Our first few days in Hobart Tasmania were spent walking, walking, walking, stopping only to take photos and for the occasional coffee or beer. One of our subsidiary missions on our adventure was to explore the world of Tasmanian beer which I had read so much about, so we felt obliged to sample it widely. We also discovered the wonderful world of Australian/Tasmanian coffee, wherever we went, even in the tiniest places in the middle of nowhere we had good coffee (once we had realised that what we call an Americano is a long black!)
As we wandered along past the boats moored up in Hobart, some fishing boats, some pleasure boats, some wonderful old boats in pristine condition, we came to Mawson Place, and I vaguely remembered Mawson was an Antarctic Explorer. The Polar Research Institute is in Cambridge and I used to cycle past it every day on the way to school. Near Mawson Place in Hobart (not Cambridge, there is a Mawson Place in Cambridge), across the road in fact, is Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum, although we love museums to be honest it wasn’t a very enticing title, although there were the replica huts, standing there, like a huge garden shed. We were somewhat distracted by the fact that the museum is right next door to Lark Distillery… and as whisky lovers we had been looking forward very much to visiting that establishment… so in we went! No doubt I’ll write about Tasmanian whisky somewhere else but I will just mention that it is very fine whisky!
Actually, we weren’t really that drawn to Mawson’s Huts, and in a way and to be honest, it didn’t really sell itself… So it wasn’t until the last few days of our stay, that we had a spare hour and we popped in. The museum was due to close within the hour, so we thought we would have a quick flash round… In fact I only got to see one wall… it was so interesting, so fascinating, so well displayed that after having an introductory chat from the very friendly and helpful lady on the desk selling tickets, I got little further than finding out about some of the men on Mawson’s 1911 expedition and looking at maps… Needless to say, the next day I returned and when I told the lady on the desk that I had been so interested yesterday but had run out of time so was here for a second visit, she let me in with my previous day’s ticket!
Douglas Mawson led the expedition, leaving Hobart in September 1911 and going via Macquarie Island to set up a camp for scientific and research purposes. He led a crew of seventeen men, the youngest nineteen the oldest forty – Mawson himself was thirty. The expedition was due to return in 1913, and in fact some of them did – however Mawson himself, and six others stayed for a second winter and returned home in 1914… the reasons for which I will retell in another post.
If you go to Hobart I really, really recommend visiting this museum – it may not look that amazing from the outside, but inside it is like a fabulous Tardis. The way the displays are arranged is so intelligent, you are led past maps and detailed biographies and photos of the faces of the eighteen men on the expedition, you read about the expedition itself and the terrible but incredible feats of endurance – and there are videos too, film from the time of the ship the Aurora leaving Hobart, and other film of the men building the huts for example. Finally, having walked round the outside of the reconstructed hut within the big museum hut, you come into an exact replica of the actual hut itself…
The real hut is still in the Antarctic, having survived for over a hundred years, and it has been conserved and looked after since the 1970’s. It is incredible to see the small living space for eighteen men who lived there for over a year, and for the seven men who remained for a second year. The way the exhibition is organised means that you can clearly understand the set-up, two sections – a living quarters and a workshop; the original building was, prefabricated in Sydney and Melbourne, and was brought by ship with the team for them to build on site.
To quote from the Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum Site:
Commonly known as the Main Hut, it combines two expedition buildings into one. The pyramid-roofed hut, measuring just 7.3m square, provided sleeping, kitchen, dining, laundry, storage and darkroom facilities for 18 men. The adjoining hip-roofed hut measures 5.5m x 4.9m and was equipped as a workshop, complete with wireless equipment and generator, lathe, stove, and benches for the carpenter, mechanic and scientists. Skylights in the living quarters’ roof provided natural light, while an acetylene generator mixed calcium carbide and water to create the acetylene gas used as artificial lighting.
There was a veranda outside the hut, a roofed veranda where various things were stored and kept… The replica hut contains all teh artefacts still in the original, cooking equipment, gramophone, furniture, personal items, scinetific equipment, tools… Just everything!
Have a look at the museum website to find out more:
… and the original huts:
… and Lark Distillery: