Mawsons Hut, Antarctica

In 2002 Troppo was involved in one of its most unusual projects, far from its usual place of practise. As a result of the firm's expertise in restoring histortic buildings in remote regions with extreme climates and high-speed winds, Adrian Welke (a member of the Commonwealth's National Network of Heritage Advisors) was invited to join an eight person conservation team on a two-month expedition to Antarctica. The task was to conserve and restore Mawson's Huts at Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay, in the far eastern sector of the Australian Antarctic Territory. The invitation was a great honour. It was also an adventure, to contribute to the retention of the only surviving site from the Australian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) in the early years of the 20th century. The collection of prefabricated timber huts was erected and occupied by the AAE of 1911-1914, led by the geologist and explorer, Dr (later Sir) Douglas Mawson.

Following a conservation management plan developed by Sydney heritage consultants Godden Mackay Logan, and with a $250, 000 grant from the Australian Heritage Commission and the Federal Government, the team removed snow and ice (done with a chainsaw!) from the main hut and adjoining workshop; repaired roofs, broken rafters and failed collar ties; documented historical artefacts; installed sensors inside the huts to monitor the internal environment; and removed waste material and equipment left by previous work parties.

All the Huts has been built from Oregon timber frames, with external and internal linings of tongue and groove Baltic pine boarding. When the work was complete (at Australia's most remote archaeological site), the huts, especially the main pyramid-roofed hut, which had been the winter quarters for the eighteen men of the AAE main base party, were a ghostly echo of the pyramid-roof forms of the timber slatted and corrugated iron roofed houses built by public servants in Darwin in the same 20th century. It was an emphatic reminder that Troppo's design principles, developed for the Top End, had application across a full range of geographic and climatic extremes.

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