The Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection (CSL&RC), Sydney Living Museums, holds a large collection of Australian historical paint colour charts and was approached for advice by heritage consultants working for New Zealand’s Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT). While it was known that a rainbow of 1950s colours lay beneath the hut’s modern and rather dull green paint finish, the challenge was to establish what these colours actually looked like.
Honouring the hut’s original purpose, and keeping the spirit of place was of great importance to the Antarctic Heritage Trust when it commenced major conservation work on this iconic building over the Antarctic summer of 2016-17. The Trust’s team of 12 worked more than 5700 hours to restore Hillary’s Hut in time for the Scott Base 60th anniversary celebrations in January 2017.
Sixty years prior, Hillary’s Hut had been the first building erected at Scott Base as part of New Zealand’s involvement with the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the International Geophysical Year. Well-known explorer Sir Edmund Hillary wintered over in the hut along with his team in 1957.
The original design of the Hillary Hut was the result of Australasian team work. The Melbourne-based firm Explastics Insulation Ltd contributed a panel construction system that had been pioneered for Australia’s Mawson Base and was subsequently used at Scott Base.
The exterior panels of the hut were painted in New Zealand prior to transportation to Antarctica and then the interiors painted onsite with Bergermaster paints, probably manufactured in Sydney. The colour names listed on the hut’s Architectural Layout Plan had no accompanying colour samples but many of the names matched those on the paint colour charts held by the CSL&RC. The colours on these charts were confirmed when they were matched against surviving painted samples collected from the hut’s walls.
The Antarctic Heritage Trust worked closely with Dulux to match original paint samples and the CSL&RC‘s colour swatches, before repainting the exterior and interior in the bold shades of the 1950s. In addition to the exterior, the five main spaces inside the hut – mess room, radio room, Sir Ed’s room, the kitchen and cold porch – were all re-painted in a multitude of colours, as specified on the original architectural plans. The building’s architect Frank Ponder noted at the time that the bright colours were “an endeavour to contrast the ice conditions outside”.
The Trust’s team had the honour of naming two custom colours mixed to match the originals:
- Pram Point – after the geographic location of Scott Base
- Sno-cat – after the tracked vehicles used by Vivian Fuchs and the TAE team
Painting in sub-zero conditions is a challenge, with wind chill or storm conditions often rendering outside work impossible. With persistence and cold fingers, the Trust’s team achieved a remarkable transformation, even using brushes rather than rollers to achieve a 1950’s finish “as the men would have done it”.
Today, in amongst the almost exclusively modern, green-painted buildings of Scott Base, the retro colours of Hillary’s Hut immediately draw attention to it as a unique and very special part of the base’s history.
In recognition of this important conservation work, Hillary’s Hut recently won the International category at the 2017 Dulux Colour Awards. The Dulux Colour Awards are Australasia’s premier showcase of inspirational colour application in built environments.
Sydney Living Museums is proud to have been able to play a small part in this special project which was entered into this year’s awards to celebrate the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s major conservation of the hut and to honour the legacy of this iconic building and its purpose in supporting science and exploration in Antarctica.
Recently added stories
Washed away: the story of Meroogal's clock
In the hallway at Meroogal is a grandfather clock with the most wonderful and eventful history. It first arrived from Scotland with the McKenzie family and was with them when they moved to a small village called Terara, on the banks of the Shoalhaven River. There the McKenzie family and their clock might have stayed if not for a catastrophe that struck in 1860.
The battle of Broken Hill
On New Year’s Day 1915, a mass shooting in which four people were killed and seven injured occurred in the mining town of Broken Hill. The attackers, two men variously described in the press as Hindoos, Indians or Turks, were later killed in a gun battle with local rifle-club members, civilians and police. The act of violence made headlines around Australia: ‘Dreadful affair’, ‘Two foreigners run amok’, ‘War in Broken Hill’, ‘War in Australia’, ‘Holy War at Broken Hill’. The story of that day in Broken Hill is complex and emotionally charged. The actions of the two shooters, Mullah Abdullah and Gool Badsha Mahommed, have been variously understood as the violent eruption of two unhappy and disenfranchised men or as an act of war on Australian territory.
Driver Robert James Macgregor Barnet
Robert James Macgregor Barnet was a great-nephew of the Thorburn sisters of Meroogal. He was the eldest son of Jessie Macgregor (1869–1946) and her husband, the Reverend Donald McKay Barnet (1869–1940). Barnet was a keen amateur photographer, developing and printing his own photographs and carefully storing and listing the negatives in a special Kodak negative album. The pictures he took in the months leading up to the outbreak of World War I and in the period before he embarked for war service overseas provide a poignant record of a young man at the beginning of his adult life.