A team of Australian conservation experts is heading to Antarctica to carry out critical conservation work to preserve Australia’s only heritage listed link to the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.

For the past 95 years the historic Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison 2600km south of Hobart have withstood the extreme Antarctic elements in what is generally considered to be the windiest place on earth.

Renowned explorer and geologist Sir Douglas Mawson set up camp at Cape Denison during the 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition and the huts are listed as a National Heritage site, as well as being of international significance.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said the Australian Government’s aim is to preserve the wooden buildings in perpetuity but without urgent attention they could eventually be destroyed by the strong winds in a region that Mawson himself described as “the home of the blizzard”.

“The original timber fabric of the buildings has been gradually eroded by nearly a century of wind-driven snow and ice, allowing snow and meltwater to enter the Huts and potentially compromise the structural integrity of the buildings,” Senator Campbell said.

“The work being undertaken this summer will finalise a major part of the programme of stabilisation and repair and protect the historically-significant artefacts contained in the buildings. This work is being carried out by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation with the full support of the Australian Government and is a wonderful example of private enterprise and the Government working together to conserve Australian heritage.”

The Mawson’s Huts Foundation has been given a $320,000 grant by the Australian Government to help fund the project and the work will also benefit from considerable logistical support provided by the Australian Government Antarctic Division. “The innovative over-cladding design being employed for this project will protect the original roof by encasing it in new materials that are in keeping with the original timber style and which can be removed in future to allow access to the original material,” Senator Campbell said.

The Chairman of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, Mr David Jensen AM, said the support of the Australian Government Antarctic Division, as well as private sector support, was critical to helping maintain what is a vital part of Australia’s history.

“The Mawson’s Huts are an invaluable part of our nation’s young history and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1914 was a pioneering programme in terms of the scientific, environmental and cultural advances Mawson and his men made,” Mr Jensen said.

“It is essential these buildings — and the Cape Denison site as a whole — are preserved for future generations.

“The cost of conservation work in such an isolated and harsh environment is high. It is pleasing to see such a successful partnership between the private sector and the Australian Government. The over-cladding of the roof in the Main Hut is aimed at preventing further ingress of ice and snow so work can start on conserving the priceless artefacts inside the huts.

“The contents of the huts remain largely as Mawson and his men left them in 1913. They are an immensely valuable part of Australia’s Antarctic history and it’s essential they are properly conserved,” Mr Jensen said.

The six member works party, headed by an expedition field leader and materials conservator Dr Ian Godfrey from the WA Maritime Museum, includes three heritage carpenters, a photographer/cook/journalist and an artist.

The team sets sail from Hobart today aboard the French Government Antarctic ship l'Astrolabe, returning to Australia on 24 December.