This week from Mawson station we feature Mawson’s Heritage Listed Building and the weekly report from Bechervaise Island.

Biscoe or NBS hut

A project to restore and preserve one of the early relics of ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions) history continues at Mawson. Biscoe was one of the first buildings erected at Mawson when the station was established in 1954. It is a large, eight metre square chamber, with a steeply sloping double roof and was used as a general all-purpose living hut in the first year.

The hut was one of three prefabricated by the Norwegian Polar Institute for the 1949–52 Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition to Queen Maud Land. Biscoe was originally known at Mawson as the NBS hut. The hut was left behind in Cape Town due to lack of cargo space on the “Norsel”. Phillip Law had seen its two sister huts in use at Maudheim Station in Antarctica when he visited in 1949 and he persuaded the Australian Government to purchase the hut.

In 1997, Bill Storer told me that “Biscoe was erected and occupied about 1st April 1954. It faced a northerly aspect and a cold porch at one end contained a toilet and meteorological equipment. This was added to the original hut. There were five identical cubicles down each side of the hut from the front entrance extending about three quarters of the way down the hut and each of the 10 men had their own cubicle which was 2m by 1.55m, in which we had a bed with a sleeping bag and a box to use as a cupboard for stowage of clothing or personal effects. Across the front of each cubicle was a curtain. On the eastern side of the hut from the front entrance slept Bob Dingle, Bruce Stinear, Bill Storer, Bob Summers and Jeff Gleadell and on the western side from the door slept George Schwartz, Bob Dovers, Bill Harvey, Lem Macey and John Russell. (In late 2012 Bill phoned me and said two of the positions listed above were incorrect). Down the centre of the hut was the mess table with stool type seating. At the entrance end we had a pot belly stove which we kept alight with anthracite fuel which we picked up from Kerguelen and was originally shipped from the UK. At the south end we had our kitchen facilities (sink etc) which drained through the southern wall into a 44 gallon drum and in front of that an AGA stove, which also used anthracite fuel and had its own internal hot water system with a flue directly upwards and through the roof. We never let the stove go out”.

The Heard Island Seismic hut, now known as Weddell, was re-erected adjacent to Biscoe with a sheet metal Annex in 1955. When new living quarters were built in 1961, Biscoe hut was put to a variety of utilitarian functions including hydroponics, beer brewing, sled repair, storage of field equipment and a carpenter’s workshop. A fire in 2003 damaged its western end. 

Since 2006–07 Heritage Conservator Mike Staples has been managing a restoration and preservation project. In the 2012–13 summer as part of this project, carpenters Chris George, Chris Hill and Paul Farrow have made the building weather proof which involved putting a freezer panel roof over the entrance, linkway and laundry. This was done by battening out the existing roof and screwing 50mm freezer panels over the top with a flashing on all the edges. Inside Biscoe, the carpenters have installed the remainder of the ceiling panels and laid a plywood floor on top of a 50mm foam panel to cover the original floor. Carpet tiles were then laid. The linkway between Biscoe and Weddell hut will have a new plywood floor, some new wall panelling and a good coat of paint but with the very short summer season it may not all get completed in 2012–2013. Both Biscoe and Weddell hut will have new electrics and fire detectors installed. Biscoe is listed on the Commonwealth Heritage List.

Jill Brown. Biscoe Hut: Preserving Australia’s Antarctic heritage. Australian Antarctic Magazine. Issue 21, 2011 pp 30–31.
Bill Storer. Personal email messages 1997.

Beche report two

It’s all chaos and mayhem in the penguin colony at the moment. Chicks are starting to wander from their nests and form crèches, with more feeding chases now occurring when parents return from sea. These chases are more common when there are two chicks at the nest and involve the parents running away from the chicks so they can feed one chick at a time, firstly the faster more eager chick, then if there is still enough food, the other. Non-breeding birds are fighting with anyone they can, stealing stones from old nests to construct the biggest nest possible (we won’t mention that the breeding part of the season is over). If there aren’t adults to fight with, they turn on the chicks, flipper-beating any that wander too close, sometimes killing them in the process. Then there are the skuas flying in to grab any chicks that stray too far from the colony, sometimes as part of the feeding chase. There are 1300 chicks in the colony, however, with strong winds predicted for the next few days, it is expected that some of the tiny ones may not be around for long.

The skuas are thriving with nine of the ten nests with a chick, one with two. The chicks are seen more often now, looking like they are on stilts with their long, gangly legs. The snow petrel chicks are also starting to hatch. Within a week of hatching, chicks will be left alone at the nest while the adult forages.

Speaking of foraging, the Beche kitchen continues to produce culinary delights. This week a curry night was a winner, as well as the bird baked in a pie. Also, the smell of freshly baked bread and fresh hommus is enough to make anyone’s mouth water. To keep ourselves entertained last night, we had a belated Christmas biscuit decorating competition. Station votes are coming in as we speak, with judges “loving the star” on A and those that think “B is out to impress with its adornment of smaller bite sized lollies almost overflowing to the brim, eye catching”. So far it is too close to call. After 10 days or so without sunshine, it was very exciting when the sun finally shone through, so exciting in fact that I had to go and play with it.

Julie McInnes