|List||National Heritage List|
|Legal Status||Listed place (27/01/2005)|
|Place File No||9/01/002/0008|
|Summary Statement of Significance|
Mawson's Huts Historic Site is a place of great historical
and social significance. The site is significant as the first base for
scientific and geographical discovery in Antarctica by Australians. The
Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1914 (AAE) was the first large-scale
scientific inquiry after Federation. Mawson's Huts is a complex historical
site, a remnant of the "Heroic Era" of exploration in Antarctica. The
expedition carried out major scientific experiments and laid the foundation for
the eventual claim to a very large portion of the Antarctic continent by
Mawson’s Huts Historic Site is rare as one of only nine wintering expedition bases built and as the only surviving site representing the work of an Australian expedition of the Heroic Age. It is one of only six sites, of all nationalities, remaining from this era. The expedition survived the isolation and the severe climate and the site illustrates this through its form and setting. The overall site with its range of buildings, scientific equipment and artefacts demonstrates life in Antarctica during this period. This base is the least disturbed by human activities making it one of the most diverse and unique bases that remain.
The place has a strong symbolic association with Sir Douglas Mawson, the AAE party and their heroic activities, and is evocative of Mawson’s leadership and the scientific endeavours undertaken. Mawson’s story has become part of Australia’s exploration history and, as such, is part of the nation’s cultural tradition. The place is directly associated with Sir Douglas Mawson’s major Antarctic expedition, which made him a hero to much of the Australian population. The AAE has become an integral part of Australia's exploration history and has gained a mythic quality. The place is highly prominent in the consciousness of large numbers of Australians; in particular, the science and veterans community value the AAE for its role in Antarctic scientific research and for the way it became a model for further exploration in the Antarctic.
The Site remains as isolated and remote as it did in 1912, with its historic structures clinging to the small peninsula of rock that is Cape Denison. This sense of a truly isolated place is powerful, both visually and symbolically. The Main Valley and adjacent ridges exhibit an aesthetic landscape value by providing a strong sense of place, with the Main Hut located snugly near the water’s edge and the group of scientific huts contained within a defined valley, dominated by the Memorial Cross and the BANZARE Proclamation Pole on adjacent ridges. The building form of the huts themselves shows the functional and efficient planning that was undertaken in response to the site position and the elements. The aesthetic qualities of the interior pyramid space, defined by the raked timber ceiling, timber beams and skylights rising over the central area, together with the evocative evidence of its historic use, produce an emotive response in visitors and viewers alike.
The place is strongly evocative of the endeavours of a group of Australians and others in one of the fiercest environments on Earth. The weathered buildings, as well as the artefacts and the memorial cross, and their relationship to the vast Antarctic landscape around them with its snow, ice, rocks and relentless winds, and the sea beyond, combine in creating an outstanding aesthetic entity conveying a strong sense of time and isolation. The weathering and survival of the huts and the decay of other artefacts, as a result of years of exposure to hostile conditions, provide archaeological and scientific research potential in the area of materials deterioration and conservation. It also serves as a gauge of time elapsed since the AAE and of the conditions endured by its members in this remote and hostile environment.
The AAE is significant as the first expedition to pioneer the use of wireless communication on the Antarctic continent, linking the main base at Cape Denison with mainland Australia via the relay station established on Macquarie Island. This expedition was also the first to obtain an aeroplane for use in Antarctica, although due to damage it was utilised by the expeditioners as an air tractor. The AAE is also significant for the photography of Frank Hurley, including his innovative use of colour images and cinematography. The surviving fabric, such as wireless masts and artefacts on site and in collections in Australia and overseas, demonstrate the intense period of AAE occupation between 1912-13.
The whole of Cape Denison contains evidence of the AAE, with a concentration of evidence in the Main Valley. This is an area of substantial archaeological deposit and archaeological potential. The site has already yielded archaeological evidence providing insight into the living conditions experienced by the AAE. The interiors of the huts are important in that they contain evidence of the domestic and work life of the AAE. The site still retains a great deal of physical evidence which can be interpreted by archaeological study. Associated scientific specimens and cultural object collections from Cape Denison, in situ or now in Australia, have continuing potential to yield information. Within Cape Denison, original points from which surveying, cartographic, meteorological and magnetic observations were made are still extant, including the three science huts, which still provide the facility to continue comparative scientific research.
The Huts are of technical significance being excellent examples of the innovation and technology used to combat the extreme conditions of the Antarctic and provide functional living and working quarters. The huts were designed by Douglas Mawson and pre-fabricated in Australia before the expedition. The Main Hut illustrates ideas learned by Mawson during earlier expeditions, as well as ideas borne out of collaboration with an architect and the suppliers of materials. The use of verandahs and hipped roofs reflects common Australian design features adapted to provide strength and insulation. The designs incorporated the need for wind resistance, simplicity, portability and resistance to the cold. The Main Hut is, perhaps, a climax of the Heroic Era building type, and is clearly designed for its functional purpose.
Denison is located in the centre of Commonwealth Bay on the eastern end on the
Australian Antarctic claim. The Cape is a 60 km-wide stretch of coast in George
V Land some 3,000 km south of Hobart, Australia. It projects into Commonwealth
Bay from the steeply rising wall of the ice cap of continental Antarctica. The
ice cliffs at either end of the 1.5 km wide Cape (Land’s End and John O’Groats)
and the sea hemming the northern shore form a natural sense of enclosure. Cape
Denison forms a series of rugged ridges and ice filled bays, its topography
defined by a series of four rocky ridges and three ice, snow and glacial moraine
filled valleys. The largest, and most westerly of these valleys contains the
AAE Main Base. The seaward end of this valley, the Main Valley, becomes Boat
Harbour. The Main Hut of the AAE is located as close as was practicable to the
edge of Boat Harbour in the Main Valley. On the west ridge of the valley is the
Memorial Cross, erected by the AAE in 1913, and on a ridge to the east is
Proclamation Hill, where Mawson returned in the BANZARE expedition of 1929-31
to claim formal possession of King George V Land. In addition to the Main Hut
there are three AAE hut structures in the Main Valley which were built to
undertake scientific studies. The Transit Hut is located 30m east of the Main
Hut. The Magnetograph Hut and the Absolute Magnetic Hut are located at the
seaward end of the Proclamation Hill, 260m to the east of Main Hut. |
Wind is the dominant feature that defines this place as different to most other Antarctic landscapes. The cycle of katabatic winds create an annual average of 70km per hour, making it the windiest place on earth at sea level. The wind is a constant force from the south, and carries with it huge snow drifts, often creating blizzard conditions at the Cape.
Mawson's Huts and Mawson’s Huts Historic Site are one of only six complexes of the Heroic Era to survive largely intact. The complex comprises four timber buildings (two intact and two as standing ruins), wireless masts (ruins), survey markers and memorials. Evidence of human occupation features on Cape Denison relate to two significant phases of occupation. The AAE fabric (1911-1914) includes the Main Hut with living section, workshop and verandahs (intact), the Magnetograph House (intact), Absolute Magnetic Hut (standing ruin with no roof), Transit Hut (standing ruin with no roof), Puff-Anemometer pole (and other possible remains of scientific instrument sites on Anemometer Hill), timber alignment posts for magnetic observations (east and west below the surface), Bench Mark just to the east of the Main Hut, Eleven survey marks (east of Main Valley), Transit survey posts (timber pillar in Transit Hut and north mark, north of Transit hut), Two fallen wireless masts and associated chains, aerial wire and insulators, Memorial Cross (and replica plaque 1986) and associated artefacts scattered by humans and the wind across Cape Denison. The 1931 BANZARE fabric includes: Proclamation Flag Pole (AAE Puff-Anemometer mast) and canister attached to pole, replica plaque 1986 and a copy of proclamation 1978 on Anemometer Hill.
The strongly defined topography of Cape Denison and its short but intense phases of human occupation have resulted in a cultural landscape setting for the place as a whole. Fabric relating to the AAE is scattered across Cape Denison, but is concentrated in the westernmost Main Valley, and on the two ridges either side of this valley. Thousands of artefacts have been recorded at Cape Denison over the last decade, and these are largely in a reasonable condition. A large amount of undocumented stores, equipment, animal food caches and AAE artefacts remain in concentration around the Main Hut and across the whole of Cape Denison.
The Main Hut consists of two pre-fabricated Oregon timber huts, originally intended to be two separate accommodation huts, became a living section and workshop. The structural timbers are bolted together with tongue-and-groove Baltic internal and external cladding. The roof is pyramid shaped and supported in the centre by four 100mm by 100mm posts. A 1.5m wide verandah, under the same roof, surrounds the structure on three sides.
The 7.3m by 7.3m living section, provided kitchen and sleeping facilities. Double bunks are arranged around the walls, with the stove, cooks table, dining table and two separate rooms occupying the remainder of the available space. The two rooms comprised Mawson's room and the dark room.
There is no direct external access. Entry is via the workshop, which is attached to the northern side of the living section. The workshop is a rectangular plan of 5.5m by 4.9m. It has a hipped-roof and a 1.5m wide verandah on the east and west sides. The western verandah contains access to the cellar and roof as well as a latrine. There are four skylights over the living section, all with glass and timber covers which can be opened. There are two skylights in the workshop also with glass and timber covers.
The Magnetograph House is a pre-fabricated rectangular Oregon timber hut of 5.5m by 2m. Structural timbers are bolted together with tongue-and-groove Baltic pine used for internal and external cladding, with sheets of tar paper cladding below the timber boards. It has a shallow pitched skillion roof which has a copper ventilator. The external door is a double 'stable' ships door taken from the shipwrecked Clyde at Macquarie Island.
The Absolute Magnetic Hut is a deteriorated ruin, 1.8m square, consisting of only a complete south wall with portions of the east wall and the framing of the north and west walls. The frame is constructed of leftover Oregon timber with timber boarding and lining of tar paper.
The Transit Hut is an Oregon timber framed hut with no roof. There is external timber boarding which originally had internal tar paper lining. The structure has one door in the northeast corner.
The Memorial Cross upright and crossbar are fabricated from remnant timber of approximately 170mm by 170mm. The upright projects 3.4m above the surrounding rocks and is capped by a 65mm wide metal collar. The crossbar is 2.2m long with a 65mm wide collar at each end. The crossbar is fixed to the upright 2.2m above the rocks. The crossbar has been blown off numerous times and was re-attached in 1931 by BANZARE, 1978 by the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) and a third time by the AAP Mawson's Huts Foundation expedition in 1997/98. The plaque is a replica or the original and was attached by ANARE in 1978. It has the same inscription as the original.
The Proclamation Pole and Plaque consists of a small plaque and proclamation have been affixed to the mast of the AAE anemometer station located on Anemometer Hill. The original proclamation was replaced by ANARE with a replica in 1978; the original plaque was replaced by ANARE with a replica in 1988.
The Main Hut and the Memorial Cross are included on the Antarctic Treaty list of Historic sites and Monuments.
Era of Continental Exploration 1897 to 1917|
By the Mid-nineteenth century, after all the coastal regions of Antarctica were known, exploratory interest in the continent began to wane. However, during the last decade of the century, political and scientific interest in Antarctica was revived, as scientific societies actively urged continental exploration.
This stimulus gave rise to the ‘Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration’, a flurry of land-based exploratory expeditions carried out from 1897 to 1917 by parties from Britain, Norway, Germany, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and Japan. The expeditions were regularly reported in the media, captured the public imagination, making many exhibitioners national heroes for their bravery, physical strength and endurance, and encouraged the development of exploration as a nationalistic competition.
In total, fifteen scientific expeditions set out to explore Antarctic in the Heroic Era. An understanding of the continent became the focus of exploration, rather than the exploitation of its resources, which characterised the periods before and after the Heroic Era. The explorers and scientists collected vast amounts of magnetic, meteorological, geological, and biological data.
The Heroic Era was the first phase of inland exploration of the last continent to be explored and claimed. It was an intense period of exploration, on foot and sledge, of previously uninhabited land and the last major geographical landmarks, including the South Pole.
It was in the Heroic Era that explorers actually lived on the continent and built huts in which to survive the harsh conditions. The Huts and other physical remains of the Heroic Era are scant, and are tangible evidence of this important era. A total of nine prefabricated huts were constructed in Antarctica during this era, with six surviving today.
Planning and Preparation
Douglas Mawson returned to Adelaide from Shackleton’s 1907–1909 British Antarctic Expedition as a local hero. He also returned convinced of the importance of Antarctica to Australia and immediately began to plan a return visit to ‘reduce to the terms of science’ the unexplored land directly to the south of Australia, between Cape Adare in the east and Gaussberg, over 3,000km to the west. Initially, Mawson had thought to join Scott’s impending expedition of 1910. However, their plans were not compatible; Scott primarily wanted to explore the South Pole and had less interest in pursuing the scientific research that Mawson wished to undertake in the surrounding region. Mawson then sought and received the support of Shackleton for the new expedition, before Shackleton pulled out leaving Mawson to pursue his own plans. Mawson was a very competent organiser and he tirelessly sought funding and equipment from private sponsors, scientific organisations and government, including travelling to Britain twice, with side trips to the USA and Europe. On one trip, he obtained (with Shackleton’s assistance) a steam yacht; previously part of the Newfoundland sealing fleet, which he renamed SY Aurora, and a rare REP aeroplane through Vickers & Co.
The Expedition’s Scientific Objectives
Mawson’s intentions for the expedition were scientific as well as exploratory. It is this focus on scientific research that sets the Australian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) apart from most other Heroic Era expeditions. Mawson wished to focus on subjects associated with his interests in geology, including the theory of continental connection between Australia and Antarctica. His interests extended to the examination of the processes of glaciation and climate.
Mawson outlined his objectives for the planned Australian Antarctic Expedition in a proposal to the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science in late 1910/early 1911 as follows:
- magnetic charting for navigational purposes;
- geological studies;
- biological studies (including the identification of new species); and
- the establishment of a wireless weather station (to assist with weather forecasting).
Mawson intended to make use of several recently invented technologies on the expedition, including the aeroplane and wireless communication. The latter was an important part of the plan and was to be of much value for communication between the bases and the Aurora.
The AAE was composed of thirty-one, mostly young, men (an average age of approximately twenty-four), plus the crew of the Aurora. Many of these men were graduates from Australian universities. Five were New Zealand born. Londoner John King Davis was appointed deputy leader and captain of the Aurora. (Davis was a veteran of Shackleton’s earlier expedition during which he had apparently rescued Mawson from a crevasse). Dr Xavier Mertz (a Swiss alpine expert) and Bellgrave Ninnis (Lieutenant with the Royal Fusiliers) also came out from England on the Aurora with the husky dogs. Antarctic veteran Frank Wild, a member of Scott’s and Shackleton’s earlier expeditions, was to be a continental base leader.
Up to three bases were planned for mainland Antarctica, depending upon conditions found, and another for Macquarie Island. It was planned that twelve men would be located at the Main Base, eight and six at the other two continental bases and five on Macquarie Island.
The Macquarie Island Base party was comprised of George Ainsworth, Leader/Meteorologist; Leslie Blake, Cartographer and Geologist; Harold Hamilton, Biologist; Charles Sandell, Wireless Operator and Biologist; and AJ Sawyer, Wireless Operator.
The Main Base party was composed of Dr Douglas Mawson, Commander of the Expedition; Lieutenant Edward Frederick Robert Bage, Astronomer, Assistant Magnetician and Recorder of Tides; Cecil Thomas Madigan, Meteorologist; Lieutenant BES Ninnis, in charge of Greenland dogs; Dr Xavier Mertz, in charge of Greenland dogs; Dr Archibald Lang McLean, Chief Medical Officer, Bacteriologist; Francis Howard Bickerton, in charge of air tractor sledge; Alfred James Hodgeman, Cartographer and Sketch Artist; James Francis Hurley, Official Photographer; Eric Norman Webb, Chief Magnetician; Percy Edward Correll, Mechanic and Assistant Physicist; John George Hunter, Biologist; Charles Francis Laseron, Taxidermist and Biological Collector; Frank Leslie Stillwell, Geologist; Herbert Dyce Murphy, in charge of expedition stores; Walter Henry Hannam, Wireless Operator and Mechanic; John Henry Collinson Close, Assistant Collector; and Dr Leslie H Whetter, Surgeon.
The Western Base party was composed of Frank Wild, Leader, Sledge-master; Andrew Dougal Watson, Geologist; Dr Sydney Evan Jones, Medical Officer; Charles Turnball Harrisson, Biologist; Morton Henry Moyes, Meteorologist; Alexander Lorimer Kennedy, Magnetician; Charles Archibald Hoadley, Geologist; and George Harris Sarjeant Dovers, Cartographer.
Design Concept for the Expedition Huts
Mawson based his design concepts for accommodation in Antarctica on his experience of conditions during the expedition with Shackleton. Mawson had the opportunity to learn from the positive aspects and shortcomings of earlier Heroic Era huts.
Mawson developed the idea of the huts in response to the weather conditions in Antarctica. From the outset, he believed they should be designed as a ‘pyramid on a square base, to ensure stability in heavy winds’. Later, he declared that the form was a direct result of the necessary ‘strength to resist hurricanes, simplicity of construction, portability, and resistance to external cold’.
The external sidewalls of the living huts were to be constructed to a height of approximately five feet, under a centrally pitched roof. A verandah would then surround the structure on three sides, continuing the profile of the main roof. Mawson claimed ‘that the function of the verandah was to serve as a store and to assist in keeping the hut warm’. Stacked storage boxes placed around the perimeter of the hut would extend the line of the roof through to ground level. The combination of the main hut and the verandah roof forms, as well as the boxes and snow, would form a pyramid and direct the wind over the building.
It was expected that snow would surround the hut on all sides, and largely enclose the verandah. Access would then need to be made through tunnels in the snow. Additionally, as light into the interior would be subsequently restricted (windows within the walls would be ineffectual due to the build up of snow), roof lights were installed in each of the four roof planes.
Once all the requirements for the weather conditions and working environment were understood, Mawson’s idea was given to Alfred J Hodgeman, an articled architect and draftsman from Adelaide and member of the forthcoming expedition, to clarify and develop the details. It is likely that Hodgeman resolved the design with the necessary level of detail, including details such as the sizes required for the timber-framing members. When the team arrived in Antarctica, it was to be Hodgeman who would direct the construction of the prefabricated structure at the Main Base.
Acquisition of the Huts
Mawson obtained huts from building companies in four states, another example of his logistical skills. Two square-plan, pyramid-roofed accommodation huts designed to Mawson’s model were acquired. The largest was supplied by George Hudson and Sons Ltd — Wholesale Timber Merchants, a large Sydney building firm that also sold prefabricated timber dwellings as ‘Ready-Cut-Homes’, largely to a rural constituency. Hudson’s provided a detailed breakdown of component members and an accompanying specification outlining the detailed erection process.
A second pyramid-roofed hut was supplied by Messrs Anthony, a Melbourne firm, and a third smaller hip roof hut was supplied by Walter and Morris Limited, Sarnia Timber Yards, Adelaide.
In addition to the three accommodation huts, a small hut was purchased from Risby Brothers, Hobart, just prior to departure. Allom states that this hut was the Magnetograph Hut used at Cape Denison. It is likely from Ainsworth’s account that the Macquarie Island hut was also purchased in Hobart from Risby’s.
Voyage to Antarctica and Establishment of Bases
Macquarie Island Base
The Aurora departed Hobart on 2 December and arrived at Macquarie Island on 11 December 1911. Upon its arrival, two shipwrecks were discovered; one found to be the Clyde, the crew of which was stranded on the Island. Also living on the Island were about six men who hunted whales for blubber meat during summer.
The aim of the AAE party was to set up a wireless relay station and scientific base. The Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau also assisted with its function as a meteorological station. The AAE established their base in the narrow spit of land between Hasselborough and Buckle Bays at the Island’s northern end.
Wireless masts, a receiving hut and an engine house were erected at the summit of a 150ft hill, now know as Wireless Hill. Masts, engine parts and other equipment were transported with the use of a flying fox. Although two-way wireless communication with Antarctica did not succeed until February 1913, such was the value of the weather forecasting that the base provided to Australia that the Commonwealth maintained the base after the AAE.
The Macquarie Island Hut was located at the base of Wireless Hill. It was 7m x 5m in plan and was internally subdivided to include a cubicle for Ainsworth (the team leader who was also from the Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau) and a Darkroom/Laboratory space. A tank was used to collect water from the roof.
Hodgeman had prepared a sketch of the hut prior to departure and the timbers had been ‘cut and fitted in Hobart, indicating that Risby’s in Hobart may have fabricated the hut. The Aurora left Macquarie Island on 23 December 1911, after a stay of almost two weeks.
Main Base: Adélie Land Station
Antarctica was first sighted from the Aurora on 6 January 1912. After following the coast for several days, Mawson was eager to establish a base as soon as possible. He felt that if the base was established too far to the west, both the magnetograph readings from the South Magnetic Pole as well as the communication signals with Macquarie Island would be too weak. On 8 January the party arrived at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay. Mawson decided to establish the Main Base here and noted that ‘as a station for scientific investigations, it offered a wider field than the casual observer would have imagined’.
Mawson’s original plan was to establish three bases along the Antarctic coastline. Because of poor weather and insufficient time, however, Mawson decided to combine two of the bases at Cape Denison, under his leadership, with the other base, under the leadership of Wild, to be established further to the west. Bad weather and strong winds delayed the unloading process and establishment of the Main Base until January 1912.
Western Base: Queen Mary Land Station
One week after the team landed at Cape Denison, the Western Party, led by Frank Wild, set out on the Aurora to establish a Western Base. It was difficult to find an appropriate site, as the coast was largely formed by steep cliffs and ice shelves. However, upon reaching the Shackleton Ice Shelf in Queen Mary Land some 2,000km to the west of Commonwealth Bay, on 21 February 1912, a landing was possible.
Supplies were quickly moved to the top of an ice cliff with the use of a flying fox, and a camp was established 600m back. The hut was successfully erected within the first week and was named ‘The Grottoes’ by the party.
After dropping off the Western Base party, the Aurora, apart from re-provisioning in Australia, undertook a further two separate voyages of Antarctic oceanographic survey work before returning to relieve the expedition.
Main Base Structures
The Main Hut at Cape Denison was located in a valley between two ridges 60m from the edge of Boat Harbour, a natural indent in the coast. It was sited on a level section of rocky ground, partially protected to the south by a rocky outcrop. Following the decision to combine two expedition bases, the construction of the Main Hut utilised two huts originally meant for accommodation. The largest pyramid-roofed hut, supplied by George Hudson and Son (and described here as the living section), was used to accommodate all of the eighteen-man party. The other hip-roofed hut from Adelaide, originally meant for another location, was utilised as a workshop. No doubt, the changes in use of the huts affected the fabric and arrangements inside the two huts. Both sections were constructed of an Oregon timber frame of larger-than-normal sections, with bolted connections at each junction. Both had external and internal linings of tongue-and-groove Baltic pine boarding. Sheets of tar paper lining were used as additional wind protection under the external roof and wall boards.
The living section was a single space 24 feet by 24 feet in plan (7.3m x 7.3m) with a pyramid roof over, supported in the centre by four 100mm x 100mm posts. A five foot (1.5m) wide verandah surrounded the structure on three sides, under the same roof. The verandah area was used as a biological, food, and general store and assisted in insulating the hut from the weather. There was no direct external access to the living section. Entry was via the workshop. The timber framing structure was bedded into holes exacted into the rock with explosives. Legend has it that urine was used to freeze the stumps into the rock and fifty tons of stones were placed between the stumps.
Internally, the living section provided sleeping and kitchen facilities. Double bunks were located around the perimeter of the room, with a small area partitioned off as a private bedroom and workspace for Mawson along the southern wall. A Smith & Wellstood cooking stove and bench were positioned along the northern wall, along with a small darkroom. The dining table was located centrally and provided a strong focal point for social and work activities inside the hut. A storage platform was constructed over the dining table, utilising the four roof support posts.
The workshop was attached to the northern side of the living section. It was rectangular in plan, eighteen by sixteen feet, (5.5m x 4.9m) with a hip roof and a five foot wide verandah on the east and west sides.
The workshop was fitted out with laboratory benches, a lathe, sewing machine, wireless operator’s bench, DC and AC generators, and engine. The eastern verandah was used as sleeping quarters for the dogs, while the western verandah was largely entrance circulation, although it also contained access to the roof and cellar as well as a latrine.
Another change made during the construction of the Main Hut was the attachment of a low-flat roofed ‘Hangar’ to the western side of the living section to provide protection for the air tractor and additional storage. It was constructed from double rows of storage boxes, between which snow was rammed; and a roof of packing case timbers.
Artificial lighting was provided by an acetylene generator (supported on the central platform). Heating was provided by the main stove, kept alight continuously by coal and seal blubber. Ventilation was provided by the stove flue, opening doors and a louvred ventilator in the workshop.
Natural light was provided by four skylights over the living section and two over the workshop. Access in winter was gained via ice tunnels or a roof trapdoor in the workshop’s western verandah.
In March 1912, the Magnetograph House was erected. This structure contained the magnetograph equipment that was used to measure variations in the South Magnetic Pole. It was difficult to find a suitable location to set up the structure on Cape Denison, as a large flat area was needed for the equipment. As a result, explosives were used to clear a site approximately 400m to the northeast of the Main Hut.
The Magnetograph House was purchased prior to departure from the Risby Brothers, Timber Merchants of Hobart, for a price of £16/15/-. It was supplied ready to construct, with an Oregon frame, Baltic pine linings and one external doorset.
The construction process was made in two attempts, the initial attempt being demolished by strong winds during its construction. The structure was lined with tarpaper, secured to the frame with battens. Fixings generally were small copper nails (so as not to interfere with the magnetic measurements) and these were taken from the shipwrecked Clyde. Large rocks were located around the hut to provide a wall-like barrier to the weather, allowing the internal temperature to be relatively constant. Sheepskins and hessian were also attached to the roof for this purpose.
The structure was rectangular in plan (5.5m x 2m) with a shallow pitched skillion roof and no windows. The entry was constructed as a double porch, with three doorsets, to assist in the maintenance of the constant internal temperature. The external door was a double ‘stable’ ships door taken from the Clyde. A copper ventilator was installed in the roof over the porch for the same reason. The equipment was set into the rock to ensure a level surface.
Magnetic measurements were collected from the Magnetograph House on a daily basis, usually by Eric Webb (Chief Magnetician) but also by Edward Bage (Assistant Magnetician).
Absolute Magnetic Hut
The Absolute Magnetic Hut was used in association with, and as a reference point for, observations made in the Magnetograph House. It was located one hundred and seventy feet (52m) south of Magnetograph House, on a raised rock shelf. The Absolute Magnetic Hut was erected during February 1912, using remnant timber not used in other building efforts.
It was six foot square (1.8m x 1.8m) in plan with a skillion roof. It had an Oregon timber frame that was fixed with copper nails and lined with timber boarding. Tarpaper was added internally and fixed with battens for weatherproofing. The structure was anchored to the ground to prevent it from being blown away. The instruments inside the hut were set into the rock and measurements were taken through small sliding doors, without entering the structure.
Construction of the Transit Hut, originally known as the Astronomical Observatory, started during May 1913. Its purpose was to take star sights by theodolite to determine Cape Denison’s exact longitude. It was located approximately 30m to the northeast of the Main Hut, on a 900mm-high rock ledge.
The Hut was constructed of an Oregon frame (with metal shelf brackets assisting in bracing) and lined externally with packing case timbers. The structure had one door in the northeast corner. Additionally, there was a narrow slot in the roof and upper part of the north and south elevations to assist observations. The structure was clad in sheepskin and canvas.
The structure contained a ‘10 inch transit instrument’, given to the expedition by the Government Astronomer. This was positioned on a 225mm, square timber pillar and set into the rock.
Life at the Main (Eastern) Base
Science and Routine
A large range of scientific observations was made at the Main Base during the autumn and winter of 1912, often involving a routine of daily readings. Such meteorological readings included temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, snowfall, and wind speed and direction. The expedition devised their own equipment to measure wind gusts, the ‘puffometer’, and amount of snowdrift. Barometric pressure was recorded inside the Main Hut with a mercury barometer and barograph. Temperature and humidity were recorded in a louvred screen (approximately 10m to the east of the Main Hut) that housed a thermometer, thermograph and hydrograph (a neophoscope stood near the screen). Wind recordings were taken daily from a rocky ridge (Anemometer Hill) 150m east of the Main Hut. Instruments on the ridge included the anemometer, a louvred screen that housed the anemograph, the ‘puffometer’ (that measured gusts but was ineffective in constant hurricane force winds), a snow gauge (a tube that measured snow collected), and a sunshine recorder. (The pole for the ‘puffometer’ was used by BANZARE in 1931 to support the proclamation flag and canister containing the proclamation itself.) An electroscope used in the study of atmospheric electrical disturbance was located at the apex of the living section of the Main Hut. Magnetic readings were taken daily regardless of the conditions.
In addition to charting Cape Denison, surveying instruments were used to locate the tide gauge placed in Boat harbour and to provide reference measurements for the magnetic readings using a bench mark carved into the rock near the Main Hut and sighting poles set up to the north, east and west of the Absolute Hut. From the Absolute Hut, Webb took night sightings to a lamp through a hole in a survey post some 40m away. A special astronomical instrument was used in the Transit Hut. A snowdrift gauge was designed and constructed to capture and measure the amount of drift snow in the air. The party also fully described the geology, flora, and fauna of Cape Denison and collected samples for study at the Main Hut and for further research in Australia.
Life at Cape Denison also involved daily chores such as collecting ice for fresh water and maintaining and preparing equipment for the sledging journeys planned for spring 1912.
Frank Hurley, a New Zealand born photographer working in the picture postcard industry in Sydney, was the official photographer of AAE (although other AAE members also recorded their observations). He carried more that ten still cameras and one cine camera, recording 2,500 images (many of these on glass plates and some in colour) and hundreds of metres of cine film in the first year of AAE (Hurley returned with the Aurora in February 1913). His images are a comprehensive visual record of the Antarctic landscape, the expeditioners, the activities of the expedition and even the sledge-dogs.
The establishment of radio communications and the installation of the necessary equipment was not an easy task. The erection of two radio masts took place between April and September 1912, although these were demolished by wind during October. The reconstructed apparatus successfully sent messages, but was not able to receive them. Two-way communication was re-commenced successfully in February 1913.
The Air Tractor
An aeroplane, a REP Monoplane from Messrs Vickers & Co, was obtained by Mawson for the expedition. It was hoped that this relatively rare machine would act as much-needed publicity during the preparation for the expedition and, when in Antarctica, would assist with exploration activities. However, the aeroplane was damaged in Adelaide, and was therefore used as an ‘air tractor’ with an aeroplane engine. A mechanism was added to allow the air tractor to haul sledges.
In 1912, the Western sledging party took the air tractor on their expedition. However, the engine shut down and the machine was abandoned when the party was only 14km from the Main Hut. Several months later, it appears that the air tractor was retrieved. The only visible evidence of it that now remains on the site is part of the tail recovered recently from ice in the Main Hut.
Life at the Western Base
Science and Routine on an Ice Block
The Western Base party contained a similar range of professional skills as the Main Base. The intention was to replicate a similar range of observations and undertake similar types of sledging journeys to that of the Main Base. The location of the Western Base on an ice shelf, however, probably reduced the extent of observation near the hut itself. Nevertheless, during the year-long stay at the Western Base, a series of magnetic observations was made using an igloo as an observatory. There was also additional scientific interest in the aurora australis (southern lights) which was visible.
The Western Base Hut was supplied by Messrs Anthony, Melbourne. It was a timber-framed structure, clad internally and externally with tongue-and-groove Baltic pine boards, with tarpaper and straw insulation. It was a similar design to the living section of the Main Base Hut, with a pyramid roof (supported on queen posts) and skylights and verandahs on three sides of a 6.1m square central room. Tunnels were used for access to the hut, with the addition of a trapdoor to the outside to regulate the air within the space. It was composed of an open room with bunks around the wall, a darkroom, vestibule, and a room for Wild.
Sledging Expeditions from the two Bases
At the end of winter in 1912, both bases began undertaking sledging trips inland to chart the areas explored and to make scientific observations.
Some of these expedition sledges were hauled by dog teams. One attempted to use the air tractor, but most were hauled by the men themselves.
Inland Sledging from the Western Base
Western Expedition to Gaussberg: This party travelled west, crossing the Helen Glacier and the islands adjacent to Haswell Island. They successfully climbed to the peak of Gaussberg Mountain (370m high) in Kaiser Wilhelm Land. Additionally, they charted large areas of the coastline.
Eastern Expedition to the Denman Glacier: This party travelled along the eastern coastline via the Bay of Winds, Delay Point, Redi Glacier, and Cape Gerlache. Despite charting these areas, they were unsuccessful in their main objective of reaching the Denman Glacier.
The Western Party was picked up by the Aurora on the 23 February 1913. Following the expedition, Wild reported to Mawson that, “Our joint efforts had been successful in charting and otherwise investigating a length of about 400 miles (650km) of coast in this very interesting region.
Inland Sledging from the Main (Eastern) Base
Sledging expeditions undertaken from the Main Base from spring 1912 included:
Southern Party: The Southern Party was composed of Bage (as the team leader), Webb, and Hurley. The main intention for their expedition was to observe magnetic conditions. In spite of bad weather conditions, they appear to have reached a location within fifty miles (80km) of the South Magnetic Pole.
Southern Supporting Party: The Southern Supporting Party was led by Murphy, with Hunter and Lasseron. They journeyed initially with the Southern Party and then returned to Cape Denison.
Western Party: The Western Party was led by Bickerton, with Hodgeman and Whetter. The objective of their expedition was to investigate the coastal regions to the west of Cape Denison using the air tractor sledge. The air tractor engine, however, proved inadequate in the low temperatures of Antarctica and was abandoned. As such, the team was only able to reach a point 158 miles (254km) from Cape Denison. However, an important discovery was made on the expedition, with the sighting of the first-known Antarctic meteorite.
Near-Eastern Party: The Near-Eastern Party was led by Stillwell with an initial team of Close and Hodgeman and a later team of Close and Lasseron. The main intention for their expedition was to explore and chart the coast from Cape Denison to the Mertz Glacier.
Eastern Coastal Party: The Eastern Coastal Party was led by Madigan, with McLean and Correll. The purpose of this expedition was to investigate the coast to the east of the Mertz Glacier.
The expedition successfully crossed the Mertz Glacier and continued to traverse the Ninnis Glacier. The party reached Horn Bluff, a large cliff at a distance of two hundred and seventy miles (434km) from the Main Base, and then returned to Cape Denison.
Far-Eastern Party: The Far-Eastern Party was to journey overland and investigate the coast beyond the areas reached by the near-Eastern and Eastern Coastal parties. The group, composed of Mawson, Mertz, and Ninnis, together with two dog sledges, set out from Cape Denison on 10 November.
On 14 December, after traversing an undulating coastal area with large crevasses, a tragedy occurred. Mertz, who was leading the party, gave a warning signal to Mawson and Ninnis to alert them to a hidden crevasse. Although the crevasse was crossed with care by Mawson and Mertz, Ninnis, along with his sledge (containing food supplies) and dogs, fell through and was killed. His loss was felt greatly as he had been a dedicated member of the expedition team to Antarctica.
Following the death of Ninnis, Mawson and Mertz began their three hundred mile (480km) return journey to Cape Denison. They chose to take the shorter inland route (despite the prospect of potentially acquiring seal meat for food on the longer coastal route). The journey was difficult, and the distance able to be covered each day decreased. The dogs died or were killed one by one and their remains were used for food. On 7 January Mertz, who had been ill for some time, died from what was much later diagnosed as vitamin A poisoning from eating dog’s liver.
Mawson then made the final 100 mile (160km) journey back to Cape Denison alone. It was a long and difficult journey. Supplies were low, his health was deteriorating, and weather conditions were poor. He arrived back on 8 February, just hours after the departure of the Aurora on its trip to retrieve the Western Base Party and return to Australia. Although the Aurora returned after being contacted by wireless, bad weather prohibited a landing party going ashore. With the risk of ice packs preventing the recovery of the Western Base party, Davis decided to leave Mawson and the six man team that had elected to remain behind to continue the search for him — Bage, Bickerton, Hodgeman, McLean, Jeffryes [relief wireless operator who arrived on the Aurora] and Madigan — for another year in Antarctica.
The Second Year
Changes to the Main Hut
Mawson spent the first few weeks of the second year recuperating from the ordeal of his expedition to the far east. During this time, the rest of the men set out to improve the general living conditions in the Main Hut. The structure was made more windproof by covering the roof in an old sailcloth held down by timber packing case battens nailed to the roof. As the structure was now housing seven rather than eighteen men, changes were made for convenience. Food could be stored inside, the wireless was transferred to the living section of the hut (minimising condensation problems) and new shelves were constructed.
During the year, the party continued their study of the geological and biological features of the region and the daily collection of magnetic and meteorological data. A wireless telegraph station was established and communication was largely successful, with several repairs and adjustments made to the equipment throughout the year. Early communications exchanged included the news that Captain Scott and four of his colleagues had died while attempting to reach the South Pole.
Memorial Cross and Plaque
A Memorial Cross to Ninnis and Mertz was erected on Azimuth Hill, to the northwest of the Main Hut, in November 1913. The structure was built by Bickerton, apparently using remnant timber from the radio masts. The members were 170mm x 170mm, and it stood to a height of 3.4m with a crossbar that spanned 2.2m. The cross bar has been blown off on numerous occasions. In 1931, it was reattached by BANZARE, in 1978 by ANARE, and a third time by the AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation expedition in 1997/1998.
A plaque was added to the cross, with an inscription by Hodgeman that reads: ‘Erected to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by Lieut. B.E. S. Ninnis, R.F., and Dr. X. Mertz in the cause of science A.A.E. 1913 A.J. Hodgeman’.
In October 1913, news was received that the Aurora would leave Hobart in November on its journey to pick up Mawson and the remaining members of the AAE team. On 23 November, Mawson, Madigan, and Hodgeman travelled to Mount Murchison to retrieve scientific instruments that had been left by earlier expedition parties. However, the journey was unsuccessful due to bad weather and the group returned to the Main Base on 12 December to the sight of the Aurora on the horizon. The following morning, the men were reunited with Captain Davis and the Macquarie Island party and began their return journey. On 5 February, the Aurora headed towards Australia, arriving in Adelaide on 26 February 1914.
Analysis of the Expedition
The scope and achievements of the AAE are often obscured behind the dominating images of fabric remains at Cape Denison, and in particular the Main Hut itself. It is important to retain in focus the logistical and persuasive skills exhibited by Mawson during its preparations, the vast extent of territory that the expedition covered in establishing three out of the four bases originally proposed, the volume of data collected (including evidence that Cape Denison is the windiest place on earth), and finally, the extent of inland territory traversed and described as part of the sledging expeditions.
Not everything went to plan. Some aspects of the expedition required flexibility and innovation (combining expedition bases and huts), and certain aspects did not work as successfully as proposed (the air tractor and the sporadic success of wireless communication, for example). The tragedy of Ninnis and Mertz and the feats of Mawson will always dominate over the methodical story of scientific achievement.
The effort that Mawson put into planning the expedition was massive and involved a number of sea voyages around the world to obtain sponsors and material. Mawson exhibited considerable skills to obtain funding from various governments in Australia, including most State Governments, and in obtaining accommodation and scientific huts from building firms in at least four States.
The deployment of the expedition itself, including bases at Macquarie Island, the main base at Cape Denison, the Western Base on the Shackleton Ice Shelf, some 2,000km to the west, and the two additional oceanographic voyages of the Aurora were a huge logistical achievement. Although two of the expeditioners were lost during sledging expeditions, the land traversed and mapped was a huge and successful undertaking, with the expeditions returning with valuable scientific and geographic information.
The Struggle to Legitimise Antarctic Territory Claims
By the end of World War I, Britain, Norway, Germany, France, and the United States had each made some claim to different regions of Antarctica. However, the legitimacy of the claims (often made by privately funded expeditions) was questionable. Despite the fervour of science, heroes, and nationhood, the Heroic Era had not produced a coherent policy of Antarctic ownership and many nations did not recognise the claims of others.
Britain was particularly concerned to retain already-claimed regions of Antarctica in the British Empire. Indeed, in 1920 the British Government revealed to the Australian and New Zealand Governments their desire to annex the whole Antarctic continent. Britain was also keen to manage potential land claims by Norwegians, who had expanded their interest in the region in the 1920s.
In July 1923, the British Government gave New Zealand control over all land from 160° east of longitude, to 150° west, asserting their ownership of the land in the act of handing over. In response, France issued a decree claiming Adélie Land and Wilkes Land.
The British also maintained an active interest and presence in the Antarctic region in the 1920s through a small number of scientific investigations into the whaling industry. These included the ‘Discovery Investigations’, which ran from 1925 to 1931.
At the Imperial Conference of Britain and the Commonwealth in 1926, it was resolved to annex, in the name of the British Empire, portions of the Antarctic Continent. It was this resolution that gave rise to BANZARE and provided additional historic significance to Mawson’s Huts and Cape Denison.
The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), 1929–1931
In July 1927, the Australian National Research Council formed an Antarctic Committee, which decided that an Australian Expedition, with Sir Douglas Mawson as leader, should be planned as a matter of urgency. The expedition was to investigate the entire coast of the territory over which Britain claimed sovereignty. The British government made the vessel the Discovery (used by Scott on his 1901 expedition) available to the expedition and, with substantial financial assistance from the New Zealand government, the expedition was renamed the ‘British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition’ (BANZARE).
The role of Sir Douglas Mawson in organising and planning the expedition tends to be underplayed by the official announcements of the ‘Commonwealth Expedition’. Mawson saw it as ‘Commonwealth-backed’ rather than a ‘Commonwealth Expedition’ and was fundamental in gathering private funds that were crucial to the expedition (as he had done so extensively and on his own, for the AAE).
BANZARE was political in its ambitions in the highest degree. Its primary aim was to claim the land covered by the AAE, together with any additional lands possible. The second aim was economic, involving continued investigations into whaling and sealing. The third aim was scientific, including coastal and hydrographic survey; meteorology; and other science, if circumstances permitted.
The expedition was conducted over the two Antarctic summers of 1929–30 and 1930–31, and was conducted almost totally on-board ship. Five land proclamations were made, including one at Cape Denison, the AAE main base. Extensive marine surveys and surveys of Antarctic coastline were completed, although the scientific expeditions were impeded by disagreements between Mawson and both his captains over concerns for the safety of ship and crew. (John King Davis, from the AAE expedition, was the captain on the first voyage.)
BANZARE and Mawson’s Huts Historic Site
In January 1931, on the second BANZARE voyage, the expeditioners visited the Cape Denison site to claim formal possession of King George V Land. The report of the expedition recorded the event thus, “At noon on 5 January the flag was hoisted on a rocky point overlooking the bay. In a casket at the foot of the pole a proclamation was deposited claiming formal possession of King George V Land defined as that section of the Antarctic coast-line between the 142nd and 160th degrees of longitude and between latitude 66 degrees south and the South Pole.”
The site had not been visited since the remainder of the AAE left Cape Denison in 1913. During the visit, five members of that expedition, including Mawson, spent a night ashore on 5–6 January 1931. A series of photographs were taken, including some of the interior of the Main Hut showing some pedestals of ice in the living and workshop huts, but generally showed the Hut to be free of ice.
A small timber plaque and proclamation, attached to the mast of the AAE puffometer station on Anemometer Hill, are the only ‘formal’ remains of the BANZARE visit.
The Significance of BANZARE
In discussions of Mawson’s life and the collection of his artefacts, the AAE and BANZARE are often treated with equal emphasis and importance. However, in relation to Cape Denison and the huts themselves, the historical importance of BANZARE (being related to a single historical event of the formal possession of King George V Land) is not nearly equal to the importance of the site’s association with the AAE and its members, who built, lived in and worked there for two years. The significance of BANZARE in relation to Cape Denison and the AAE can be summarised as follows:
- that it certified the land claim of King George V Land that Mawson had made during the AAE;
- a plaque and proclamation were left on-site, now known as Proclamation Hill;
- an assessment of the condition of the Hut was made and photographs made; and
- the expedition further compounded Mawson’s legendary status, with which the Main Hut is significantly associated.
In 1933, the British Government granted Australia all the territory that it now administers, amounting to forty-two per cent of the continent. Douglas Mawson was instrumental in pushing for Australian control over the area. The AAE and BANZARE were thus clearly instrumental in establishing Australia’s important role in Antarctic land management.
Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE), 1947–Present
Following BANZARE, Australia maintained an active interest in Antarctica. In 1947, the Australian Government established the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE). Sir Douglas Mawson and Captain Davis retained their interest, and were members on the Planning Committee, established in 1947, to advise the Government of Antarctic policy.
Three expeditions were organised in 1947, two of which successfully established ANARE research stations on Heard and Macquarie Islands. Another sought to find an appropriate base for a permanent station on the Antarctic continent, in King George V Land, the territory of the AAE. The search was hampered, however, and it was later decided (on advice from Sir Douglas Mawson, among other scientists) to establish the continental base in Mac.Robertson Land. This base, Mawson Station (established in 1954), continues to operate today, although a number of the original buildings have been removed.
Subsequently, ANARE established Davis and Casey Stations in Antarctica and these, together with a base on Macquarie Island, are supplied by ships from Hobart. ANARE is administered by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) at Kingston, south of Hobart.
The Antarctic Treaty, 1961
In the mid-1950s, the several nations with interests in Antarctica began to pool their resources and develop an international Antarctic community that was finally forged in the Antarctic Treaty of 1961. By 1955, Britain, Chile, and Argentina had established a number of stations on the Graham Land peninsula on the western coast of Antarctica. In 1956, eleven nations joined forces and expended millions of pounds of funding to establish forty stations in Antarctica. Antarctica was to be the major focus of the International Geophysical Year in 1957–58. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) was established to continue scientific research programs, and the basis of the Antarctic Treaty was developed.
In 1961, the Antarctic Treaty came into force, established agreed territorial divisions, and suspended any new claims (during the currency of the Treaty). The Treaty also reserved Antarctica as a continent of peace and science. All non-indigenous animals have been removed (the last huskies were removed in February 1994). In December 1994, the Southern Whale Sanctuary was established, putting an end to the prospect of commercial whaling. Australia is an Original Signatory to the Treaty and is committed to the environmental protection provisions agreed under the Treaty system.
A total of forty-five countries have become Parties to the Antarctic Treaty. Of these, seven claim territory in Antarctica (claimants), twelve are Original Signatories and twenty-seven are Consultative Parties.
In addition to the conservation of the natural environment of Antarctica, the Antarctic Treaty also has provisions for the conservation of historic sites and monuments. In 1991, the Madrid Protocol, relating to the protection of Antarctica’s environment, was adopted by the Antarctic Treaty Parties. Annex 5 provides for the designation of Specially Protected Areas. Article 8 states that listed historic monuments and sites shall not be ‘damaged, removed, or destroyed’. Mawson’s Hut and the Memorial Cross are identified as Items 13 and 12 on the list of Historic Sites and Monuments.
Summary of the Mawson’s Huts Historic Site 1931–1970
After BANZARE, the next visits to the site were not until the 1950s. At least four French parties visited the site between 1950 and 1959. (The French operated a research station at Port Martin, not far to the west, from 1949 to 1953, and established Dumont d’Urville Station nearby in 1956.) An ANARE party visited the site in 1962, and reported the Main Hut as being full of ice. Four visits by NZ, USA and French parties occurred during the 1960s, and four ANARE visits took place in the early and mid-1970s.
Significantly, the expeditions that visited the site in this period were scientific, and came to the region to study the area. They are distinct from the teams that travelled to Cape Denison to conserve the AAE huts. Occupation debris from some of these visits, such as logbooks, army ration tins and alcohol bottles, remain on-site, chiefly inside the Magnetograph House, which was used for accommodation.
Conservation of Mawson’s Huts
Mawson’s Huts and Mawson’s Huts Historic Site are one of only six complexes of the Heroic Era to survive largely intact. The complex includes four timber buildings, two intact and two as standing ruins. These are the Main Hut with living section, workshop and verandahs (intact), the Magnetograph House (intact), Absolute Magnetic Hut (standing ruin with no roof), and Transit Hut (standing ruin with no roof). Mawson’s Huts Historic Site also includes wireless masts (ruins), survey markers and memorials.
Thousands of artefacts have been recorded at Cape Denison over the last decade, and these are largely in a reasonable condition. A large amount of undocumented stores, equipment, animal food caches and AAE artefacts remain in concentration around the Main Hut and across the whole of Cape Denison.
The greatest single long-term threat to the building structures on Cape Denison is from abrasion from wind-driven snow and ice, known as corrasion, which wears down the surface of softer fabrics such as timber. Since its construction, the edges and corners of the roof cladding boards on the two sections of the Main Hut have weathered at a rate of approximately 1mm every ten years. The more protected central areas of the living section have weathered more slowly, at a rate of 1mm every 26 to 46 years.
Efforts to conserve Mawson’s Huts began in the 1970s and reflect a growing awareness of the significance of the site, and coincided with the growth of the heritage conservation movement and related professions. This recognition was paralleled by initial reconnaissance and some work by ANARE in the 1970s. Early work at the site included site investigations to determine the condition of the huts, recording of the site, structures and artefacts and some stabilisation work. In 1978 ice was removed from the workshop interior and the roof was patch repaired to reduce snow and meltwater ingress. Further work was completed by the Project Blizzard teams of 1984/85 and 1985/86, largely involving the recording of the site and structures and the stabilisation of the internal platform of the Main Hut. Further investigations were conducted in 1996/97, which led to the conservation program carried out by the 1997/98 expedition. These works included the restoration and reconstruction of the Main Hut, the Magnetograph House, the Absolute Magnetic Hut, Transit Hut, and Memorial Cross.
The 2000/01 expedition continued the conservation works and documentation which had begun with the 1997/98 expedition. Some of the work included the removal of snow and ice from inside the workshop, the initial investigations of the sub-floor conditions, and the removal of post-BANZARE artefacts. The 2002/03 Expedition team removed snow and ice inside the workshop to approximately 1m below the eaves on the southern wall and halfway down the east and west walls. In the Main Hut, snow and ice were removed in areas where it threatened the structural integrity of the bunks.
Antarctic Specially Managed Area Proposal
At the 2003 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Australia proposed the designation of the whole of Cape Denison as a Historic Site under the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. Australia also proposed that the site be designated as an Antarctic Specially Managed Area (ASMA), including a Visual Protection Zone (VPZ) over the valley containing the historic AAE huts in order to enhance the area’s visual catchment and ‘sense of place’.
Australia is also seeking to have the AAE huts afforded more comprehensive protection with their designation as an Antarctic Specially Protected Area (ASPA), embedded within the Cape Denison ASMA. These conditions will assist in minimising the impacts of visitation and related activities on the huts, thereby preserving the rich source of research material they present for study and interpretation.
If agreed, the Cape Denison ASMA will be one of the first ASMAs to ever be formally submitted by an Antarctic Treaty nation to an Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. Once approved, the protected areas are designated for an indefinite period.
|Condition and Integrity|
Mawson's Huts and Historic Site are one of only six
complexes of the Heroic Era to survive largely intact. The complex comprises
four timber buildings (two intact and two as standing ruins), wireless masts
(ruins), survey markers and memorials.
Thousands of artefacts have been recorded at Cape Denison over the last
decade, and these are largely in a reasonable condition. A large amount of
undocumented stores, equipment, animal food caches and AAE artifacts remain in
concentration around the Main Hut and across the whole of Cape Denison.|
The Main Hut and the Magnetograph House have intact structures and cladding. The Transit Hut and Absolute Magnetic Hut have lost significant amounts of cladding, but the remaining framing and cladding have been stabilised so that they can be conserved as standing ruins. All the huts were stabilised during the 1998 and 2000 works expeditions.
Corrasion to the roof cladding of the Main Hut workshop and the Magnetograph Hut was stabilised by over-cladding these roofs in 1998. In order to reduce the snow and meltwater ingress to the Main Hut living area, the ridge caps were sealed, the skylight flashings were repaired and battens were used to seal gaps in the roof cladding during the 2002/03 Expedition.
All timbers in the Main Hut have bolted connections, which were reported as only showing minor surface corrosion in the 1997/98 expedition report. Despite this, a section collar tie and platform structure of the Main Hut living are had failed due to internal snow and ice load. Restoration/reconstruction was undertaken in 1998. Snow and ice loads have also led to failure of the collar ties that supported the platform and five of the eight rafters were split or broken at the joint with the collar ties. During the 2002/03 expedition, three rafters of the workshop roof were repaired. New collar ties were utilised, but the original u-bolts and packing blocks were reinstated.
The cross arm to the Memorial Cross has been blown off on numerous occasions. It was reattached in 1931 by BANZARE, in 1978 by ANARE and a third time by the AAP Mawsons Huts Foundation expedition in 1997/1998. The 2000 expedition reported the 1998 works to be in good condition.
About 130ha, located at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, King
George V Land, Australian Antarctic Territory, being an area bounded by a line
commencing at the intersection of the coastline and Latitude 67° 00’
47” S at Land’s End (approximate location 67° 00’ 47” S 142° 39’ 28” E), then
northerly via the Low Water Mark (LWM) to the intersection of the coastline
with Latitude 67°
00’ 21” S (approximate location 67° 00’ 21” S
39’ 18” E), then north easterly via a straight line to the intersection of the
eastern coastline of Boat Harbour with Latitude 67° 00’ 20” S (approximate
00’ 20” S 142° 39’
27” E), then northerly and south easterly via the LWM to its intersection with
00’ 47” S at John O’Groats
(approximate location 67° 00’ 47” S 142° 41’ 27” E), then westerly
via a straight line to the point of commencement.|
following sources provide either the best general or detailed references for an
overview of the Australian Antarctic Expedition. Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries and
The Home of the Blizzard provide a comparative public and private account of
the expeditions by Mawson himself. The published twenty-two volume set of
official Australian Antarctic Expedition scientific reports give an insight
into the scale of the undertaking.|
Conservation reports prepared by Allom et al, Blunt, and Pearson provide analysis of the physical evidence and include contextual discussion about Heroic Era Huts. The two Godden Mackay reports describe recent work on and current condition of the site. Martin provides a very good contextual background to the heritage and history of Antarctica. Wheeler and Ferguson describe the scope of AAE and BANZARE collections in Australia.
Allom Lovell Marquis Kyle Architects 1988, Mawson’s Huts, Antarctica: Statement of Significance. Report prepared for the Department of Science, August 1988.
Australian Antarctic Expedition 1911–1914, Scientific Reports 1929, Series A, Geography, Geology and Oceanography; Series B, Meteorology and Series C, Zoology and Botany.
Australian Antarctic Magazine, Issue 5 Winter 2003, Conserving our connections: the 2002-03 Mawson’s Huts Expedition, http://www.antdiv.gov.au/default.asp?casid=11982 [accessed 22 June 2004]
Ayeres, Philip 1999, Mawson: A Life, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Victoria.
Blunt, W 1991, Mawson’s Huts Antarctica, Vols 1, 2 & 3, Thesis, Master of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales.
Cultural Heritage in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions 2004, Ed. Barr, S. and Chaplin, P., ICOMOS International Polar Heritage Committee
Godden Mackay Logan 2001, Mawson’s Huts Historic Site: Cape Denison Commonwealth Bay Antarctica Conservation Management Plan 2001, Sydney, Australia
Jacka, Fred and Eleanor Jacka (eds) 1988, Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.
Martin, Stephen 1996, A History of Antarctica, State Library of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
Mawson, Sir Douglas 1930 (1996), The Home of the Blizzard: the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914, facsimile edition (first published as two volumes in 1915, and abridged in 1930), Wakefield Press, South Australia.
Pearson, Michael 1993, Mawson’s Huts Historic Site Conservation Plan. Prepared for Mawson’s Huts Conservation Committee, October 1993.
General Antarctic Sources History/General Antarctic
Alexander, Caroline 1997, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, Bloomsbury, London.
Australian Parliament, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation & the Arts 1989, Tourism in Antarctica, Canberra, ACT.
Bickell, Leonard, This Accursed Land, ABC audio tape.
Broadbent, N 1992, ‘Reclaiming US Antarctic History: the Restoration of East Base, Stonington Island’, Antarctic Journal of the United States, XXVII, 2: 14–17.
Davis, PB 1995, ‘Antarctic Visitor Behaviour: are guidelines enough?’, Polar Record 31, 177: 327–334.
Fogg, GE 1992, A History of Antarctic Science, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office London (ed), List of Protected Areas in Antarctica.
Martin, Stephen 1996, A History of Antarctica, State Library of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
Pearson, Michael 1992, ‘Expedition Huts in Antarctica: 1899–1917’, Polar Record 28, 167: 261–276.
Handmer, John and Wilder, Martin (eds) 1993, Towards a Conservation Plan for the Australian Antarctic Territory, The 1993 Fenner Conference on the Environment, Australian National University Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Canberra.
Law, Phillip and John Bechervaise 1957, ANARE: Australia's Antarctic Outposts, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Murray-Smith, Stephen 1988, Sitting on Penguins: People and Politics in Australian Antarctica, Hutchinson Australia, Surry Hills, NSW.
Antarctic Heritage Trust 1997, Heritage Management Plan for the Historic Sites of the Ross Sea Region, Antarctic Heritage Trust, Wellington, NZ.
Greenfield, LG 1981, ‘Pathogenic Microbes in Antarctica’, NZ Antarctic Record, 33:38.
Greenfield, LG 1982, ‘Thermophilic Microbes in Shackleton’s Pony Fodder, Cape Royds’, NZ Antarctic Record, 41: 21–22.
Harrowfield, DL 1984, ‘The Effects of Wind on Some Historic Antarctic Huts’, Journal of Polar Studies, Summer, 12470–486.
Harrowfield, DL 1995, Icy Heritage: Historic Sites of the Ross Sea Region, Antarctic Heritage Trust, Christchurch NZ.
Harrowfield, DL 1985, ‘Snow accumulation at Captain RF Scott’s hut, Cape Evans, Ross Island’, NZ Antarctic Record, 8, 2: 17–19.
Harrowfield, DL 1996, The role of the wind in the destruction of an historic hut at Cape Adare in Antarctica.
Higham, Tim (ed) 1991, New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands: a guidebook, Department of Conservation, Wellington, NZ.
Turner, GA 1979, A Strategy for the Conservation and Management of the Historic Sites in Ross Dependency Antarctica, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington, NZ.
AAE and BANZARE Original Material Expedition Accounts by AAE Member
Australian Antarctic Expedition Scientific Reports:
Mawson, Douglas, Brief Narrative and Reference Physiological and Glaciological Features. Geography Discoveries and Cartography, Series A, Vol I.
Doodson, AT, Tidal Observations, Series A, Vol II, Part 2.
Webb, Eric N, Field Survey and Reduction of the Magnetograph Curves, Series B, Vol I, Part 1.
Ainsworth et al, The Record of the Macquarie Island Station, Series B Vol III.
Mawson, Douglas, [Meteorology] Records of the Queen Mary Land Station, Series B Vol IV Parts 1, 2 & 3.
Jacka, Fred and Eleanor Jacka (eds), Mawson’s Antarctic Diaries, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1988.
Laseron, Charles F 1957, South with Mawson: Reminiscences of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–14, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.
Fletcher, Harold 1984, Antarctic Days With Mawson: A personal account of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition of 1929–31, Angus and Robertson, London.
Mawson, Sir Douglas 1930 (1996), The Home of the Blizzard: the Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914, facsimile edition (first published as two volumes in 1915, and abridged in 1930), Wakefield Press, South Australia.
The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, holds a large amount of original material relating to the AAE
State Library of New South Wales (ed), AAE administrative history and index to manuscript holdings.
Wheeler, Barbara 1993, The Meanings of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic Object Collections, Honours Thesis, Bachelor Applied Science, University of Canberra.
Ferguson, Richard G 1995, Antarctic Artefacts: The Mawson Collection, Mawson Graduate Centre for Environmental Studies, Adelaide.
Ferguson, Richard G, 1995, Annotated Catalogue of Artefacts in the Mawson Collection, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.
General Bright Sparcs — Biographical entry, http://www.asap.unimelb.edu.au/ bsparcs.
Moyes, John Layton 1994, Antarctica: ice, aloneness, ice, J Moyes, West Gosford, NSW.
University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum 1996, Douglas Mawson: Explorer/Scientist, CD Rom.
Watson, Moira 1997, The Spy who Loved Children: the Enigma of Herbert Dyce Murphy 1879 –1971, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria.
Mawson’s Huts Conservation Planning and Site Work ANARE/AAD (1974 to present)
Allom Lovell Marquis Kyle Architects 1988, Mawson’s Huts, Antarctica: Statement of Significance. Report prepared for the Department of Science, August 1988.
Hayman, Simon, Janet Hughes & Estelle Lazer 1998, Report to the Australian Heritage Commission on NEGP Grant: Deterioration Monitoring and Tourism Management at Cape Denison (Mawson’s Huts), Australian Antarctic Territory.
Ledingham, Rod et al 1978, Commonwealth Bay Report, Antarctic Division Technical Memo No. 69, Australia: Department of Science, Antarctic Division.
Marshall, Duncan 1987, Mawson’s Huts–Commonwealth Bay: Structural and Materials Performance. Report to Antarctic Historic Sites and Monuments Advisory Committee, Department of Housing & Construction, Canberra.
Pearson, Michael 1993, Mawson’s Huts Historic Site Conservation Plan. Prepared for the Mawson’s Huts Conservation Committee (MHCC) and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).
Ledingham, R et al 1978, Commonwealth Report, Australian Antarctic Division Technical Memo No. 69.
Lugg, DG & AE Humphreys 1974, Report on a visit to Cape Denison, Australian Antarctic Division Technical Memo No. 24.
Nisbet, JS 1978, Report on a visit to Cape Denison, Australian Antarctic Division Technical Memo No. 34.
Nisbet, JS 1978, Proposed Restoration of Mawson’s Hut Commonwealth Bay – Year 2, Antarctic Division Technical Memorandum No. 83.
Smith, L 1978, Report on a visit to Mawson’s Hut, Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, Australian Antarctic Division Technical Memo No. 35.
Project Blizzard (1984–1986)
Blunt, W 1991, Mawson’s Huts Antarctica, Vols 1, 2 & 3, Thesis, Master of the Built Environment, University of New South Wales.
Blunt, William (ed) 1985, Project Blizzard 1984–1985 Expedition, Preliminary Report and Recommendations.
Blunt, William and Thornton, Margaret (eds) 1985, Mawson’s Huts Interim Conservation Report, Volume Four, Photographic Survey Main Hut.
Chester, Jonathon 1986, Going to Extremes: Project Blizzard and Australia's Antarctic Heritage, Double Bay, Sydney.
Hughes, Janet (compiler) 1986, Mawson’s Huts Interim Conservation Report, Volume 6, Materials Conservation Issues.
Lazer, Estelle 1985, Mawson’s Huts Interim Conservation Report, Volume Five (Part A), Archaeological Report.
McGowan, Angela 1987, ‘Archaeology from the Ice: Excavation Methods in a Frozen Hut’, Australian Historical Archaeology, 5:49–53.
McGowan, Angela (compiler) 1986, Mawson’s Huts Interim Conservation Report, Volume 5 (Part B), Archaeological Report 1985/86.
Project Blizzard 1984–85: The Conservation of Sir Douglas Mawson’s Hut, Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica: A Conservation Plan. Prepared by Margaret Thornton and William Blunt for the Australian Heritage Commission.
AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation (1996 to present)
AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation Conservation Program 1997–98, Initial Environmental Evaluation.
Easther, Rob (Project Manager) 1998, Reports on the AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation Expedition to Cape Denison, December 1997–February 1998.
Grant, Alan 1998, AAP Mawson’s Huts Expedition 1997/98, Field Leader's Report.
McGregor, Alasdair 1998, Mawson’s Huts: an Antarctic Expedition Journal, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney.
Mawson’s Huts Foundation 1998, video recording, AAP, London.
Mawson’ s Huts Foundation 1997, video recording, AAP, London.
Mawson’s Huts Historic Site, Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, 1997 Conservation Works Report. Prepared for AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation by Godden Mackay Heritage Consultants.
Media Monitors 1998, Press Clippings: AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation Expedition to Cape Denison, Antarctica, 10 December 1997 — 20 December 1998.
Orford, Gavan 1997, Mawson’s Huts, Cape Denison, Antarctica, Video Recording, AAP Information Services.
Godden Mackay Heritage Consultants, 1997, Preliminary Conservation Report, Mawson’s Huts Historic Site, Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. Prepared for AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation.
Other Useful Sources
Ambrose, WR 1990, Application of Freeze-drying to Archaeological Wood, in Roger M Rowell & R James Barbour (eds), Archaeological Wood: Properties, Chemistry and Preservation, American Chemical Society, Washington, DC, pp 235–261.
Australian Dictionary of Biography, 14 vols 1996, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
Fagan, Brian 1995, People of the Earth: An Introduction to World Prehistory, 8th ed, Harper Collins, New York.
Geo Hudson & Son Ltd 1919, Australian Bungalows, Geo Hudson & Son Ltd, Redfern, NSW.
Hoffman, Peter (ed) 1993, Proceedings of the 5th ICOM Group on Wet Organic Archaeological Materials Conference, Portland, Maine.
Hughes, Janet 1991 ‘Conservation in Context: Artefact and Place’, Historic Environment VII: 1 & 2, 19–24.
New Zealanders Visit Mawson’s Old Base, Antarctic, 1996 232:58–59.
Parish, Thomas R 1981, ‘The Katabatic Winds of Cape Denison and Port Martin’, Polar Record 20, 129: 525–532
Voyage 1395: World of Penguins – Mawson’s Antarctica, December 27 – January 21, 1997, Southern Heritage Expeditions, Wellington, New Zealand.
Papers from AAP Mawson’s Huts Foundation Cape Denison Conservation Management Plan Seminar, The AAP Centre George Street Sydney, October 18–19, 1998.
Antarctic Heritage Trust, New Zealand 1998, Management of Collections: metal objects.
Ambrose, Wallace R 1998, The Wilkes Site: hut-remediation project, Antarctica.
Hughes, Janet 1998, Issues concerning ice removal.
Jackson, Andrew 1998, Role of the Australian Antarctic Division. Marshall, Duncan 1998, Site Management and Access, including tourism. Pearson, Michael 1998, Issues: fabric management.
Young, Linda 1998, Mawson Collections.
Workshop 1: Ice removal, prevention of snow ingress.
Workshop 2: Site management and off-site components.
Report Produced Sat Dec 7 06:36:59 2013