For more than two-and-a-half years the charred remnants of Sawyers Hill hut have served as a reminder of the harsh 2019-2020 bushfires that swept through the NSW Snowy Mountains.
Built as a travellers’ rest house in the 1900s, it was one of the most renowned historic structures in Kosciuszko National Park.
It is back in business and is the first of the 11 historic huts that burnt down during the Black Summer bushfires to be rebuilt.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Megan Bowden said it was the only hut in Kosciuszko that was built as a travellers’ rest hut.
She said it was significant because of its association with important historic transport routes through the mountains.
“From people who used it in the early days right through to people who used to use it until it was burned,” Ms Bowden said.
“They’re quite significant as being living museums, as markers of the past and for present use.”
She said it “really hurt” to see them destroyed by fire.
“Especially Sawyer’s Hut, which was actually burned down in 2003 and we rebuilt it,” she said.
“So, to see it go again was certainly pretty hard.”
Rebuilt by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service staff and volunteers, the timber was sourced from burnt trees that were felled during a roadside fire risk reduction program.
“We’ve used local millers to cut them to specific dimensions and shapes like splayed boards, which are actually hard to get now,” Ms Bowden said.
“So it’s nice to be able to use the timber that was burnt in the 2020 fires and then to see it being used in the huts today.”
It was estimated that hundreds of thousands of hectares of Kosciuszko National Park burned during the 2019-2020 bushfires.
Ms Bowden said the new huts had been built with “fire resistant strategies” to help protect them during future fires.
“We’ve used things like fire retardant in the timber,” she said.
“And we’ve wrapped the windowsills with iron and actually installed sprinklers as well.”
The huts — constructed by cattlemen, prospectors, and Snowy Mountains Scheme workers in the 1800s and 1900s — help paint a picture of survival in the region during that time.
Kosciuszko Huts Association president Simon Buckpitt said their origins were many and varied.
“Some were [for] stockmen, some were for soil conservation work, some were for hydrology, and some of them were for early survey works,” Mr Buckpitt said.
In more recent times, the huts have been used by those seeking refuge from the harsh cold climate.
Two men sought shelter in Seaman’s Hut after becoming disoriented during a hike on Mount Kosciuszko in June.
“When people do get stuck in bad weather these huts have provided really important emergency shelter,” Ms Bowden said.
Timber skills kept alive
Vickery’s Hut in Tumut is next in line for a rebuild and will require traditional timber practices in construction.
Ms Bowden said the project would run training courses throughout the rebuild process to help keep the historic timber skills alive, using broad axes and other traditional methods.
“A lot of these timbers you need the skills to know how to prepare them and install them in these places,” she said.
“We’re actually trying to run some training courses as well through this program.”
The entire rebuild project is expected to be finished by 2025, pending weather conditions.