Fears razed high country huts lost forever

Four Mile miner's hut, the last remaining on the historic Kiandra goldfields, was razed in 2020.
Four Mile miner's hut, the last remaining on the historic Kiandra goldfields, was razed in 2020.

Work to rebuild a series of culturally-significant Australian high country huts razed by the Black Summer bushfires is still to begin as concerns grow it might never get underway.

A dozen of more than 100 huts constructed up to 120 years ago by stockmen and prospectors, and later the Snowy Mountains Authority, were destroyed or severely damaged by the monster fires of January 2020.

Most were rare remaining links to a bygone era in the alps characterised by the crack of whips and swing of mining picks.

More recently they'd served as emergency havens for exhausted or lost bushwalkers and touring skiers, each over many years credited with saving lives.

For all their historical and practical importance though, some of the huts are at risk of being lost forever, according to the diehard band charged with their care.

The Kosciuszko Huts Association has invested half a century of blood, sweat and tears maintaining and repairing the bush-crafted timber and pressed-iron outposts.

Its members insist those ruined 16 months ago should be reconstructed on-site using period-centric materials collected throughout the mountains, so the stories of the huts and their original inhabitants can live on.

While NSW Parks and Wildlife Service has previously rebuilt some huts decimated by the elements, the association worries it might not commit to all 10 within its jurisdiction this time.

Both burned Namadji National Park huts in the ACT - Max and Bert's and Demandering - had significant connections to the region's early settlers and continuing importance.

However members strongly doubt whether heritage authorities there consider either socially valuable enough to resurrect.

"We're getting what you would call silent resistance from them," vice president Anthony Hunter told AAP.

"They undertook a heritage survey after the fires and produced a report but have declined to share that with us and what we're being told on the quiet is that it is a fait accompli that they will not rebuild them."

The Kosciuszko Huts Association has offered to reconstruct both huts at their own cost, while the latter had been scheduled by parks officials for maintenance work prior to the 2020 fires.

While the consultants' report has been provided to the ACT Parks and Conservation Service team, "no decision has been made regarding the rebuilding of the huts", government says.

"The ACT government recognises the heritage value of these huts," according to a spokesman.

"They provided shelter for stockmen in the ACT's high country and are remnants of our early pastoral history."

Ministry officials will continue working closely with stakeholders in "determining the next steps for these important sites".

That will include meetings with representatives from ACT Parks and Conservation Service, the association, and ACT Heritage Council over the coming month "so that those values are acknowledged and protected".

Mr Hunter says the tradition of the high country huts has always involved bush recycling.

"They were often knocked up quickly for a specific purpose but circumstances would change, no one would be using them and they'd fall down.

"Then someone would come along and realise there was a need for the hut and go and gather up materials from the fallen-down dwelling and perhaps others and construct it again."

Canberra adventurer Stefan De Montis spends around 70 nights a year under the stars in the Snowys and says there's been a big increase in people visiting the mountains since COVID.

"The huts are little living museums. You can see the axe marks in some of the slabs, some are clad in old newspaper," he said.

"They tell a story."

His favourites are the ones he's been forced to stay in during rough weather.

"You're sort of sitting in them and can't do anything but look into the fire or stare at the walls. They become like old friends that you visit again in good weather too," he said.

"They're amazing and in terms of rebuilding them, I think we can get pretty close to the originals."

Australian Associated Press