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Conservation and Restoration

Since its establishment in 1996, the Foundation has funded and organised 14 major expeditions to the Mawson’s Huts historic site at Cape Denison. The expeditions have saved the main building from imploding and being blown into the Southern ocean, just 60 metres away.

The work of the Foundation followed a series of other attempts aimed at conserving the huts. These included efforts by some groups who wanted to dismantle them and return them to Australia – which proved impractical.

History of Conservation

CONCERN OVER DETERIORATION

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 forgotten 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 Antarctic base supply ship 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 AAD the following year but it was not until 2007 that the boards were used for the work.

Project Blizzard

In the summers of 1984 and 1985 a group of enthusiasts launched a national campaign to save the huts.  It was called “Project Blizzard” and the group 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.  

ANARE 1986

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.

Mawson’s Huts Foundation

A NEW PLAN

In 1996 David Jensen, an Executive Director of Australian Associated Press (AAP), decided the historic huts had to be saved. “It was really my wife’s idea,” David happily explains. “We’re both New Zealanders by birth and were brought up on the exploits of the British explorers Sir Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton, who both used NZ as their base, but we had never heard of Douglas Mawson”.

“We were also impressed with the work done by the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust in looking after the bases used by Scott and Shackleton. As we had since learnt about Mawson it was obvious something had to be done with Mawson’s Huts so I had AAP support the establishment of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation”.

“I was fortunate in convincing the late Sir Peter Derham to be my deputy chairman. Peter was involved with Project Blizzard and was  passionate about saving the huts. He was also a close friend of Peter Costello, the then Federal Treasurer, who helped secure funds for our initial major expedition in 1997-98,” explains David. “With Peter Costello’s backing the Foundation was registered as a not for profit charity with both income tax and GST exemption”.

“The late Sir Edmund Hillary, a fellow Kiwi and a great Antarctic explorer after his conquest of Mt Everest, attended the launch as did our first Patron Sir William Deane, then Governor General of Australia.”

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 engaged as 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.

The Conservation program

The first major expedition during the summer of 1997-98 was preceded by a 24 hour visit the previous summer by Geoff Ashley, a heritage architect at Godden Mackay and Alasdair McGregor, a Sydney architect and artist. They were on board the Akademik Shokalskiy and although only ashore a brief time the weather conditions were perfect. Their task was to assess the condition of the huts and make recommendations for the conservation work.

Recommendations from their report formed the basis for the conservation program, which was agreed by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD). Under the Australian Government, the AAD has responsibility for looking after the historic site.

From 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.

The 1997-98 expedition comprised a team of 12 specialists and a film crew of two, departing Hobart in December and returning to Bluff NZ. The Foundation chartered the Akademik Shokalskiy for two voyages and became a travel company for a short time, selling off the unwanted berths to pay for the charter and in doing so, turned a small profit.

The works programme included the recladding of the workshop area of the main hut and the fitting of a specially designed stainless steel bracket to repair the cross arm of the Memorial Cross to Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis. The arm had repeatedly fallen down through the years in the extreme weather conditions and was an important element to the restoration of the heritage of the Historic Site.

The timber used in recladding the workshop was source from the same region in Finland as the original timber, was exactly the same dimension and was imported into Australia by the same family timber company which supplied Mawson in 1911.

Since the initial expedition, Foundation expeditions have reclad both roofs of the main hut, removed 90 per cent of the ice from the interior, extended the Sorenson Hut for expedition living quarters and built a conservation laboratory for the treatment of artefacts from the interior.

No work has been done in the veranda areas which surround the main building on three sides. These were partially filled with ice when occupied by the AAE and have long been totally full of ice, which help to protect the interior walls.

Ongoing conservation and maintenance of the all the buildings on the site will always be required and subject to funding and transport the Foundation is planning another expedition in the summer of 2019-20 for essential works and a thorough inspection.

Become involved and support our work

Help conserve Australia’s rich Antarctic heritage.

The Foundation is a not for profit charity seeking funds to promote and encourage public interest in the nation’s Antarctic history including the conservation of Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison, East Antarctica.

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation is a registered Deductible Gift Recipient with all monetary donations tax deductible.

Mawson’s Huts

Nestled on rocks just 60 metres from the shore at the base of Cape Denison, East Antarctica, Mawson’s Huts are the jewel in Australia’s rich Antarctic heritage.