Tasmanian hut histories

Years ago I wrote a number of hut histories in Victoria and Tasmania for the Kosciusko Huts Association. Here are updated versions of three short articles I wrote on western Tasmanian Huts.

  1. Lake Tahune Hut
  2. Lake Vera Hut
  3. Transportable track builders hut

One possible design for the new Lake Tahune Hut in PWS May 2016 Facebook post.

One possible design for the new Lake Tahune Hut in PWS May 2016 Facebook post.

Lake Tahune Hut

© David Sisson. 2005, updated 2015, 2017.

In May 2016 the Parks and Wildlife Service announced that the hut at Lake Tahune beneath Frenchman's Cap would be replaced. This appears to be the final stage of a decade long project to upgrade the track and facilities on the main approach to the mountain from the north. Much of the funding has been provided by the philanthropist Dick Smith. Each year Smith has donated $100,000 and the government has given $50,000 to the project.

Another proposed design for the new Tahune hut. The architects website has a floor plan

Another proposed design for the new Tahune hut. The architects website has a floor plan

In November 2016 PWS stated 'The new hut will double the sleeping capacity at the site, providing accommodation for 24 walkers as well as two rangers. Additional deck area will provide a hardened surface around the hut for seating and cooking.'  Rumours have suggested that the new hut might have solar panels for lighting and even a micro hydro system for heating, but that seems fairly unlikely for a smallish hut in a fairly remote location.

The existing hut has some historical significance (see below), but sadly it will not be preserved with the new hut built nearby. Rather it will be demolished and the new hut will be built on it's site. A PWS Facebook post in February 2017 stated that work would begin in January 2018.

The current Lake Tahune Hut. © David Sisson 2004.

The current Lake Tahune Hut. © David Sisson 2004.

The current hut is at 965 metres altitude on the north east shore of Lake Tahune on Frenchman's Cap in western Tasmania. The hut is sheltered by the cliffs of Frenchman's Cap and overlooks the Franklin River valley. In good weather it has arguably the most spectacular view of any hut in the country. Grid: 039 198.

The first hut at Lake Tahune. Photo: Barry Ford, 1957.

The first hut at Lake Tahune. Photo: Barry Ford, 1957.

History

In 1940 Ray Livingston lobbied for a hut to be built at Lake Tahune, but wartime shortages and his death in 1943 meant that nothing happened until after the war.

Jack Thwaites had continued to lobby for the hut and the Scenery Preservation Board commissioned a local sawmiller, Cliff (an apt name for the location) Bradshaw to build the hut. He was assisted by mill hands and his sons Bernie and Henry. The hut was mostly built in 1946 and completed in January 1947 after a bumper snow season had broken the hut's ridge pole.

The Bradshaws had tried to carry a 1.8 metre long crosscut saw along the overgrown track but soon abandoned it and instead built the hut from palings split on site from the only suitable species of tree, King Billy pine. Bernie recalled that they made a number of trips to the site but 'were chased out by the weather a couple of times, snowflakes were coming down like dinner plates. It was quite a good hut actually. The palings fitted up pretty well and it was a reasonable size.'

Frank Hurley's photo of Lake Tahune in 1947. Lions Head towers above the lake while the face of Frenchmans Cap is to the left of this scene. Source: National Library of Australia.

Frank Hurley's photo of Lake Tahune in 1947. Lions Head towers above the lake while the face of Frenchmans Cap is to the left of this scene. Source: National Library of Australia.

Frank Hurley, legendary photographer of Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 - 1916 Endurance expedition was less charitable when he visited in Easter 1947. 'Only an average job roof timbers had warped considerably, leaving cracks rendering the hut far from weatherproof'.

However the dirt floored hut endured and gave reasonable shelter until it was destroyed by a bushfire in November 1966 that also killed many of the King Billy pines in the area.

The second hut was built on the site of the old hut in June 1971. The project was overseen by Brian Collin, a Hydro Electric Commission engineer and keen bushwalker.

The prefabricated hut was adapted from an Antarctic design by the Scenery Preservation Board, apparently the unusual six sided shape was to improve it's snow loading strength. The HEC provided transport to the site. First it was taken to Mt McCall by truck and then ferried to Lake Tahune by helicopter. It took Collin and three assistants seven days to erect the hut. The porch was built out of left over timber although it was not in the plans.

The hut was originally in the open, overlooking both Lake Tahune and the Franklin valley, but within a few years scrub regrowing after the fires surrounded the hut, making it difficult to photograph.

It is historically significant due to it's adaption from an Antarctic design and because it was one of the first mountain huts to be prefabricated and entirely transported by helicopter. In this respect it was a predecessor to the second Lake Vera Hut and the current Federation and Michell huts on Victoria's two highest mountains. Apparently those involved in the decision to demolish it did not consider it's historic significance was sufficient to preserve it and build the new hut nearby.

Detail of the original Tahune Hut among King Billy pines from Hurley's 1947 photo.

Detail of the original Tahune Hut among King Billy pines from Hurley's 1947 photo.

Construction

A six sided steel hut with a wooden floor resting on huon pine foundations with a huon pine skillion porch. The hut has two tables, seating and four shelf bunks with mattresses, each accommodates four people. The original stove was removed (although scorch marks on the floor show its former location) and It was replaced by a methylated spirits heater, however metho was rarely provided. In the last decade of the hut's life this inadeqaute stove was replaced by a briquette heater.

A water tank is located on the south western side of the hut. To the north is a dunny perched on the edge of a cliff and an exposed helipad with great views over the Franklin valley. Sheltered campsites are located near the helipad and south east of the hut overlooking the lake.

References

The following sources were used:

  • John Chapman. South west Tasmania: a Guidebook for Bushwalkers. 4th ed. John Chapman, 1998.
  • Simon Kleinig. 55 years at Tahune Hut. pp 95 - 99, Tasmanian Tramp. No 34. 2002.
  • Simon Kleinig. Frenchmans Cap: the story of a mountain. Glass House Books, 2012.
  • Simon Kleinig. Journeys to the Ivory Tower: in the footsteps of the pioneers. pp. 28 - 31 in Wild No. 77. Winter 2000.
  • Phil Robinson. A climbers guide to Frenchman's Cap NP, 1979. pp. 9, 11.
  • John Siseman & John Chapman. Cradle Mountain National Park: Frenchmans Cap - Walls of Jerusalem. [1st ed.] Algona, 1979. pp. 106 - 115.
  • The hut is also mentioned in occasional issues of the Tasmanian Tramp, Skyline, Outdoor Australia and Wild.

Lake Vera Hut. ©. David Sisson, 2004.

Lake Vera Hut. ©. David Sisson, 2004.

Lake Vera Hut

Also known as Michael's Hut. © David Sisson, 2005, 2015.

Located 100 metres east of Lake Vera, 50 metres north east of the Vera Creek bridge on the walking track to Frenchman's Cap. Grid: 079 194.

History

The lake was named in 1910 by the track cutter and writer J. E. (Ernie) Philp after his wife. The first hut was built by a lakeside swamp in June 1962 and was reroofed in the late 1960s. It was a slab hut with a split paling floor and was slowly disintegrating by the late 1970s.

Work on the present hut began in November 1978 and was completed in March 1979. The original hut was reputedly dismantled in the early 1980s.

Just off the track, north west of Barron Pass, is a memorial to the prominent landscape and poster artist Harry Kelly who helped pioneer the route in the years before the Second World War.

Construction

An excellent and large modern hut with a practical layout. Clad in timber, the hut has a wooden floor and a corrugated iron roof. One end of the hut contains benches, stainless steel covered tables and a coal stove.

Four shelf bunks that each sleep four or five people are at the other end of the hut with room for an extra person under the roofline above the veranda. Outside are coal bins, a water tank and a helipad.

The only practical campsites are behind the hut and next to the helipad. There is a small paling jetty 20 metres from the hut on Vera Creek, although it is frequently under water. The dunny is located 100 metres south of the hut along the main track to the Lyell Highway.

References

  • John Chapman. South west Tasmania: a Guidebook for Bushwalkers. 4th ed. John Chapman, 1998.
  • Rowland Kelly - interview, 2005.
  • Simon Kleinig. Frenchmans Cap: the story of a mountain. Glass House Books, 2012.
  • Simon Kleinig. Journeys to the Ivory Tower: in the footsteps of the pioneers. pp. 28 - 31 in Wild No. 77. Winter 2000.
  • Phil Robinson. A climbers guide to Frenchman's Cap NP, 1979. pp. 9, 11.
  • John Siseman & John Chapman. Cradle Mountain National Park: Frenchmans Cap - Walls of Jerusalem. [1st ed.] Algona, 1979. pp. 106 - 115.
  • The hut is also mentioned in occasional issues of the Tasmanian Tramp, Skyline, Outdoor Australia and Wild.

The hut at High Moor, Western Arthur Range. © 2003. Simon Walliss and David Sisson

The hut at High Moor, Western Arthur Range. © 2003. Simon Walliss and David Sisson

Transportable track builders' hut

David Sisson. 2005, updated 2015.

The hut was transported by helicopter to remote sites in western Tasmania and used for accommodation and storage by track building teams around the turn of this century. Despite its modest size, the hut was quite comfortable and had two beds, a table, sink and storage cupboard.

The photo was taken at High Moor on the Western Arthur Range, but what appears to be the same hut has been spotted at other locations such as the Ironbound Range on the South Coast Track.

Why the track builders were needed

By the 1970s new hydro and logging roads provided access to many areas in the south and west of the state that had previously required a walk of several weeks. Hikers began to pay more interest to these areas and foot pads started to form across several mountain ranges in southern and western Tasmania. As usage increased, guidebooks describing the routes were published which stimulated more interest. The increased traffic began to cause erosion in soils that were often only glacial silt, so there was a need for proper tracks and tent platforms to be built. Many places such as High Moor are still at least a three day walk from the nearest road head, so track builders and their equipment had to be transported to work sites by helicopter and this hut was used to provide basic shelter and amenity for them.