Colbeck Hut is a renovator’s delight, but first it had to travel. This week at Mawson, the Southern Massons are also explored.

Colbeck hut — a renovator’s delight

The Oxford Dictionary definition for hut is: — A small simple or crude house or shelter. Colbeck use to qualify for all these meanings but since its recent refurb and renovations I would not use “simple or crude”, more likely a suave sophisticated pad. Let me explain, but first a bit of history provided by Dave McCormack

Originally the Taylor Glacier area and emperor penguin colony was serviced for many years by ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ a hut positioned there in 1957 for the planned auroral observations during the International Geophysical year 1957–59. It is unclear when exactly, but during the mid 80s it was decided that an alternative site at Colbeck archipelago be selected due to the old hut being in poor condition and being inside the Antarctic Specially Protected Area containing the now well known emperor penguin colony. The hut posed a risk to wildlife if it blew apart or if dog teams continued to visit the area.

Enter Colbeck or as it had been in its previous life,Rumdoodle. That’s right! In its previous life it was provided by the Australian Antarctic Division in 1973 as a replacement for the hut that had mysteriously blown up, or blew away and was smashed to pieces at Rumdoodle. In 1986, approval for a new hut built out of leftover ANBUS panels from the early 80s rebuilding programme to be sited at Colbeck. Yep that’s right folks “Maxine’s” the current hut at Rumdoodle was originally destined for Colbeck. Fate however seems to have intervened. Due to the sea ice being unsuitable to tow a hut to Colbeck in 1987 the decision was made to use the hut at Rumdoodle. This meant the old hut could be returned to station for a spruce up. Fortune smiled on the crew of 1988 and thus the hut currently known as Colbeck was towed and located on site at Colbeck in 1988.

This year it was decided that it would be worthwhile completing an assessment of the hut’s condition and to ascertain what would be required to extricate the hut from heavy blue ice and return the hut to station for renovations. Previous reports showed that the hut was in peril of sustaining severe ice damage if left. Photos showed inundation of water inside the hut during summer melt — something needed to be done!

Many hours were spent jack hammering, melting and excavating ice and snow build up to free the hut over two trips for towing by Hägglunds back to station. Once on station the hut was stripped internally with large chunks of ice being found under the kitchen cupboards, the flooring had been wrecked by ice and so this was also removed. Next the hut was dried out and a new floor and wall lining installed. There were lots of great ideas for adding large picture frame windows, jacuzzis, hanging gardens, cold porches and decks etc. but it was not meant to be. 

Next was a complete stripping of internal paint and a new paint job inside and out including exterior repairs. Those external walls sure do have some stories to tell. Like how did the big gashes get in the aluminium end wall panels? A new kitchen was installed complete with stainless steel bench tops, the gas rack was moved to make way for a future cold porch, a new stove was added and gas piping was updated or added. The original bunks and table were stripped of paint, reinstalled and varnished. In the mean time an environmental application had to be completed lodged and approved for the relocation of the hut to a better site out of the snow.

Next the electricians and communications departments worked their magic with the bonus of the stove ignition even connected to the 12 volt system. Wow! Finally new shelves, carpet, bedding, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery were added and we were away — three weeks after parking it in the workshop.

The final phase was to deliver it to site, level it up and guy wire it down, and reattach the dunny. All up, it was about a two day job for five people. Looks to me like the hut has at least another 25 years of service to offer travel weary expeditioners.

It was an extremely satisfying project and a great team effort by all those involved, including the support from Kingston head office — you all know who you are. Thanks to everyone for your support and hard work, including everyone on station who put up with us.

Dave McCormack — thanks for sowing the seed and providing advice and encouragement when required. Perhaps “McCormack’s shack” may be a suitable future name for the building given Dave’s interest, involvement and love affair with the building and the area over many, many seasons.

Sunday ride to the Southern Massons

Heidi, Craig and Chris took advantage of calm and warm weather on Sunday to undertake a quad ride up to the Southern Massons Range in the Framnes Mountains over the ice plateau behind the station. The Southern Massons range is situated 40 km southwest of Mawson station and has not been visited since March this year by the 66th ANARE crew.

Upon arrival we explored the local area taking photos of the frozen lakes, sun halos and wind scours layered with clear ice and grit. What makes this area special is that there are no field huts around this mountain range and because of that it is rarely visited.

On our way home we stopped in at Rumdoodle Hut for a cuppa. With warm temps of around −3°C and the deafening silence of no wind, we decided to have afternoon tea out on the deck of the hut followed by an hour’s nap under the sun before calling it a day and making our way back to station.

Soon to depart Mawson, our station news reporter caught up with wintering FTO Heidi for a few words: “My final days here at Mawson — it’s been a fantastic season and one of my final trips was to visit the Southern Massons Range, a beautiful Sunday drive out to a gorgeous area. The Southern Massons have a special feel about them that is different from all the other ranges here in the Framnes Mountains. Ka kite ano.” 

Chris Hill