Visits to the site
After Sir Douglas Mawson’s last visit to the huts in 1931 on the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), the next visits occurred in the 1950’s when at least four French parties visited between 1950 and 1959 in association with establishment of bases at Port Martin and later, Dumont D’Urville in 1956. An Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) visited the site in 1962 and reported the hut full of ice.
In 1967 the Director of the French Antarctic Program noted that the hut had filled with snow and ice between his visits in 1959 and 1962 because ‘some stupid Antarctic explorer had forgot to close it’!
In the 1960’s, four visits by American, New Zealand and French expeditions were made and in the early 1970’s ANARE visited the site four times. The deterioration in the condition of the huts was reported with growing concern.
The first conservation work was conducted in 1977 by an ANARE team with repairs to the skylights and Memorial Cross and repatriation of some artefacts.
In 1978 a four person ANARE group led by Rod Ledingham constructed the Granholm Hut (named after Peter Granholm, Master of the Nella Dan) for accommodation and placed several metal containers on site for storage of tools and equipment. Work on Mawson’s Huts included excavating the workshop and covering areas of the roof with tape and lead sheets in an effort to reduce the ingress of snow into the hut. Extensive photographic documentation of the condition of the hut and artefacts was carried out and on return of the expedition to Australia, plans were made for future conservation work. Tongue and grooved Baltic pine timber to over clad the hut was purchased by the Australian Antarctic Division the following year but it was not until 2007 that the boards were used for the work.
Construction of Granholm Hut 1978
Dr Jeannie Ledingham inspects the interior of the main hut 1978
A member of the 1978 ANARE party attempts to stop the ingress of snow and ice using lead lining.
In the summers of 1984 and 1985 a private expedition, ‘Project Blizzard’ conducted extensive documentation of the huts and made critical repairs to the supporting timbers inside the main hut. They installed an Apple Hut supplied by the AAD for accommodation near the Granholm Hut. Their efforts raised public awareness of the importance of the historic site and the need for a comprehensive conservation plan to save the huts from the ravages of the extreme weather of Cape Denison.
Interior of the Main hut almost completely ice filled. Project Blizzard found broken timbers supporting the roof which threatened its structure and were repaired by the expedition.
Base camp for Project Blizzard, alongside Granholm Hut
The next visit to the huts by ANARE was in 1986 when the Sorensen Hut (named after Arne Sorensen, another Master of the Nella Dan) was established to accommodate future planned Mawson’s Huts work parties. Dr Michael Pearson of the Australian Heritage Commission visited on this occasion and on return to Australia prepared the first Conservation Management plan for the historic site.
Sorensen Hut constructed by an ANARE party in 1986
Mawson’s Huts Foundation
David Jensen AM, who was at the time an Executive of Australian Associated Press (AAP), formed the Mawson’s Huts Foundation in 1996. Sir Peter Derham (now deceased) who had made dedicated efforts through the Mawson’s Huts Conservation Committee to carry out a conservation program joined the Foundation as its Deputy Chairman.
The aim of the Foundation was to raise funds to send expeditions comprising heritage professionals and support personnel to conserve the historic site working closely with the Australian Government through the AAD and Heritage Division.
The Foundation employs an Expedition Manager, Rob Easther AAM, previously an AAD employee who prepares conservation works plans in consultation with the AAD for approval and also makes application for permits and environmental impact assessment for each expedition. A comprehensive risk assessment is completed before departure and the expedition team, selected by the Foundation, gathers for briefings prior to departure in preparation for the summer’s fieldwork at the Historic Site.
A typical conservation team comprises heritage specialists including an archaeologist, materials conservators and heritage carpenters with additional support personnel such as a doctor, base camp manager and communications specialist. A photojournalist is usually included in the team to ensure the story of each expedition reaches the media and occasionally artists have been appointed who generate funds for the conservation work from the sale of their work.
The conservation work
The Foundation sent built heritage architect Geoff Ashley of Godden McKay Logan and Alasdair McGregor, architect and artist to the Historic Site in 1996 on the Akademik Shokalskiy to assess the condition of the huts and make recommendations for the conservation work. They were ashore for only 24 hours and with perfect weather, used their limited time well.
Geoff Ashley makes an appraisal of the condition of the huts.
Besides contributing to the condition report, Alasdair made several sketches in preparation for paintings he would produce on return to Australia to raise funds for the conservation work.
Alasdair at work
Recommendations from their report formed the basis for the conservation program, which was agreed by the AAD.
At the outset, grave concern for the integrity of the roof of the main hut and workshop due to the eroded state of the tongue and groove boards meant that over cladding the roof was a high priority. Its failure in the extreme winds of Cape Denison threatened destruction of the huts if the wind penetrated the structure. In the 1997-8 summer, the workshop roof was over-clad with Baltic Pine, the same timber used on the original roof.
Carpenters Dave Gillott and Paul Delaney over clad the workshop roof
Throughout following expeditions, the priority of the works program was removal of material from previous visits to the site following Mawson’s last visit and recording of artefacts inside and outside the huts.
A stainless steel bracket was manufactured by the Foundation to support the arm on the Memorial Cross erected in 1912 by Mawson’s men to commemorate the sacrifice of Ninnis and Mertz and which had repeatedly fallen down through the years in the extreme weather conditions. It was an important element to the restoration of the heritage of the Historic Site.
Memorial Cross with strong bracket fitted in 1997
The Sorensen Hut was much too small for the team sizes planned for future expeditions so one of the important tasks of the initial conservation expedition was to double its size and this was completed by the time the group was picked up. With extraordinary teamwork, the group also carried the Apple hut installed by Project Blizzard in 1986 to the Sorensen Hut site and re-installed it on a purpose built platform.
Base Camp – Sorensen Hut and re-located Apple hut at the completion of the 1997-8 expedition
Completion of the over cladding of the main hut in 2006 prevented the ingress of snow and ice from entering the huts and made possible removal of large quantities of snow and ice that had accumulated over the years. Numerous artefacts were discovered and carefully excavated. Recording the humidity and temperature inside the huts ensured any changes that may have been detrimental to the huts were monitored.
Over cladding the main roof in progress showing the membrane and finished section with the original cladding in tact.
The flagpole at the apex of the main hut was removed during the over cladding since it had been eroded to a very fine and vulnerable thickness by incessant wind driven ice particles; a replica was installed. Permission was granted by the AAD to repatriate the flagpole to ensure its proper conservation and ensure it would not deteriorate further. Once conserved, a decision will be made by the AAD as whether it will be returned to the Historic Site and exhibited there or exhibited in Australia.
Flag pole in situ, severely eroded by wind driven snow and ice.
Packed for return to Australia for conservation treatment – note the size of the base of the pole on the left in the picture which was inside the apex of the hut and protected from the weather, compared to the top which was exposed.
In 2007 the Foundation expedition constructed a conservation laboratory alongside the modern facility, Sorensen Hut, base for conservation teams. Treatment of artefacts on site has occurred since and the expansion of the Sorensen also allowed for improved accommodation for up to six expeditioners.
Finished lab and dorm attached to Sorensen Hut
Completed conservation lab.
Michelle Berry and Megan Absolon at work conserving artefacts in the new lab.
Continuing excavation has been followed by re-instatement of shelving allowing replacement of treated artefacts to their former positions.
Work has also been conducted on the outlying scientific huts at the Historic Site to ensure their conservation although the Absolute Magnetic Hut is described as a ‘standing ruin’ and it is accepted that very little can be done to conserve it for the longer term. The Transit Hut is in an advanced state of deterioration but has received specialist treatment in the interests of longer-term conservation.
Absolute Magnetic Hut – a standing ruin
Magnetograph House – well protected by rocks and in very good condition
Full details of all work carried out by the Foundation including photographs before and after have been lodged with the AAD following each expedition and are available via the AAD’s website at http://data.aad.gov.au/aadc/artefacts/display_artefact.cfm?artefact_id=2158.
In some cases, this includes the expedition reports available online.
Mawson’s Huts Foundation Expeditions
1996-97 Built heritage architect Geoff Ashley and architect/artist Alasdair McGregor visited the Historic Site for 24 hours on the tourist vessel Akademik Shokalskiy with Heritage Expeditions returning with an assessment of the condition of the huts and recommendations about their conservation (see pics above).
1997-98 The Foundation chartered the Akademik Shokalskiy and Heritage Expeditions to deliver the thirteen member conservation team to the site to make vital internal structural repairs, over-clad the workshop roof and record artefacts at the site. A film crew of two made a documentary of the expedition called ‘The Home of the Blizzard’ and Alasdair McGregor produced several paintings to raise funds for future work.
Alan Grant – Field Leader
Geoff Ashley – Conservation Team Leader
Dr Estelle Lazer – Archaeologist
Ted Bugg - Carpenter
David Gillott – Carpenter
Paul Delaney – Carpenter
Alasdair McGregor – Artist/photographer
David Killick – Journalist/Photographer/Communications
Joan Russell - Cook/Base camp manager
Dr Rod Givney - Medical Officer
Alan Rooke - Radio/Satellite Communications
Malcolm Ludgate - Film crew
Mike Piper - Film crew
L to R: on roof David Gillott, Paul Delaney and Ted Bugg. On snow, back row: Mike Piper, Joan Russell, Rod Givney, Alan Rooke, David Killick and Alan Grant. Front row: Malcolm Ludgate, Alasdair McGregor, Estelle Lazer and Geoff Ashley.
2000-01 An eight-person conservation team funded by the Foundation and supported by the Antarctic Division sailed on the Sir Hubert Wilkins and continued the repairs to the huts and the artefacts recording and cleared the site of rubbish left by previous visits since Mawson was last at the site in 1931. Environmental monitoring equipment installed inside the huts during a visit by the McIntyre’s yacht in 1998 was serviced and data retrieved.
Rob Easther - Field Leader
Dr Ian Godfrey - Material’s conservator
Dr Estelle Lazer - Archaeologist
Julia Searle - Heritage Officer
Ted Bugg - Carpenter
David Killick - Cook, journalist, photographer, communications
Alasdair McGregor - Artist/Photographer
Dr David Little - Medical Officer
Left to right – back row: David Little, Rob Easther, David Killick, Ian Godfrey and Alasdair McGregor. Front row: Ted Bugg, Julia Searle and Estelle Lazer
2001-02 A joint Foundation and Antarctic Division team supported by the French Antarctic Program and delivered by their re-supply vessel L’Astrolabe carried out further internal structural repairs, cleared the workshop section of ice and snow, mapped artefacts and upgraded the huts’ environmental monitoring equipment so it is now monitored by satellite. With a built heritage architect a member of the team, an assessment of the hut foundations prior to planning future work was conducted.
Diana Paterson - Field Leader
Adrian Welke - Heritage Architect
Dr Estelle Lazer - Archaeologist
Linda Clarke - Materials conservator
Mike Staples - Carpenter/ Environmental monitoring technician
Martin Passingham - Carpenter
David Killick - Cook/Journalist/Communications
Dr Geoff Couser - Medical Officer
Left to Right: Adrian Welke, Diana Patterson, Estelle Lazer, Linda Clarke, David Killick, Geoffrey Couser, Martin Passingham, Mike Staples.
2005-06 The Foundation dispatched a four-person team on the Aurora Expeditions vessel Marina Svetaeva for a brief visit to inspect the work of the previous expedition and to assess the feasibility of the plan to over clad the main hut roof.
Ted Bugg - Field Leader/Carpenter
Martin Passingham - Carpenter
Mike Staples - Carpenter/Environmental monitoring technician
David Killick - Cook/Journalist/Photographer Communications
L to R: Marty Passingham, Mike Staples, Ted Bugg, Dave Killick.
2006-07 A six-person team funded by a Government grant to the Foundation, and supported by the Antarctic Division departed Hobart on L’Astrolabe in late October 2006 to over clad the roof of the main hut thereby completing the stabilization of the huts. Successful completion of this major work allowed the conservation program to move on to the next phase, concentrating on the artefacts. The team was returned to Hobart on the Sarsen, a tourist vessel on a trial voyage for future visits to Antarctica.
Dr Ian Godfrey - Field Leader
Ted Bugg - Deputy Field Leader/Carpenter
Martin Passingham - Carpenter
Christian Gallagher - Carpenter/Medic
Simon Mossman - Cook/Journalist/Photographer
Angus McDonald - Artist/Photographer (brief stay-returned on delivery voyage)
2007-08 With the roof sealed, the selection of this MHF team marked the transition in the works program to a focus on the conservation of the numerous artefacts inside and outside the historic huts. Their major tasks were to construct a laboratory for the ongoing conservation work and to expand the Sorensen Hut to provide secure accommodation facilities for future expeditions. All this was achieved in the five weeks the team was ashore as well as a comprehensive survey of the artefacts throughout the Historic Site to enable the conservation works for the next few years to be planned.
Peter McCabe - Field Leader/Carpenter
Jon Tucker - Deputy Field Leader/Carpenter
Dr Anne McConnell - Archaeologist
Michelle Berry - Conservator
Steve Beaton - Electrician
Dr Peter Morse - Computer Visualization Specialist
Dr Tony Stewart - Medical Officer
Brett Jarrett - Artist/Official photographer
Left to Right: Pete McCabe, Steve Beaton, Michelle Berry, Peter Morse, Jonathon Tucker, Tony Stewart, Anne McConnell, Brett Jarrett
Ian Godfrey Conservator - Field Leader
Peter McCabe - Carpenter/Deputy Field Leader
Ben Burdett - Carpenter
Megan Absolon - Conservator
Peter Boyer - Journalist/Communications/Photographer/Catering
David London - Documentary filmmaker
Michelle Berry - Materials Conservator
Chris Henderson - Scientist/Doctor
Angus McDonald (Artist-in-residence, Aurora Expeditions).
L to R: Peter Boyer, Pete McCabe, Ben Burdett, Michelle Berry, Ian Godfrey, Megan Absolon, Chris Henderson and David London.
2009-10 Work achieved included comprehensive photo documentation of the winter quarters, Absolute Magnetic Hut, Magnetograph House and Transit Hut to record condition and snow ingress; memorial cross, proclamation pole and cairns. Platform timbers in the main living hut were reinstated
and excavation of ice in several locations inside the winter quarters under the supervision of the archaeologist. The outside south west corner of the main hut was over clad and documentation and downloading of data from the environmental and vibration monitoring systems and reprogramming were carried out.
The Magnetograph House was opened and the internal condition was assessed; the data logger dating from 2002 season was downloaded.
Photography, cataloguing and treatment of 156 artefacts and repairs to shelving in the main living hut were made. Survey and map of the internal fittings and artefacts inside the Main living hut and workshop were completed.
Air tractor fragments were located in Boat Harbor and returned to Australia for treatment. Archaeological survey completed and exposed artefacts mapped using aerial photography.
Tony Stewart - Field Leader/Doctor
Megan Absolon - Materials Conservator
Pauline Askin - Journalist
Michelle Berry - Materials Conservator
Chris Henderson - Scientist/Doctor
Peter Maxwell - Materials Conservator
Dr Peter Morse Computer - Visualization Specialist/Expedition photographer
Marty Passingham - Heritage Carpenter
Mark Farrell - Heritage Carpenter
Jody Steel - Archaeologist
2010-11 This team was deployed in two stages due to alterations in the shipping schedule of L’Astrolabe following a helicopter crash on the previous voyage. Three members travelled on L’Astrolabe as an advance party and two later on the tourist vessel, Orion. Despite the abbreviated stay at Cape Denison, the group completed stabilization of the Transit Hut internal frame and continued the extraction of artefacts inside the huts and recording of external artefacts. Two members who had been selected had to be withdrawn due to shipping constraints.
Peter McCabe - Field Leader/Heritage Carpenter
Matthew Tucker - Heritage Carpenter
Dr David Tingay - Doctor
Antonia Ross - Materials Conservator
Stirling Smith - Archaeologist
Michelle Berry - Heritage & Conservation Leader/Materials Conservator
Phil Tucak - Base camp manager/photographer
L to R: Pete McCabe, David Tingay, Stirling Smith, Antonia Ross and Matt Tucker.
2011-12 A team of seven was selected but due to the presence of the iceberg known as B9B lodged in the entrance to Commonwealth Bay, the expedition was postponed. This proved to be a wise decision as the only visitors to Mawson’s Huts this season arrived by long range helicopters due to the presence of fast ice, blocked into the coast by B9B, the size of the ACT. The Foundation will be monitoring the sea-ice in the region throughout the year and in particular in the lead up to next season’s departure in early December 2012.
Following cancellation of the expedition, two members Ian Godfrey and Marty Passingham, were selected by the AAD to join the AAD Centenary Voyage and a third previous Foundation member Chris Gallagher, was employed as the Field Leader for the AAD shore party. On arrival at the huts, it was found that two skylight covers had blown off the workshop roof and the two Foundation carpenters managed to make vital repairs.
Skylight covers on the main roof being checked by Ian, Chris and Marty. Two missing on the workshop roof were replaced, January 2012
Written by Rob Easther, Expedition Manager MHF