Antarctica expedition: Mawson’s Hut

By Mike Rossi 7 November 2013
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Mawson’s Hut is the embodiment of the harsh life of 1913, snap frozen in time, preserving life as it was.

AG designer Mike Rossi set sail on the AG Society expedition to Antarctica. Mawson’s Hut was one of the many places visited.

I HAVE THE FORTUNATE pleasure of setting foot on the Antarctic continent for the first time in perfect weather – a still, clear day at a balmy 2ºC – not bad considering I am in the windiest place on Earth, a spot that Mawson himself named “The home of the blizzard”.


Our landing site is Boat Harbour at Cape Denison, in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica – site of the hut erected by the Australian Antarctic Divsion of 1911.

The bleak Antarctic icecap looms large as a backdrop, dominating the landscape. Mawson’s Hut wears visible scars of 99 years of hard living, with ferocious katabatic winds and ice crystals combining like a sandblaster to eat away the softer parts of the blonde cedar.

The snow and ice that have built up over the last winter have to be shovelled away from the main entrance to allow us passage into the frozen museum within – we are the first visitors this season. With the sky lights still closed, the inside of the hut is pitch black, and we are guided around by torchlight.

The temperature drops noticeably, my breath visible in the torchlight. The experience is reverential and slightly eerie, as the details of the hut swim up from the darkness, illuminated in a ring of torchlight.

The floor of the hut has been raised half a metre by a hard platform of ice, and everything has been given a liberal dusting of ice crystals. There are still clothes hanging on pegs, books and photographs scattered along shelves, tins, jars and a half used box of flour in the pantry, a silent stove to one side.

Frank Hurley’s cramped darkroom in the corner is lined with bottles of chemicals. Above his working desk, I can just make out the scrawled letters: “Near enough is not good enough”.

In Mawson’s private quarters, his pillow remains and, above it, a photograph is frozen to the wall. It is an incredible space, frozen in time, as if when Mawson and his men departed in 1913 the whole hut was snap frozen. It is the closest I have come to time travel – to a time before my time, before my parents’ time, before even my grandparents’ time – to the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.

See more AG Antarctica expedition blogs.