One of the proudest achievements this season for the Mawson 72nd ANARE has been the recovery and rebuild of the Rumdoodle field hut. This iconic field hut has been an integral part of the Mawson experience since 1960.
Nestled on the leeward side of the North Masson massif in the Framnes Mountains (approximately 20-kilometres south of Mawson Station), Rumdoodle Hut sits in one of the most beautiful locations in Antarctica. Fronted by the blue-ice beauty of nearby frozen Rumdoodle Lake coupled with breath taking views of the epic North Masson Range to the rear, a sunny day spent on Rumdoodle deck is a true bucket list moment.
Yet its iconic location has also proved its Achilles heel, with the North Masson massif turning the frequent Mawson blizzard winds into extremely strong downslope winds that funnel directly into Rumdoodle. Suffice to say, Rumdoodle Hut has certainly had a weathered history! Between its first iteration in 1960 as depot for RAAF DC-3 flights and 2017, the hut has been totally obliterated by blizzard (1972), so badly damaged it was swapped out for a new Hut (1986), and twice condemned as unsafe following blizzard damage (2001 & 2017), which required use of a RMIT Van for alternate accommodation.
What follows is an abridged history of Rumdoodle…
Circa 1960 (Rumdoodle Hut 1.0)
The original Rumdoodle was a ‘Freighter Hut’ (named after its maker — Freighter Industries in Moorabbin Victoria) and is was placed in location around 1960.
Its initial purpose was an operations depot for members of the RAAF, who were operating DC-3 Antarctic field reconnaissance flights from the nearby ice airstrip.
As an aside, 1960 is also referred to as the 'Year of the Dakota’ ~ a RAAF DC-3 that was delivered to Mawson aboard RV Thala Dan. Shortly after being reassembled, the Dakota was damaged in a handling mishap. Dakota was repaired and later repositioned at Rumdoodle in readiness for operations the following summer. Sadly, Dakota was destroyed by an infamous Rumdoodle blizzard which blew it six-kilometres across the ice!
1972: ‘Rumdoodle Hut, she’s gone!’
In what would become a pattern across the next four decades, the original Rumdoodle was destroyed during a blizzard in 1972. This disastrous event was discovered by a field party led by station Doctor Des Parker. Much to their initial bewilderment and disbelief from the team back on station, Rumdoodle Hut was simply no longer able to found! As quoted in the station log at the time, ‘…the cry went up — Rumdoodle Hut, she’s gone!’
In the subsequent days, only small pieces of the hut could be found scattered around the nearby rocks. At the time, the total hut obliteration drove conspiracy theories about a gas explosion. This scuttlebutt did eventually give way to recognition of nature being responsible — the hut’s location on the leeward side of the North Masson massif means it was subjected to ridiculous strong down-slope winds plummeting down the sheer face of the mountain.
1973: Rumdoodle Hut 2.0
When news of the 1972 Rumdoodle destruction reached Australia, the Australian Antarctic Progam (AAP) responded swiftly with construction of a new prefabricated hut and delivery to Mawson by 1973. Rumdoodle 2.0 was towed into position on 16 August 1973.
As another interesting aside, the following day (17 August 1973), a commemorative brass plaque was unveiled on a huge boulder to the west of the hut. The plaque was a feature of visits to Rumdoodle 2.0 until 1986 (the year the hut was again replaced), when the boulder toppled over completely concealing the plaque forever more.
1984: Internal Refurbishment
After a solid 11 years use, 1984 saw Rumdoodle 2.0 returned to Mawson Station for an internal refurbishment.
When returned to its field home though, it was not returned on the original sledge it had come down with, leading it to be laid on timbers on the rocks and guyed down. Given the brutal downslope winds it was frequently subject to, this meant it was likely only a matter of time before further hut destruction…
1986: Rumdoodle Hut 3.0
Following numerous beatings at the hands of the elements after the 1984 refit, the hut was reported on its last legs by 1986. Thus, the hut was again returned to Mawson; this time to be remounted on a sledge for sturdier site installation.
At the same time, a proposal for a hut constructed at Mawson intended for delivery to Taylor Glacier on the west coast was rejected. And so it became that this hut was then repurposed and towed to Rumdoodle. Rumdoodle iteration 3.0 soon became commonly referred to as ‘Maxines’, signified by the front door sign of the same name.
2001: Addition of the RMIT Van
2001 once again saw Rumdoodle heavily battered by blizzards. Damage was extensive, including having the gas cylinders and outside toilet blown away. Indeed, the whole hut had been shifted so markedly from its moorings, it was condemned unsafe.
As such a ubiquitous AAP RMIT Van (which had been at Macey) was then towed up to Rumdoodle for alternate accommodation until repairs could be made.
2002: Repairs to the 2001 damage
2002 saw urgent repairs made to Rumdoodle: the hut was jacked back into place, with the gas system repaired and cylinders replaced.
2004: Another internal refurbishment
2004 saw Rumdoodle get a well deserved internal refurbishment. Maxine’s was spruced up with vinyl and carpet repairs, along with installation of a new dining table.
2017: Near destruction (again)
In the middle of May 2017, Rumdoodle was again brutalised by the ferocious Mawson blizzards. This time around, she sustained significant damage including the window being blown out, the door and shutter being blown off, buckling of the verandah and props, and the internal living area filled with glass debris and snow.
Once again, Rumdoodle was sadly condemned, with subsequent stays at Rumdoodle confined to the RMIT Van.
2019: Rumdoodle Lives Again!
Following a two-day operation across 14–15 May, the 2019 Rumdoodle Recovery Team towed the hut back to station for a complete makeover.
Later, during an intense two-week period in August 2019, a wide range of refit works were completed included fitting a new door and window, deck maintenance, installation of new carpet tiles, commissioning a new heater, new cushions, refitted electrical switches, and upgraded comms equipment. In addition, the hut was given a complete internal and external repaint.
With the last lick of fresh paint dry, Rumdoodle was dutifully returned to the field by the Recovery Team across two-days on 9–10 October 2019. Her return was backdropped by two rare near-windless sunny days, allowing the Recovery Team to enjoy a star-gazing night on the deck once work was completed.
The 2019 Rumdoodle Recovery Team consisted of Glenn Blackwell, Chris George, Tom Dacy, Warren Arnold, James Terrett, and Dave Davies.
Critical Dozer support provided by Marc Mills, with miscellaneous refit and painting tasks completed by the 72nd ANARE station team.
Many thanks to Tess Egan (AAD Library Manager) for providing much of the painstaking research this abridged history has been sourced from.
Kyle (Station Leader)
Any errors in the timeline or abridged history rest entirely with the Author.