First efforts

The establishment of the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) in 1974 was one of the first acknowledgments of Australia’s own cultural heritage. The AHC was responsible for the Register of the National Estate (RNE). In 1978, Mawson’s Huts were included on the RNE.

This recognition was paralleled by initial reconnaissance and some work by ANARE in the 1970s. In 1974, the Memorial Cross was repaired. A visit the following year did not undertake any site work but carried out further reconnaissance.

In 1977, the first repairs to the Main Hut were carried out. This involved works to the skylight covers to reduce snow ingress and some repatriation of significant fabric, including the Memorial Cross plaque, the BANZARE proclamation, a sledge, wheel, pipe, spanners and dividers.

ANARE 1977/1978 Expedition

By the late 1970s there was a renewed interest, from both the private and public sector, in Mawson’s Huts. In 1978 an ANARE team, known as the Commonwealth Bay Party, undertook an expedition to Cape Denison to investigate the condition of the Main Hut and the possibility of its return to Australia. The team of four people, led by Rod Ledingham, included an engineer, a carpenter/builder and a medical officer.

The team arrived at Cape Denison on 18 January 1978. A base hut, known as the Granholm Hut (named after the master of the expedition vessel Thala Dan), was established approximately 150 m west of the AAE Main Hut. It is likely that at this time two metal seatainers were also deposited near the Granholm Hut.

The main objective of the team was to identify any damage to the hut and establish the condition of its timber structure and cladding. In order to achieve this, ice was entirely removed from the interior of the workshop and a tunnel dug into the living section of the Main Hut. Work was executed with ice axes, chain-saws and an electric impact hammer.

The interior of the workshop was partially repaired by the team, with the replacement of some interior lining. Artefacts in the workshop were recorded and stored under a bench on the western wall. The roof of the workshop was patch-repaired to reduce snow ingress using a tape product (Denso tape) and lead sheeting held down with timber battens. Access was gained via a tunnel into the living section where contents were extensively documented. All activities were recorded with cine and still film.

In its report, the ANARE party concluded that the hut should remain in its original site at Cape Denison and not be relocated to Australia. They also outlined a maintenance strategy for the structure that was to be completed over the subsequent three summers from 1979 to 1981. It was, however, never completed.