Conservation of Hillary Hut
A key part of the plan was to remove the asbestos linings from the walls and ceiling. Modern material replaced those, chosen to be as close as possible to the original finish and appearance. Other original material, such as the trim, was carefully reinstated. The foundation timbers were upgraded, and 30 anchors to support the hut’s rigging were installed. Roof leaks were repaired and a new roof put over the top of the original one; nine chimney flues were repaired and reinstated; and the building’s electrical services and fire alarm were upgraded.
Inside new partitions constructed between the radio room and Hillary’s room, and a new cold porch and junction box were created following the original specifications (the cold porch built in the 1980s was removed).
Almost 600 artefacts are housed in Hillary’s Hut. Some were from the TAE/IGY era and others were part of the legacy of New Zealand’s formative Antarctic programme. They include radios, food, clothing and documents. On the team were three conservators specialising in the care of paper, timber, fabric and metal.
All the moveable objects were removed before the building’s asbestos linings could be taken out. Every item was individually catalogued and photographed, and where necessary was given conservation treatment by the Trust’s team of conservators.
Compared with objects previously conserved by the Trust from the ‘heroic era’ of Scott and Shackleton, the Hillary’s Hut objects were in good condition.. But their modern materials, such as plastics and paint, did pose some treatment challenges around stabilisation and choice of adhesives used in treatments.
Some of the most exciting artefacts are the rolls of developed film shot by Wing Commander John Claydon from his aerial reconnaissance over areas of Antarctica never-before seen from above Another unexpected highlight was that the removal of paint from many of the fixtures in the hut revealed the original makers plates.
Working on Site
Heavy and large artefacts presented the challenge of having to have conservation treatment applied in place. For example, two cast iron stoves needed washing to remove dirt, corrosion mechanically removed, then the stoves stabilised by applying tannic acid and a final coating of microcrystalline .
A number of descendants of the original TAE/IGY team have donated objects from the expeditions, bringing new character, detail and depth to the collection, including a copy of the hut’s plans signed by all the expedition members and presented to Ron Mitchell, one of the architectural draughtsman from the Ministry of Works who with Randall Heke led the Scott Base construction team on ice.
One of the cast iron stoves before (left) and after (right) conservation treatment.
Hillary’s Hut now stands in its original colours, in stark contrast to the modern Scott Base. Weathertight, it defies Antarctica’s challenging elements and remains the only building remnant from the TAE.
Trust Programme Manager Al Fastier says it’s been a long and successful road to save the hut and conserve the hundreds of artefacts within it. “As a historic site, its significance is that it’s the birthplace of New Zealand’s presence in Antarctica and the link to Sir Ed’s famous tractor trip to the South Pole.”
The Trust acknowledges Architectural Metalformers, Pacific Coilcoaters, Sika NZ, Nexus Foams and Dulux New Zealand for their donated products and technical assistance.
Find out more about the work of this world-leading cold climate conservation team
The original colours of the hut were bright, to make it stand out in a snow storm. The original paint – inside and out – came from the company Berger, now owned by Dulux. Flakes of the original paint were taken to New Zealand for analysis. Searching Berger’s archives, the original formulas were able to be matched so the colours could be recreated. Six new custom colours were created by Dulux and Antarctic Heritage Trust was invited to name them.
Exterior yellow – ‘Pram Point’, the geographic location of Scott Base
Exterior orange trim – ‘Sno-Cat’, the colour of the vehicle used by Vivian Fuchs
Exterior flues yellow – ‘Ponder’, after the architect of Scott Base, Frank Ponder
Radio room green/blue – ‘Transmission’, because of the function of the Radio Room
Kitchen cabinetry mint green – ‘Heke’, after Scott Base construction foreman Randall Heke
With Persistence and Cold Fingers
The conservation team achieved a remarkable transformation of the Hillary’s Hut exterior. The team used paint brushes rather than rollers to give the hut a 1950s finish … ‘As the men would have done.’
The retro paintwork was internationally recognised with the Trust winning the International Category of the Dulux Colour Awards in 2017.
Hillary’s room yellow – ‘Armitage Loop’, the name of the sea-ice road between Scott Base and the ship
© Antarctic Heritage Trust - credit: Antarctic Heritage Trust
Marcus King painting.
The two Marcus King oil paintings (gifted by the New Zealand Government Tourist Office) no doubt provided the Kiwi TAE/IGY team with precious reminders of home – one of the New Zealand bush, and the other of the high country. Over the years, however, the paintings had suffered from water damage as a result of the leaking roof, and needed specialist treatment. Carefully packaged, they were flown to the Auckland Art Gallery for repair and conservation. Overseeing that work was Sir Ed’s daughter, Sarah Hillary, who is the Principal Conservator.
The inside of the hut was completely dismantled in order to remove the asbestos linings, giving up a few unknown artefacts that had been ‘lost’ behind some of the cabinetry. These included a pipe, cutlery and a serviette holder.
© Jane Ussher - credit: Jane Ussher
A New Roof
While working to conserve Hillary’s Hut in 2016, the need for a weather-tight long-term roofing solution was identified. Programme Manager Al Fastier says the Trust wanted the roofing solution to last a minimum of 35 years but more likely 50 to 60 years. A plan was then developed to overclad the historic roof, meaning the original roof remained intact.
A key feature of the newly restored hut is the aluminium roof, complete with new battens painted in the original bright orange. As if the project itself did not provide enough of a challenge, the team had to work around extreme weather systems that included snow and wind storms that season.
For specialist standing seam roofer, Mike Burgess, the conditions provided a job unlike anything he had ever tackled. The project manager for Architectural Metalformers is used to working through complicated roofing projects in rural, commercial and urban environments – less so in the world’s harshest environment. Mike combined his more than 20 years in the business, with further research, to come up with the robust long-term waterproof roofing solution.
© AHT - credit: Doug Henderson
The Trust has partnered with Auckland University of Technology to create a ground-breaking virtual reality experience of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Antarctic hut. Launching soon, people will be invited to step inside Hillary’s (TAE/IGY) Hut and to explore the first building at what is now New Zealand’s Scott Base. A fully immersive experience, which includes a guided tour through the hut, it celebrates New Zealand’s first leadership presence in Antarctica as part of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition and International Geophysical Year.
The Trust recently finished conservation on the hut and is pleased to be able to share this iconic piece of Antarctic history. Stories of Hillary’s 23-man team and their mission to further science and exploration in the world’s most extreme environment will feature within the experience and through accompanying material.
The virtual reality experience will be freely available at selected institutions around New Zealand, as well as being accessible online internationally.
The Trust gratefully acknowledges principal sponsor Ryman Healthcare, as well as Antarctica NZ (logistics) and Staples VR (technical).