the upper reaches of Wurragarra Creek, close to its source on the
southern end of the February Plains, is a very special patch of
forest. Only a couple of hectares in area, it is comprised
principally of pencil pine and myrtle with some trees many hundreds of
years old. It owes its age to its location in the lee of a low rocky
ridge that has acted as a shield in deflecting fires that periodically
burn the valley. It is the only such forest in the upper Wurragarra. The
forest is also special because it contains the remains of three or four
huts of different generations all within a hundred metres of each
other. Why are the huts there and what are their stories?
Subalpine areas offer the limited palette of stone and timber from which to build huts. Eucalypts,
the dominant species at such altitudes, produce small twisty stems that
are difficult to split. The native pines, on the other hand, split much
more readily into the slabs, palings and shingles needed for hut
construction. Of the pines, King Billy pine is the most favoured
but is rarely found in the Upper Mersey. Pencil pine, also rare in the
Mersey, tends to warp and twist when split but is a nonetheless a valued
source of building timbers. The fact that the Wurragarra
rainforest copse contains pencil pine, and is the only such source for a
considerable distance, is the reason why it has attracted hut builders
in the past.
Who would want to
build a hut in such a place? Hunters. The first known hut, built on the
edge of the forest, was erected around World War One as hunters combed
the Upper Mersey seeking to secure a winter hunting run for themselves.
The identity of the builder is unknown but may have been George Bott who, in an interview with historian Tim Jetson in the 1980s, said that he had hunted in the Wurragarra in 1914. According to Bott, Len Bonney, George Clark, Harry Glover and Edgar Horton also hunted there.
A decade later when Percy Bellchambers
hunted with Len Bonney and brothers Basil and Cliff Scott in the Upper
Arm/Mount Pillinger area (Mountain Stories, 01 April, 2014),
Harry Glover and Henry Atkinson had taken over the hut. The occupants
changed again in the 1930s when, according to Basil Steers, Len Bonney
and George Clarke hunted from it.
Steers started hunting in 1942 with his
father Bill. Up to that point, brothers-in-law Bill Steers and Tom
McCoy had been hunting together and using the Wurragarra hut as well as
the Kings Plains hut on the northern end of the February Plains. The
relationship between Steers and McCoy ended when Bill brought son Basil
into the team. McCoy went elsewhere and the Steers took control of both
huts. Later in the 1940s they formalized this control by acquiring the
two grazing leases that covered the February Plains.
The Steers used the Wurragarra hut
until 1951. Basil walked over from Kings Plain at the beginning of a
hunting season to find that the hut has collapsed under a big fall of
snow. All that remained was the gable, still intact, sitting on a jumble
of timbers. Displaying some wonderful improvisation, Basil found four
small pencil pines inside the edge of the adjoining forest standing
roughly in the shape of a rectangle two to three metres apart. He cut
them a couple of metres off the ground effectively turning them into
corner posts. He then carried the gable over and fixed it to these
posts. Over the next day or so he salvaged other timbers from the
collapsed hut and used them to clad his new hut.
The Steers used
this second hut as a snaring hut until around 1954 when they stopped
hunting. It was effectively abandoned until around the 1960s when bushwalkers found it and began using it. It survived until the late 1970s when a fire lit by a careless bushwalker ignited the hut and burnt it to the ground. Thankfully that fire did not burn the forest.
The third hut was
built in 1985 as a political protest. In 1984 the Government banned
snaring as a hunting technique. The move shattered Basil Steers who had
returned to hunting in the early 1970s
when skin prices had improved. He determined that he was going to
ignore the ruling and decided to build himself a snaring hut in a secret
place where he could still hunt if he so chose. That secret place,
where he thought no one would find it, was the Wurragarra
rainforest copse. In the end it was enough to simply build the hut. It
is unlikely Basil ever used it for its intended purpose. Very few people
knew of the hut’s existence for many years until, perhaps inevitably,
anglers found it. They modified it for recreational use and it still
stands today, known as the Smurf Hut perhaps because of its small size. Basil’s connection to Wurragarra area was recognised following his death by naming the lake near the copse after him.
Are there other
unknown huts in or around the rainforest copse? Possibly. Within the
forest there is at least one moss covered structure that might once have
been a hut.
Old Pelion Hut renovations
Last year (Latest News, 9 August) I
flagged that the Parks and Wildlife Service had agreed to renovate Old
Pelion Hut in time for the centenary of its construction in 2017.
A work program was developed with
remedial conservation works to stabilize and repair the fabric of the
building scheduled for this summer. That work is well progressed. A
working bee held on 9-12 April 2015 attended by Ian Hayes and Roger
Nutting of the Mountain Huts Preservation Society and Parks and Wildlife
Service staff did some fantastic work.
Earlier investigations had revealed
that the stumps on which the building sat had rotted away. During this
working bee, all the timber stumps were replaced with new King Billy
pine stumps and the floor underpinned by rocks and river stones. In
addition, the bottom plates of the southern wall, part of the western
wall and the eastern side of the chimney were replaced with new King
Billy bottom plates. Some floorboards were also replaced with new King
I commend the
quality of the work that has been done and the great care that has been
displayed in maintaining the historical integrity of this important
building during this work. I look forward to seeing further elements of
the restoration such as the chimney and quality interpretation, come