What lockdown? Dani Yannopoulos heads to Antarctica for a year. | HerCanberra

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What lockdown? Dani Yannopoulos heads to Antarctica for a year.

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As Canberrans wander a little unsteadily, blinking into the light after 64 days in lockdown, Dani Yannopoulos is heading in completely the opposite direction.

From 3 November, she will be experiencing her own version of a lockdown which makes the Canberra one look positively tame.

Dani has been appointed the Station Leader of Davis Research Station in Antarctica and her post will last a year. She will be stationed on the southernmost Australian outcrop in Antarctica—positioned about 20 kms from the edge of the continental ice sheet. She will share a small village of shipping containers with around 40 scientists, tradies and technicians during the summer and that reduces to 26  over the long and bitter winter. How bitter? Try -40 degrees on a bad day worth of bitter. Not forgetting it is dark for almost six months of the year and there are only one boat arrival every 12 months to bring fresh supplies, and people in and out. Quite frankly, Dani cannot wait.

Of course, this lifestyle may not appeal to all, but for Dani, it is the culmination of more than 20 years of honing her leadership skills largely in Australian Customs and Border Force roles. The former Daramalan College graduate who preferred to head overseas for some life experience rather than enrol in a university degree, says she has based her career progression on honing generalist skills rather than finding a specialisation or taking a technical lead.

“I have always enjoyed the people side of things, building teams and encouraging diversity in backgrounds, age and experience in order to achieve high performance. I don’t change who I am for a role, I like learning from people and I find that I have an ability to draw people in and communicate with them.”

After a long and arduous selection process from a national field which Dani only half-jokingly compares to the final stages of a game of Survivor, she was told she had won the role just as COVID-19 rolled into the ACT. So while trying to combine training and preparation, Dani was getting a small taste of what is to come.

And it means she has only a few weeks to cram an entire year’s worth of so-called freedom in before her lockdown starts in earnest.

Massages, facials, and a long overdue haircut were first cabs off the rank. And Dani is also weighing up what to pack and what to leave when she swaps an airy Kingston apartment for less a salubrious shipping container as a living quarter, and another shipping container for an office.

“I’ve packed hair dye, because I refuse to go grey graciously, and while I have really short hair, I may grow it.” She may also trust one of the tradies to try a trim during the posting (apparently one of them dated a hairdresser and has offered up his skills). Otherwise, she  figures she will be wearing a beanie most of the time anyway.

Dani has bought some of her favourite jeans, skincare, makeup, and shampoo for a year and can’t quite wrap her head around the idea that she won’t be shopping for 12 whole months.

Having spoken to the station chef, Dani is less concerned about food, saying she feels secure knowing there is good coffee, loads of chocolate and hydroponic gardens to ensure access to fresh salad all year round.

Meanwhile, she sees her role as one of facilitating high performance and cohesion between her colleagues as they man the station and undertake work of international scientific importance. The winter period sees most of the working scientists leave and the trades and technical staff stay behind to keep the station functioning.

“My role will be quite pastoral care-focussed and of course mental health will be a big part of my job, but I believe the teams chosen for this kind of work are resilient enough to manage themselves. And in any case, my style is not to micromanage but to trust people to do their best.”

She has set herself some personal goals over the year, including working on her fitness in the station gym, ensuring she gets out to see areas of the globe that only a handful of people have access to, and improving her geography skills in terms of compass reading and GPS navigation. And she also plans to learn Spanish with some of the other team members.

“I don’t want to aim too high, but to come back super fit and speaking Spanish would be pretty cool.”

Dani hopes the experience will bring her leadership wisdom unlike any other position she has held. “I think I am going to grow in ways I can’t even begin to imagine.”

“Honestly I am so excited for this opportunity. But I do also know that I have to make peace with the concept of not being able to leave. When that last ship leaves for the winter and I look around at my new 25 best friends and hope it works out, well, that will be a pretty wild experience.”

If you want to keep track of Dani’s Davis Research Centre experience, you can check updates here.


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