Commonwealth heritage values

Mawson’s Huts Historic Site is a place of great historical and social significance. The site is significant as the first base for scientific and geographical discovery in Antarctica by Australians. The Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–1914 (AAE) was the first large-scale scientific inquiry after Federation. Mawson’s Huts is a complex historical site, a remnant of the ‘Heroic Era’ of exploration in Antarctica. The expedition survived the isolation and the severe climate and the site illustrates this through its form and setting. The site is, for Australia, of political significance as the location for what eventually became sovereignty claims. The site fabric demonstrates the intense period of AAE occupation between 1912–13. The external relationship of buildings and artefacts illustrates the way the AAE organised their activities spatially. (Criterion A.4)

The site is significant as one of only nine wintering expedition bases built in Antarctica during the ‘Heroic Era’ of exploration, of which only six now survive. This base is the least disturbed by human activities making it one of the most diverse and unique. The site is a fundamental part of the history of Antarctic exploration and of the two bases constructed by Australians during this period it is the only surviving base. The overall site with its range of buildings, scientific equipment and artefacts demonstrates life in Antarctica during this period. (Criterion B.2)

The site is significant for its association with Sir Douglas Mawson and the members of the AAE for whom the site was a base and home for two years. It is a memorial to the members who lost their lives, and also to the contribution that Mawson and his team made to Antarctic science and geography. (Criterion H.1)

The scientific community, the Antarctic veterans community and the larger Australian community view Mawson’s Huts as a symbol of the achievements of the AAE and Mawson himself. The AAE has become an integral part of Australia’s exploration history and has gained a mythic quality. The science and veterans community value the AAE for its role in Antarctic scientific research and for the way it became a model for further exploration in the Antarctic. (Criterion G.1)

The Mawson’s Huts Historic Site is of aesthetic value. The location of the huts on a small rocky peninsula surrounded by a vast area of ice and sea evokes a powerful sense of isolation. Important visual elements also include the setting of the AAE hut structures and memorial cross and the British and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) Proclamation Pole. The building form of the huts themselves shows the functional and efficient planning that was undertaken in response to the site position and the elements. The weathering of the huts and decay of the remains gives a feeling of time elapsed and relates to the exposure to the elements. (Criterion E.1)

The Mawson’s Huts Historic Site is an area of substantial archaeological deposit and archaeological potential. The site has already yielded archaeological evidence providing insight into the living conditions experienced by the AAE. The interiors of the huts are important in that they contain evidence of the domestic and work life of the AAE. The site still retains a great deal of physical evidence which can be interpreted by archaeological study. (Criterion C.2)

The Huts are of technical significance being excellent examples of the innovation and technology used to combat the extreme conditions of the Antarctic and provide functional living and working quarters. The huts were designed by Douglas Mawson and pre-fabricated in Australia before the expedition. Mawson developed the huts using his own knowledge and experience. The designs incorporated the need for wind resistance, simplicity, portability and resistance to the cold.

Mawson’s Huts are significant as evidence of Mawson’s design theory that included modifying Australian building form for Antarctic conditions. Mawson’s Huts were functionally designed using theory and experience. The use of verandahs and hipped roofs which are design features common to Australia were adapted to provide strength and insulation. (Criterion F.1)

Australian Historic Themes: 3.03 Surveying the continent; 3.16 Struggling with remoteness and hardship; 5.01 Working in harsh conditions; 8.10.05 Advancing knowledge in science and technology; 8.11 Making Australian folklore.