painting completed and by the middle of July we should have completed 68.9 per cent.’

In the summer of 2001-02, Orby worked on the foundations for the wind turbines at Mawson and completed the extension to the Cosray science building. Orby continued his habit of referring to Antarctic field training as: ‘A complete waste of time; I’ve got work to do.’ In 2004 he again wintered at Davis as the building services supervisor. His most notable achievement was leading a small team in completing the foundations for the new living quarters building. This year, Orby journeyed south to Davis again as the building services supervisor, this time to install a new summer accommodation building.

Orby was known for his practical jokes and his laconic sense of humour, so much so, in fact, that some people initially thought that reports of his passing were but another Orby joke. He was a stand-out performer when it came to completing whatever tasks he took on. If you ever had to go out into the Antarctic wilderness you would want Orby by your side.

One of his most notable traits was that he never spoke a bad word about anybody. If he did not like someone he would simply say, ‘That bloke has some strange ideas.’ Australia’s Antarctic Division is truly blessed to be able to attract some of the most remarkable, talented and considerate people to serve in Antarctica. It may be a cliche, but Orby really was amongst the best of the best. Antarctica is a very special place and even at times like this its beauty does not fade.

In death as in life, Peter Orbansen had a huge impact on everyone who knew him. He will be remembered for the helpful, warm, witty, friendly, clever, strong, able, talented and resourceful person that he was. His many positive contributions are too numerous to detail here tonight. Orby was the team player, the craftsman, the practical joker, the professional, but, most of all, a mate. Everyone who shared their lives with Orby, in both Australia and Antarctica, came away better for the experience. Nothing will ever take that away. Peter ‘Orby’ Orbansen will always reside in the hearts and minds of the people who respected and cared for him—this ‘truly excellent expeditioner’. I will leave the last words to Orby: ‘What ya think ya doing? Wipe your tears away. Absolutely ludicrous. I’ve just gone to check my washing.’