Monday 20 January 2014

Mawsons Huts: Shiver me Timbers

Extract from Aurora Expeditions The Expeditioner

A meager wooden hut erected on a prime corner of Hobart’s waterfront could easily be mistaken for a dodgy kit home, yet its baltic pine walls carry a weight of Australian Antarctic history. The hut, painstakingly recreated, is a full-scale replica of Douglas Mawson’s winter quarters at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica.

The 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by Douglas Mawson, was the first major Antarctic scientific expedition. Steam Yacht Aurora departed Hobart for Antarctica just a stone’s throw from the site of the replica hut. As fate would have it, the site Mawson selected for his main Antarctic base proved to be the windiest location on earth at sea level. The anemometer frequently recorded gales of 150 kilometres per hour, with a record 325 kilometres per hour that brought down one of the radio masts. For much of 1912, Mawson and his seventeen men were confined to cramped living conditions in the winter quarters hut. Outside, blizzards raged incessantly.

David Jensen AM, Mawson’s Huts Foundation Chairman and CEO, explained that the replica project has been four years in the planning. ‘The lead carpenters have both worked on the actual huts in Cape Denison. They’ve tried to replicate every little join and niche throughout the whole hut. The timber is from the same source in Scandinavia, exactly the same dimensions, and has been imported to Australia by the same agent who supplied Mawson.’

The two divisions in the main living area are Mawson’s cubicle where he slept and worked, and Frank Hurley’s pint-sized darkroom behind the kitchen. Serendipity played a part during the fitting-out of the replica hut: the Metters stove, matching the original, was found on a Tasmanian farm, its pieces scattered across a paddock. One of the original sledges used in the expedition was retrieved from a rubbish tip and donated to Mawson’s Huts Foundation.

For the uninitiated, the modest hut may seem a curious departure from the usual waterfront architecture. As a representation of the birthplace of Australia’s Antarctic history, its significance is lofty.

On 2 December 2013, the replica hut was officially opened to an enthusiastic crowd, 102 years to the day since a bustling gathering crammed Hobart’s Queen’s Pier to farewell the departure of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

Charles Lindall, David Jensen and Peter
Charles Lindall: Mawson Loyalist

When it comes to historic Antarctic explorers, Charles Lindall is a through-and-through Mawson loyalist. Charles is also a ‘repeat offender’, having sailed with us three times now, to both Commonwealth Bay and the historic huts of the Ross Sea. On 2 December Charles did us proud as our representative at the opening of the Mawson’s Hut replica in Hobart. Charles, who painstakingly built his own miniature of the hut, was in admiration of the full-sized replica. ‘The timber inside has been aged and brilliantly fitted out similarly to the original. Authentic artifacts are interspersed with convincing copies of bedding, equipment and tools from one hundred years ago. The effect is amazing, and folk were overheard to utter feelings of the presence of those expeditioners from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.’ For Charles, the opening coupled as a happy reunion with former Aurora shipmates, volunteer tradesmen who built the replica, and winterers from the Australian Antarctic Division. Charles also reconnected with staff from our 2011 Mawson’s Centenary voyage, and our inaugural 2005 Mawson’s Antarctica voyage.

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