The process of conserving the Antarctic site of the first expedition led by Australian Antarctic pioneer Sir Douglas Mawson will take a big step forward later this year when an expedition lands in Antarctica to conserve the historic remains.

For decades experts have pondered whether to remove the ice slowly filling Mawson’s huts, built in 1911 on Cape Denison, one of the windiest parts of Australian-claimed Antarctica.

Announcing this year’s expedition, Dr Sharman Stone, Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic, said the time for debate was over.

“Unprecedented summer temperatures are seeing the ice melt in and around the huts, wetting fabrics, papers and damaging fragile artefacts which were once preserved in the ice,” Dr Stone said.

“The 8-member team will carry out conservation work to protect and preserve the buildings at Cape Denison, due south of Tasmania, without affecting the integrity, aesthetics and historical values of the site. The work will follow the site’s conservation management plan,” she said.

Dr Stone said that the site of Mawson’s 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, the first Australian-led Antarctic venture, was the most significant in Australia’s Antarctic heritage.

“We have reached a critical point where a concerted, substantial rescue effort is needed. We need to act now if this important piece of Australia’s Antarctic heritage is to be conserved for the future.”

In late 1911, Mawson and 17 companions from Australia and New Zealand built wooden pre-fabricated timber huts to use as their base while exploring the coast and hinterland.

Strong and incessant winds at the Cape Denison site saw Mawson calling their new base 'the home of the blizzard'. The winds, combined with the accumulating snow and ice and melt water, are causing major deterioration of the huts.

An archaeologist, carpenters with heritage experience and a materials conservator will be part of the team travelling to Antarctica. They will be supported with expert heritage advice provided by a structural engineer and a heritage architect.

The Cape Denison team will leave Hobart in mid-October 2002 aboard the French Antarctic ship, L'Astrolabe, and will be put ashore by helicopter. They will live and work in tents and a prefabricated hut during their eight-week stay before returning to Hobart in late December.

“They will return to Australia with any items considered too delicate or damaged to remain at the historic site,” Dr Stone said.