This year marks 50 years since the naming of Kosciuszko National Park, and to celebrate, this column is shining the spotlight on the almost 7000 square kilometre park's remarkable natural and man-made heritage. Last month, we trekked to an old Snowy Scheme relic, and this week to mark the official start of the snow season, we discover Four Mile Hut, a rustic landmark familiar to many cross-country skiers.
With no trail of smoke rising from its prominent corrugated chimney, meaning it's highly unlikely there's anyone huddled up inside sheltering from the frigid morning air, we trek further down the hill towards the hut.
While there's no snow on the ground today, located just a few kilometres from Selwyn Snow Resort, this part of northern Kosciuszko National Park is regularly coated in a blanket of white at this time of year.
Apart from the distinct lack of any sign of human life, the first thing I notice about this hut, is that unlike many others in the Snowy Mountains its walls, rather than clad with iron sheets or timber, are hand crafted from flattened old five gallon kerosene tins.
"What an ingenious way to build a hut," remarks Matthew Higgins this column's trusted high country walking companion, as on reaching the distinctive hut, we examine more closely its unique architecture.
"You can even see the tiny leather washers which were used to stop the nail heads from sinking through the metal," remarks Higgins. Truly amazing attention to detail.
Unlike most of huts still standing in the park, Four Mile Hut is one of the few remaining mining huts, and the only complete mining hut on the Kiandra gold fields.
Not only is this a much-loved occasional shelter for Higgins who often cross country skis in this back country, but it's also a place of special significance for Canberra's Klaus Hueneke, author of several books which delightfully document our high country huts.
In fact, it was a visit to this then dilapidated hut back in 1975, which set Hueneke off on a life-long journey of visiting and restoring these mountain relics, and ultimately becoming arguably the country's foremost authority on them.
"It was one of the first huts I set about trying to fix-up," recalls Klaus, musing "it was where I became inspired for the term of my natural life."
Four Mile Hut was built by Bob Hughes, a larger than life character, the last active gold miner in the area. According to Hueneke "Hughes had been manager of the nearby Elaine Mine from 1926 – 1936 and when the mine folded, he took some of the timber and iron and built this hut at what was one of his a favourite fossicking areas."
"Hughes mainly lived in a house in Kiandra and apart from fossicking amongst the mullock heaps left by miners, he used the hut as base from which to go rabbiting and fishing in the warmer months", reports Hueneke.
Hughes called Four Mile Hut his second home for almost two decades years, with Hueneke reporting that "he took most of his belongings back to Kiandra in 1953, and never returned, dying in Sydney in the 1960s."
When Hueneke, now in his 70s, first visited the site almost by chance in May 1975, he scrawled a four-page inventory of what he discovered at the hut, which he has kept to this very day. "Everything was there as Hughes had left it including a calendar from 1938," reports Hueneke, adding, "it was like stepping into his heart and soul."
Hueneke's detailed inventory lists all sorts of fascinating finds from half-empty tomato sauce bottles to corned mutton boxes and a pile of Jehovah's Witnesses books, which, according to Hueneke "suggests that Hughes spent some of his later years contemplating a form of spiritual release."
However it was what Hueneke and a group from the Bogong Group, a bunch of like-minded folk hell-bent on restoring the hut, found hidden under Hughes' bed on a visit three years later, which remains the forefront of Hueneke's mind.
"We were just finishing a rave on the dangers of handling decomposed gelignite [used in the Elaine Mine] when we found several sticks under Hughes' bed," recalls Hueneke, adding. "removal was a delicate operation for none of us wanted to be blown sky high and it took some time to despatch them down the old toilet hole…heaven help the wombat that decided to burrow there!"
Despite the distraction, from all accounts Hueneke and his merry band of volunteers, did a sterling job on the first restoration between 1978 and 1980. These days the NSW Nordic Ski Club maintain the hut with regular work parties and with assistance from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and Kosciuszko Huts Association volunteers, but as Higgins and I open the latch on the door and peer inside, it's Hueneke's classic book Huts of the High Country (Tabletop Press, 2008) which, alongside a vase of everlasting daisies and an endearing photo of Hughes on his horse, takes pride of place on the mantelpiece above the fireplace.
While I continue to admire Hughes' workmanship including the fastidious lengths he went to the keep out the wind and snow by nailing numerous strips over the cracks between the short vertical slabs, which according to Hueneke, "were probably originally intended for tunnel supports at the Elaine Mine", Higgins steps across mullock heaps to the other side of the Four Mile Creek. He is on a mission to test an acoustic phenomenon he experienced on a prior visit.
"Hello Tim, can you hear me," he asks in a normal speaking voice. Despite being at least one hundred metres away, I hear him as if he is standing right next me.
My response "loud and clear" is received with equal clarity and volume by Higgins.
It's a slightly oddly conducted conversation, for although we chat as if we are standing next to each other I can only just make out his lanky frame amongst the tussocks on the far side of the creek.
We converse like this for some time speculating with possible explanations for the peculiar acoustics. Perhaps it is caused by the parabolic shape of the creek banks which somehow amplify the sound? Who knows, it's one of those bush mysteries.
The mind boggles at what tales the walls of Hughes' hut could tell if only they could talk just as loudly. At least through the work of Hueneke and the many who have followed in his footsteps, the walls of this once ram-shackled vestige of the mining era are still standing, and continue provide welcome to shelter to back country adventurers.
Four Mile Hut: 10km (return) walk /snow shoe/ cross country ski from Mt Selwyn Resort. The hut is easy to find (contact NPWS for exact directions), unless buried by snow. It's a secluded camping spot with the hut providing shelter if the weather turns bad. There is a permanent fire place outside with large logs for a seat. Permanent water in the adjoining creek. More: https://khuts.org/
Feeling adventurous? The adventurous may wish to continue onto the old Elaine Mine, or what's left of it, located about 2 kilometres past Four Mile Hut, in the direction of Broken Dam Hut.
Warning: The hut is a very popular ski destination, and has saved the lives of a number of people over the years. However, skiers should be aware that it is small, and therefore not reliable shelter for parties un-equipped with tents.
Did You Know? Hueneke and the Bogong Group aren't the only saviours of Four Mile Hut. A notice in the hut explains that on the same day in January 2003 when Canberra's suburbs burned, the quick thinking work of Steve Cathcart and Mick Petit saved the hut. While flying over the Selwyn area, after noticing fire was in the trees to the west of the hut, the two park staff promptly directed their chopper to land and conducted a hut saving back-burn, before having to immediately flee the approaching firestorm. An aerial photo taken a few days after the fire showed everything around the hut completely blackened and bare, but the hut still standing.
Everlasting daisies: According to naturalist Ian Fraser the actual flowers of these plants only last a short time. "The 'petals' are a hoax; modified leaves (bracts) whose role is to draw attention to the tiny flowers (florets) which comprise the apparent flower," explains Fraser, adding "it's enough to fool us and, more importantly, the pollinating insects."
Park anniversary: The Kosciuszko National Park first came into existence as the National Chase Snowy Mountains on 5 December 1906. In April 1944, following the passage of the Kosciusko State Park Act, the Kosciusko State Park was proclaimed and it was renamed Kosciusko National Park in 1967. In 1997, the name was changed again to reflect the correct spelling of Andrzej Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the 18th century Polish patriot, after whom the park is named.
WHERE IN THE SNOWIES?
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Last week: Congratulations to Conrad van Hest, of Woden, who was first to correctly identify last week's photo, as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in MacKay Gardens, Turner. My Woden winner just beat a number of other readers to the prize, including Kerry Weiss, of Forrest, Anthony Bezos, of Cook, and Suzanne Vidler, of Mawson.
Special note to Axel Michaelsen, of Turner, who says he was unable to submit his entry at 10am due to "warm gluhwein he had to deliver to ANU North Oval for the University Norths Owls Rugby games." Mmm, maybe the Raiders ought to order a vat of Michaleson's secret brew for their next home game at Canberra Stadium. If not for the players, then maybe the shivering spectators!
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday June 10, 2017 with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.