The only Australian-made icebreaker might soon leave our shores.
The RSV Aurora Australis was Australia's Antarctic flagship for 30 years. During its service for the Australian Antarctic Division the ship conducted 150 research and supply voyages, ferrying 14,000 expeditioners.
The Aurora Australis helped Australia make its mark in Antarctica and facilitated advancements in oceanography, climate science, marine research, glaciology and conservation including the management of krill fisheries.
There was a push to see the decommissioned Aurora given heritage status and preserved as a floating museum in Hobart. But in August the ship's owner, P&O Maritime Logistics (POML), was granted the export permit needed for it to be taken from Australia.
It's reported the Aurora has now been gifted to the Argentine Antarctic program and will leave the country before the end of the year. But this report could not be independently verified.
A POML spokesperson said they weren't able to comment on speculation and that no departure date had been confirmed.
"The decision-making process regarding the future of Aurora Australis is ongoing. POML has been approached by a number of interested parties from around the world," they said.
The ship was built at Carrington Slipways upriver from Newcastle and launched in 1989 to much fanfare in the harbour. Since then "Orange Roughy" has made great strides and taken a lot of knocks becoming an important part of many people's lives -- a second home, a scientific breakthrough, an adventure, a matchmaker and a life-saver.
On Christmas morning 2013 the Aurora was called upon to help rescue the private Russian vessel the Akademik Shokalskiy which became stuck in ice.
Operations and shipping officer for the Australian Antarctic Division, Leanne Millhouse, was on board when the Aurora received the distress call. It was her first voyage on the icebreaker.
The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and French vessel L'Astrolabe had also responded to the stuck ship.
"It's one of the unique things I think about going to Antarctica, everybody actually wants everyone to succeed so they will do their best to help. We've got a task, let's get in and do it and do it safely and efficiently as we possibly can." said Leanne.
Journalist Taylor Fuller was one of the 74 passengers and crew on the Shokalskiy. He was 19-years-old at the time.
"I can remember the moment that I saw the Aurora Australis. When you're in Antarctica during the middle of the summer, the sun never really sets. It kind of dips below the horizon, but then comes up. So there was this kind of orange hue cast all along this huge field of ice. And then right in the middle was this big red beacon of hope," he said.
The Xue Long used its helicopters to ferry passengers from the Shokalskiy to the Aurora since most of the passengers were Australian. Taylor said they used Milo tins to mark up a helipad on the ice next to the ship. The Aurora then took the Shokalskiy passengers back to Australia.
"People were very, very nervous about what could've happened to us. But it was a really, really lovely trip home. And all of the crew and the captain of the ship made us feel really welcome," Taylor said.
In their downtime aboard the Aurora, crew and passengers would play board games, watch movies, write journals and emails, play instruments, bird watch and whale watch and take up photography. And just like Aussies on dry land they loved to have a barbecue.
"It's about -8 [degrees], but you're having a barbecue, eating a steak sandwich. And you're just watching icebergs go past. It's quite surreal," Leanne Millhouse recalled.
But long journeys can put a strain on relationships. Krill specialist Stephen Nicol worked for the Antarctic Division as a scientist and program leader for 24 years. As voyage leader he appreciated the need for passengers to let off some steam. On one voyage a snowball fight broke out after snow collected on the helideck. Stephen was watching from the bridge.
"The captain then looked at me and he said, you know what you've got to do. I said, 'what?', He says 'you have to go down there and you have to let them beat you up'. So I put on my outdoor gear, I went down and everybody took out their frustrations on me," he said.
Ship master Gerry O'Doherty has sailed more than 50 voyages on the Aurora Australis. One of his fondest memories of the icebreaker was ringing in the new millennium with his shipmates.
"We were parked up in a place called the Amery Ice Shelf. We put a ladder over the side and set up a bar down there. And we had music and dancing and some penguins joined us," he said.
Gerry also has horror stories from the ship. In 2016 the Aurora lost its moorings at Mawson Harbour and drifted onto rocks in the middle of a blizzard. But he said the hardest part is abandoning the voyage.
"We do our best to try and get those people to those locations. And sometimes it's just not physically possible to do it. And when you have to deliver the bad news to say, 'I'm sorry, but your project's just about to go down the gurgler' and to experience that disappointment that sort of news brings, that's really tough," he said.
In 1998 the Aurora suffered an engine room fire. Seabird ecologist Barbara Wienecke was asleep in her cabin when the fire alarm went off.
It is really hard to comprehend that this is actually not a dream and it is really happening. We are miles from absolutely everywhere. It is in the middle of winter in Antarctica and your ship is on fire.Barbara Wienecke
She joined the other expeditioners mustered on the helideck in subzero temperatures. One of her colleagues had evacuated barefoot. Luckily Barbara had stuffed spare socks in her pockets and offered him a pair.
The fire was eventually put out using halogen, and no one was injured. But the ship did lose power.
"The toilets didn't work. That was disgusting. I mean, not having a shower is one thing, but not being able to use the toilets. That was pretty harsh," Barbara said.
Crew were able to fix up the ship enough to make it back to Hobart under its own steam.
Antarctica is often described as monochrome. But Marine biologist Sarah Laverick, who wrote a book about the Aurora Australis, said it was actually very colourful.
"The leopard seals, they mouth at the ship because they're not quite sure what it is... that pop of pink against this white and blue landscape is really obvious and surprising. I used to love seeing it," she said.
Stephen Nicol saw a particular colour in Antarctica, the elusive green flash of the sun.
"One of my colleagues was there ready to photograph it and everything. But it turned out he was using black and white film," he said.
The Aurora Australis was built to break ice 1.2 metres thick.
"So the general rule of thumb with boating is 'don't hit anything'. And if you have to hit something do it gently. But icebreaking takes a huge departure from that," said ship master Gerry O'Doherty.
The ship doesn't break ice like a hot knife through butter, the specially designed bow rides the ice, pushes it downwards and snaps the ice underneath.
"It can make just a thunderous crack, like a continuous banging noise with one crack after the other. It's quite exciting,' Gerry said.
The Aurora Australis is being replaced by the Romanian built RSV Nuyina. The new icebreaker is almost ready for deployment but the final testing phase has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It's expected to arrive in Hobart in 2021.
The Aurora is sitting idle at Princes Wharf in Hobart, awaiting its next adventure.
Hear more stories from on board the Aurora Australis on the latest episode of our podcast Voice of Real Australia.