As very few people will ever visit the real Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison in Antarctica,
full scale replica huts have been built in Hobart,
where Mawon’s expedition left from,
and this is where we visited next.
The main hut is a squarish building with a pyramid shaped roof.
On three sides of the main hut
is a lean-to verandah
which is about 1.5 metres wide.
Attached to the main hut is another smaller hut.
At the replica huts, you enter via this smaller hut
and then move into the verandah area,
where you learn about Mawson, his expedition,
the people and dogs who went with him and life in Antarctica.
Then you enter the main hut,
which is decked out just like it might have been back in 1912.
This is the first sight you see in the main building.
The kitchen is on the left
with its stove
and preparation area.
Oh and just before the kitchen area,
there’s what looked like a dark room for photography.
Here’s another view of the kitchen and dark room.
On the right is the dining room table.
(Sorry, I’m standing facing the entryway in this picture
so you’ll have to imagine yourself standing at the other end of this table
to get the right perspective.)
This table would have had many purposes.
I loved that they consider their souls
when planning what to take with them.
I wonder if modern researchers in Antarctica
pack things like musical instruments.
Mawson hauled an organ all the way to Antarctica with him!
I had my eye on these books!
That’s what I would pack
(after very warm clothes!!)
No, these aren’t the actual titles they had in the hut with them.
Yes, we asked.
Along the walls, on either side of the hut,
were the bunk beds for the 17 men
who came to Antarctica with Mawson.
I’d like to know why those 17 men got such little bunks
with no personal space
while Mawson got a WHOLE room to himself!!
I’d also like to know the story behind the golliwog doll on Mawson’s bed.
I read online that the doll has some connection to Anna Pavlova
(which is interesting as one of the huskies was named after Anna).
Now, don’t imagine that this hut was a lovely warm and cozy abode
(well, in comparison to the outside, it was definitely warmer).
In winter, the hut was usually a chilly 4 degrees Celsius.
It didn’t help that Cape Denison was the windiest sea-level location on Earth.
So, odds were against a balmy evening in their little hut.
Oh and this you have to know.
The wind would often freeze their eyes and the glare off the snow would causes snow blindness,
so the men would put a little bit of cocaine under their eyelids to ease their discomfort!
I find Antarctica a fascinating place
(although I have NO desire to visit!)
Did you know that Antarctica is bigger than Australia?
It’s also a lot further away than you might think.
It’s 2473 km from Hobart to Cape Denison in Antarctica.
Now compare that to some other significant distances in Australia.
Oh and it’s not 1800km from Brisbane to Hobart
(as the sign says),
unless you are flying or something.
We’d driven from the Gold Coast to Hobart
and that was more than 3000km!!
So, technically, we’d driven further than Antarctica.
Can you imagine building a house in that hostile environment?
Back home, it just needs to drizzle and work stops on the work site.
But in Antarctica, they work through all but the bitterest conditions.
I mean, gosh, these men had to put the dynamite in their pockets to keep it warm!!
Oh and they couldn’t get the concrete to set because it was simply too cold.
They even tried adding warm urine into the mix…but still the concrete wouldn’t set.
In the end, they had to use wedges to hold the building supports in place.
It’s a wonder that these huts were ever built at all
…or that they remained standing.
This is a piece of timber cladding from the original huts in Antarctica.
Look at how eroded it is.
Oh dear, I’m just assuming you know the story of Douglas Mawson and his expedition.
Let me give you a quick summary.
Seventeen men went to Antarctica
with Douglas Mawson for scientific research
in 1912 (well, they left in December 1911).
In November, 1912,
Douglas Mawson, along with Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis,
set off inland over two glaciers and into the unknown
to collect scientific data and specimens.
All went well for three weeks and then disaster struck.
Ninnis, and six of their best dogs, fell into a crevasse and died.
One of the sledges went with them,
taking the tent, all of the dog food and most of the rations.
Mertz and Mawson were forced to turn around and head back.
As time wore on, they got hungrier and weaker
and had to eat their remaining dogs.
But the dogs didn’t provide them much nutrition;
they were mostly muscle and, at the time, also starving.
Plus, by eating the dogs’ livers, they were actually poisoning themselves
by consuming too much vitamin A.
Consequently, Mertz became sick and died
and Mawson had to bury him
and continue on alone.
Mawson cut his sledge in half,
boiled all of the dog meat to use up the remaining kerosene,
and tied the soles of his feet back on
(yes, tied them on because they’d separated from his feet!!!)
Twice Mawson fell through snow bridges into crevasses
but, each time, was able to save himself.
He slipped without crampons, was pushed by the wind,
and often crawled,
all the while dragging his sledge
that carried their data and specimens.
Finally, Mawsn reached a supply cave,
appropriately named Aladdin’s Cave,
that was only 8 kilometres from the hut.
He knew the ship to take the men home had arrived
as there was fresh fruit in the supply cave,
but a blizzard trapped him in that cave for over a week.
When he was finally able to set off again,
he saw the ship’s smoke on the horizon,
leaving him behind.
After all that effort to survive,
only to be left behind in Antarctica.
However, when he made it back to the hut,
he found that 6 of the 15 men had stayed behind
to search for the three missing men.
They stayed behind knowing that they’d have to enduring another Antarctic winter.
(We should also remember that the men on Macquarie Island,
who were providing communications between Australia and Antarctica,
also stayed and endured another winter.)
We should also remember the dogs.
None of the dogs who went to Antarctica
These are the names of the dogs who went to Cape Denison with Mawson and his men.
Basilisk and Alexandra were the two leaders of the dog pack.
Basilisk was a big black dog, with a white chest,
and his female companion was Alexandra.
She had a lovely ginger coat.
(In the monument pictured below,
Basilisk is the dog who is standing
and Alexandra is the sitting dog.)
Belgave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz were responsible for the dogs
and had a close relationship with them.
When Belgave Ninnis plunged to his death,
the dogs Basilisk, Alexandra, Shackleton, Franklin, John Bull and Castor died with him.
Later, Mertz would have to eat the dogs that he loved and cared for.
The dogs George, Mary, Haldane, Jack Johnson, Pavlova, and Ginger all gave their lives to their masters.
Now, after such a sad story,
here’s something a little lighter for you to read.
The Mawson’s Replica Huts, aside from reminding us of a tragic expedition,
were a fascinating place to visit.
But I have to warn you though.
You have to be the kind of people
who like to read information plaques,
otherwise the experience will be over all too quickly
and you’ll walk away feeling disappointed.
We were not at all disappointed!!
Oh and to complete the Mawson’s Huts experience,
wander down to the wharf
and see if the Aurora Australis is in dock.
The Aurora Australis is Australia’s first Antarctic icebreaker.
You can’t miss her if she’s in dock.
She’s the bright orange ship.
And that completes another wonderful day in Hobart.