I WAS UP in Kosciuszko earlier this year when I noticed the old Currango Homestead – one of the few remaining buildings from the pioneer grazier’s era – had been badly damaged by a storm. It’s nothing new – in fact, storm damage to our historic huts is an ongoing problem for land managers and those who try and maintain them.
Then there are bushfires which have ravaged much of the High Country and destroyed a significant number of huts, especially in Victoria. It’s a daunting job for all involved!
There are 186 historic huts to look after in the Victorian High Country, which the local Victorian High Country Huts Association (VHCHA) details as stretching from Healesville and Woori Yallock in the west, east to the NSW border, and then north of the Princes Highway to Myrtleford, Tallangatta and Corryong. Most are in the Alpine NP or on DELWP land, some are on Alpine Resort Land, and very few are on private land.
In NSW, the Kosciuszko Huts Association looks after more than 200 historic structures. Of which 178 are in Kosciuszko, while the remainder are in the Namadgi and Brindabella regions of the NSW and ACT High Country. In Tasmania, the Mountain Huts Preservation Society lists 43 huts of interest.
Around the time the Currango Homestead was damaged, the VHCHA, in conjunction with Idlers 4WD Club and Parks Victoria, restored the Stones Outstation Historic Hut in Lake Eildon NP to its former glory. The outstation hut, constructed of timber palings and a corrugated iron roof, has always been a fine example of bush carpentry.
The week-long exercise resulted in the old hut being rejuvenated to last another 50-100 years, barring storms and bushfires.
For the VHCHA, this hut is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the work they have been involved in over time. Since their formation after the devastating fires in 2003, the association has restored or rebuilt more than 30 of the huts including such iconic buildings as Wallace Hut (the oldest building in the Vic High Country) and Davies Plain Hut.
On a recent visit to Wallace Hut, I was amazed at how lucky we are to still have this quintessential and historically important hut still standing. Like many huts built by the mountain cattlemen, this one sits amongst gnarled snow gums and is protected a little from the treacherous weather that can hit the Bogong High Plains. Sheer luck had seen it saved from the fires which blazed almost up to its back door.
All of these huts are more than just historic structures, they are, as the Tasmanian Hut’s website states, ‘memorials to those pioneers who helped open up the country and are part of our Australian cultural heritage’.
They are also, importantly, a safety refuge for when the weather turns foul, and many people owe their lives to these rough, bush-made structures dotted throughout our mountain country.
As four-wheel drivers who enjoy the High Country, it is beholden on us to look after these historic buildings, whether camping beside them or sheltering from a storm inside them.
If you get the chance, help out with the restoration of one or more of the buildings – each state’s hut organisation is always looking for volunteers and helpers. For the 4WD clubs already helping to keep our High Country huts alive and well, you have this writer’s admiration and gratitude.