Building a replica Mawson’s Hut

By Ian Connellan 7 November 2013
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As journal editor Ian Conellan reports, the AG Society is rolling up its sleeves for a great cause.

Australian Geographic journal editor Ian Connellan reports back on what he found at the Australasian Antarctic Expedition centenary celebrations in Hobart.

HOBART, 1 DECEMBER: There’s an extraordinary unflappability about David Jensen, founder and CEO of the Mawson’s Huts Foundation (MHF), and there was never a better demonstration of it than this morning.

In a few hours, David would be hosting more than 500 people at the Sir Douglas Mawson Centenary Dinner, including MHF Patron Governor-General Quentin Bryce and around 100 descendants of expeditioners from the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). But you’d never know it to look at him.

He greeted me with his usual grace at Hobart’s Grand Chancellor Hotel, and we quickly finalised the wording of the announcement David would make that night: that the AG Society was joining MHF to raise money for the construction of a replica Mawson’s hut. The original is, of course, still at Commonwealth Bay in east Antarctica – protected and preserved by the MHF’s multiple conservation expeditions.

Ongoing conservation

David, his board and the AG Society trustees believe that the replica hut – which will sit opposite Mawson Place in a prime site on the Hobart waterfront – will fund the ongoing conservation of the original hut. The next day (2 December) would mark 100 years to the day since the AAE departed Hobart for Antarctica. What better place for a replica hut?

At 7pm that night, Centenary dinner guests stood in the Grand Chancellor ballroom and applauded warmly as the Vice-Regal party entered (and thunderously when Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown was introduced). The night’s unexpectedly heartwarming moment came when master of ceremonies Gregory Holland, an MHF director, introduced the AAE descendants table by table (these were named for AAE expeditioners) and they stood and somewhat awkwardly acknowledged the applause directed at them.

The AG Society’s table was named “Wild” for Frank Wild, leader of the AAE’s Western Party, veteran of five expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age and whose known relatives had good reason not to be attending.

Just four days earlier, on 27 November, six Wild family members had seen Frank’s ashes buried on the right-hand side of Ernest Shackleton’s grave in Grytviken, South Georgia.

Shackleton’s right-hand man

The inscription on the grave marker reads “Frank Wild 1873-1939, Shackleton’s right-hand man”. Writer Angie Butler – author of The Quest For Frank Wild  – had found his ashes at Braamfontein Cemetery, in Johannesburg, South Africa. “His ashes will now be where they were always supposed to be,” Angie said. “It just took them a long time getting there.”

After he’d introduced the relatives, Gregory Holland called up David who – calm as ever – welcomed guests, explained the MHF’s mission and announced the MHF/AG Society plan to raise funds for the replica hut. The reasons why the AAE is celebrated, and why we believe that replica hut is so important, were expressed perfectly later that night by Her Excellency Ms Bryce.

“On the anniversary of that historic departure one hundred years ago, we reflect on the legacy of Mawson and his fellow expedition members,” said the Governor-General. “They were no ordinary men. They were scholarly and collegiate; explorers in the name of knowledge and science… Tonight we acknowledge their selfless, awe-inspiring endeavours, their contribution to science and the environment, their meticulous mapping and documentation, their tenacity and discipline.”

It’s exactly these qualities that the Society and MHF want the replica hut to represent, and it’s our belief that it will inspire a new generation of Australian explorers driven by a desire for knowledge. The fundraising effort will commence in earnest in the first months of 2012.

Read about the flotilla of vessels that celebrated the centenary of the depature of the AAE here.