Home South pole ice The expeditions set sail for a six-week project to preserve Mawson’s historic huts in Antarctica

The expeditions set sail for a six-week project to preserve Mawson’s historic huts in Antarctica



On Friday, six expeditionaries will set sail for Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica aboard the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe to spend six weeks restoring what remains of Mawson’s historic huts.

The heritage-listed huts were built by Antarctic expeditionary Douglas Mawson and his crew at Cape Denison between 1911 and 1914, and housed a group of about 32 men for a year when they failed to be retrieved by their relief vessel.

But restoring what is considered to be the most important Australian historic site in Antarctica will be different from typical home renovations or exterior projects.

Expeditioners will sleep in a demountable known as the Sorensen Hut, go to the toilet in a bucket so everything can be containerized, and spend their days working in minus -20 degrees Celsius while battling high winds and type conditions. blizzard.

Expeditionary Michelle Berry examines the living area of ​​Mawson’s cabin in 2015.(Provided: David Killick)

“The main job will be doing a little health check on Mawson’s Huts,” said Greg Carter, executive director of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation.

“They were built to last six months and they’re still around 110 years later. The team will do things like cut the ice that is inside the hut, maintain the woods, and save any artifacts we find there.

“There are always new artifacts found as well as those we know of.

Other work includes setting up an automatic weather station and counting the number of penguins living in colonies around the huts.

View of the old wooden hut in the snow.
The expeditionaries will work to remove the ice and snow that settles in the old cabins.(Provided: David Killick)

Accessing history not without challenges

If the group manages to make it to Cape Denison, it will be the first time restoration work has been done on the cabins since 2015.

“There was a big iceberg called B19B, the size of the ACT, blocking the entrance to Commonwealth Bay, but it’s broken up a bit now,” Carter said of the trip on more recent.

“Fast ice,” or ice attached to the mainland, could also prove to be a challenge for expeditionaries.

“At present [fast ice] covers about 23 kilometers, so you will probably have to take them to the [work site] by helicopter, ”Carter said.

A man tackles ice in a wooden hut.
Chief restaurateur Ian Godfrey removes ice from the shelves inside Mawson’s cabin during the 2015 expedition.(Provided: David Killick)

Four of the expeditionaries have been to Antarctica several times already, including Mercury journalist David Killick, who will be the base camp director and take responsibility for cooking for the crew.

It will be a maiden voyage for materials conservators Karina Acton and Eoin O’Suilleabhain.

“I’m really excited, definitely a little nervous… I didn’t think I would ever go to Antarctica in my life,” Ms. Acton said.

Interior of a very old wooden cabin.
Mawson’s Hut had simple living and dining rooms.(Provided: David Killick)

Ms Acton said planning for the trip started in March, but was only confirmed as a Expeditioner last week.

“Our permits were issued to enter Tasmania last Thursday (…)

“It’s six weeks on the ice and a back and forth week, so it’s going to be eight weeks in our day-to-day lives.”

The trip means the expeditionaries will spend Christmas and New Years away from their families – but plans have been made for their own festivities in Antarctica.

Frosted items on a wooden shelf.
Several artifacts from Mawson’s time in Antarctica remain in the huts.(Provided: David Killick)

Conservation works ‘integral’ to preserve history

The team will benefit from 24 hours of sunshine in Antarctica but will face unpredictable weather conditions.

“On previous trips we have experienced winds of over 100 kilometers per hour, blizzards that lasted for days and temperatures down to minus 20 [degrees]”said expedition leader Marty Passingham.

File photo of Australian Sir Douglas Mawson, who survived a grueling Antarctic expedition in 1918
Mawson’s work on his Antarctic expedition is still used by scientists today.(AAP: Australian Antarctic Division)

The huts don’t get many visitors, but Mr Carter said their place in Antarctic history is worth it.

“Mawson was really special in that his Antarctic expedition was the first truly scientific trip to Antarctica,” he said.

“A lot of other guys back then, Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, were all trying to be the first ones at the South Pole, it was all about chasing glory.

“Mawson was a scientist, he was a geologist, and a lot of the weather records he recorded there are still used in [climate] modeling today, so it’s really topical, which he did 110 years ago. “

The expedition will be documented on the Mawson’s Huts Foundation Facebook page.