Saving our highland huts
The mountain huts of Tasmania’s high country are a unique part of our cultural heritage, and a small wooden structure deep in the Great Western Tiers – The Sandy Lake Hut – is helping to preserve this history.
These huts tell the stories of pioneers who ventured into the rugged highlands for months on end to eke out a living as trappers, shepherds and prospectors. In later years they provided shelter for bushwalkers and anglers.
They also tell of a time when the Central Highlands was bristling with activity.
The hundred-year-old Sandy Lake Hut is very much part of this history, and it has been brought back to life as the latest labour of love of the Tasmanian Mountain Hut Preservation Society (TMHPS).
The TMHPS has spent the past 30 years saving Tasmania’s mountain huts and in 2012, it began the painstaking task of re-building an exact replica of the Sandy Lake Hut; a task that has finally been completed.
Sandy Lake is the seventeenth hut saved by the TMHPS, and it was recently opened amid much fanfare with 300 people travelling to the remote location by foot, horseback and even canoe for the occasion. Such is the fascination with these rustic mountain huts.
“The mountain huts are an important part of our proud cultural history,” TMHPS President, Roger Nutting said.
“They are the history of ordinary Tasmanians doing their best to scratch out a living in an unbelievably harsh environment.
“First and foremost, the Mountain Hut Preservation Society is very much about keeping these traditions alive by restoring whatever remnants of the huts that still remain.”
Sandy Lake Hut is unique and tells an important story.
Built on the edge of Lake Mackenzie, it was one of the first forays into Central Highlands tourism and catered to an exciting new recreational pursuit – trout fishing in Tasmania’s remote lakes.
In 1895 the first trout were carried by hand over the Mole Creek track and released into Lake Mackenzie. Eight years later local fishing and tourism groups built the hut to provide shelter for the growing band of anglers.
However, it fell into disrepair as visitor numbers dwindled, and was eventually lost forever in 1969 when Lake Mackenzie was flooded to make way for the Mersey Forth Power Scheme.
It is now fully restored with a bunk room and fire-place, and once again available for public use.
“We have come full circle with Sandy Lake,” Mr Nutting said.
“It was built to cater for recreational tourism, and here it is all these years later to be used again for the same thing.”
Tasmania’s mountain huts first sprang up during the early 1800s.
They were basic structures – built from local timber and stone – that provided temporary shelter for those forced to live and work in some of the harshest and most remote corners of the island.
These pioneering Tasmanians included drovers who moved cattle and sheep up to the highlands in summer in search of grazing land; snarers who trapped possums and wallabies for skins; and miners fossicking for precious metals.
There were once hundreds of small huts dotted across our high country, but many of these have now been reduced to rubble.
Cradle Coast Tourism Manager, Theresa Lord, said saving Tasmania’s mountain huts was important as they are “part of our life and part of our memories.”
And she should know.
Growing up on the remote West Coast, some of her fondest childhood memories are of visits to the highland huts as she accompanied her father on his many hunting trips.
“I have to admit I am quite sentimental about these huts as they were such a big part of my life,” Ms Lord explained.
“The cultural traditions around them is a special part of Tasmania, and it is really vital that we preserve and maintain them for future generations to use.”
Just like Theresa Lord, there are many Tasmanians with a deep connection to these highland huts.
One of them is TMHPS President, Roger Nutting, whose great-uncle Bill was a tough mountain character.
He was a snarer who would spend months alone in the Central Highlands, often in thick snow and driving blizzards. His only protection, the single-roomed snarers huts where he would sleep and dry out skins over a large central fire.
Unfortunately though, it wasn’t enough, and he perished in a shocking snowstorm that swept through the highlands in 1927.
Mr Nutting’s great-uncle may be long gone, but his story – like so many others – continues on.
“Our mountain huts are not just buildings,” Mr Nutting explains.
“They are memorials to Tasmania’s tough mountain pioneers and they leave us with a legacy that needs to be preserved and cherished forever.”
Image courtesy of the Mountain Hut Preservation Society
12 June 2018, Edition 195