Program Manager, New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust
My name is Al Fastier. I’m the program manager for the Antarctic Heritage Trust that’s based in Christchurch, New Zealand. The Trust is responsible for conserving the Heroic Era huts in the Ross Sea region.
The first hut is Borchgrevink’s hut at Cape Adare. We have Shackleton’s hut, Nimrod hut, at Cape Royds, then Scott’s second hut at Cape Evans, Scott’s Terra Nova hut. And finally where we are here today at Discovery Hut at Hut Point. That was Scott’s first hut.
This is a very important site. The reason it was chosen for the heroic explorers to come in because it was very close to the South Pole. They could come in via the Ross Sea and get to where we are today. That was important because they were keen to not only do science but to get to the South Pole, so the shorter the distance the better.
This building is very important because all of the different explorers from the Heroic Age in this region actually used the hut. Not only did Scott use it in his first expedition but he used it in his second expedition. Also, Shackleton from the Nimrod hut used this building as part of his depot laying process. And then the Ross Sea party used it also. It’s very rich in history.
It’s an international project. The Trust doesn’t own the huts. We’re doing the work as a charitable trust and we’re doing the work on behalf of the international community. We actually employ people from around the world. People who worked on older buildings before and conservators who work on different material types – metal conservators and objects conservators and textile conservators and paper conservators.
The most important work we’ve done this year is – in a quick summary – is to make the building structurally sound and weather tight. To make the building weather tight, we dug a trench right around the building, down about a meter, and we put a waterproof dam all the way around, and that’s to stop blowing snow from getting underneath the building and meltwater from passing under the scoria and under the building. When we lifted the floor this season it was total ice, so we lifted the floor, removed the ice, and put the floor back down again.
We’re now in Discovery Hut. For Scott’s first expedition, he didn’t actually use the building to live in. The building was going to be a lot more closed off. They had plans for partitions for people to sleep in different areas. Over here, there’s obviously some bunks and the like.
The philosophy of the conservation plan is to restore the hut to the end of the Heroic Era, which is about 1917, 1918. When we’re doing the repairs we match like for like timbers, so for the floor repairs not only do we get the same grain type, the same amount of knots, but we try to match right in closely. The same with window repairs. Outside in the skylights, we have these really old-fashioned windows with chicken mesh in them. It takes some time to source that. It’s being made especially for us.
Lead Conservator, New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust
My name is Nicola Dunn and I’m the lead conservator for Antarctic Heritage Trust for the summer 2013-14 season. I’ve been down here since September with another conservator, Josiah Wagener, from the U.S.
Our first task was to assist with removing all the artifacts that were in the building so the carpenters could have access to all areas to make the repairs that they needed to and to actually get under the floorboard as well. I think we move probably 300 artifacts and that could be anything from fuel drums to clothing, food supplies and biscuit tins.
Out at Cape Evans and in the hut here we’re actually working on artifacts that can’t be removed from the hut because they’re actually fixtures of the hut and can’t be taken back to the laboratory. You can hear in the background that Josiah is working on the metal edging around the boxes. He’s removing the corrosion with a scalpel, and then we’ll be treating that metal to prevent it from deteriorating any further and from corroding in the future.
It’s a pretty dirty job because a lot of the artifacts are covered in soot from when the Ross Sea party was here. They were burning seal blubber for heating and lighting, so a lot of the artifacts are just covered in a thick layer of soot and we’re trying to retain that soot because it is part of the artifact and part of the history of the artifact, so we won’t be removing that but working around it.
I’m looking forward to seeing the project to its completion because I almost feel in doing this work with the team we’re making history itself. The history is an ongoing story, and we’re actually a part of that history, which is very important. We’re keeping the historic stories alive for future generations, which is also very important.