An Australian expedition team has arrived at Cape Denison, in eastern Australian Antarctic Territory after a nine-day voyage to begin a major conservation works program aimed at saving one of the country’s most important heritage treasures.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said today the team of carpenters and conservators would immediately begin work to over-clad the roof of the living quarters of the historic Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison.

Senator Campbell said the Australian Government had given a $320,000 grant to help fund the project being undertaken by the Mawson’s Huts’ Foundation with considerable logistic support provided by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

Mawson’s Huts were used as the exploration base of the pioneering 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), which was organised and led by Adelaide geologist Douglas Mawson.

The living quarters, which Mawson modelled on a colonial Australian homestead, have survived for almost a century in the extreme Antarctic environment but without the restoration work could eventually be lost forever, Senator Campbell said.

“The main building — and the Cape Denison site as a whole — is of great heritage importance and value, not only for Australia but for Antarctica too,” Senator Campbell said.

“It is an invaluable part of history. The pioneering scientific and environmental research work that Mawson and his team carried out between 1912 and 1914, and the subsequent BANZARE 1929 — 1931 expedition which Mawson also organised, led to Australia’s claim to over 40 per cent of the continent.

“It is a tragedy that the AAE expedition members are not more widely known around the world — they deserve to be ranked alongside other pioneers from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, such as Scott, Shackleton, Amundsen and Wilkes.”

The six-member Mawson’s Huts expedition team was flown ashore by helicopter at Cape Denison earlier today from the French Antarctic resupply ship L'Astrolabe after negotiating dense pack ice.

The arrival of the expeditioners follows a short delay when the L'Astrolabe, was temporarily halted by a large 150km long iceberg that blocked a vital access route.

The mission was delayed for about six hours on Friday while helicopters were sent out ahead of the vessel to find the best route through the ice.

The ship departed Hobart on October 21. The team is due to return to Australia on Christmas Eve.