An Excerpt from “With Hillary at Scott Base: A Kiwi Among the Penguins”

Posted by admin on September 12th, 2012 filed in Uncategorized

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Author’s note: Don’t forget to attend the book launch at the Upper Hutt City Library this Saturday!

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The huts themselves were very cunningly designed to provide for extreme ease in being erected and at the same time to result in a soundly built, warm and comfortable building. They had been designed in Wellington by the Ministry of Works which had been considerably influenced by Australian constructional methods as used at Mawson. In all there were nine huts, there being:

Mess hut, with kitchen and radio room
Scientific hut
Generator ablutions hut with photographic darkroom and latrines
Generator-sledge workshop hut with biologists’ laboratory
Sleeping huts (two), the smaller one having a two-bed hospital
Geomagnetic variometer hut
Geomagnetic absolute hut
Seismic hut.

The huts were made of panels about four feet wide and four inches thick, covered with aluminum or heavy fabric on the outside and hardboard or asbestos board on the inside, and packed with glass fibre insulation. Each hut was prefabricated and all had been erected in Wellington to provide the construction party with experience. This proved very valuable when the real job started, as the summer construction men led by Randall Heke, Ministry of Works overseer, had already done their job once before. In addition, the trial in Wellington provided good publicity for the expedition which at that time was rather sort of finance and needed all the attention and support it could get.

The mess hut and the two generator huts each had a snow melter for making water. The mess hut melter had its own kerosene heating arrangement, but the two melters in the generator huts used the hot exhaust gases from the diesel generators for a source of heat. The exhaust gases were fed through pipes at the bottom of the melter tank before being led outside. Each snow melter had a hatch in the outside wall of the hut which could be opened to fill it with snow. The two generator huts generally depended on waste heat from the diesels for their heating, although they did have standby kerosene heater, but these were seldom used.

The mess hut, scientific hut and the two sleeping huts had quite elaborate heating systems. Each had a cold porch, in which was a thermostatically-controlled, electrically-ignited kerosene burner which blew hot fresh air around the hut through a system of pipes and vents, very different from Scott’s time.

The sleeping huts were ingeniously designed to provide each man with his own private cubicle, and yet the total floor space required to do this was very little more than would have been needed for dormitory accommodation usually expected in such places. Hillary was responsible for the idea and so the arrangement of the bunks became known as the Hillary Bunk.

Like many other good ideas this one was quite simple. The bunks were arranged in pairs, one above the other, each pair being at right angles to the hut wall. There were partitions between them, arranged so that the top bunk was open on one side and the bottom bunk was opened on the other side. There were also partitions between the next pair of bunks on each side. This meant that each man had someone sleeping either above or below him, but his own cubicle was completely private and, unless the other man was a snorer, he need not normally be aware of his existence. Bed lamps were fitted, and each cubicle had its own little double glass windows, but of course these were not much use.

The reason for having the base composed of small huts, instead of just one or two big ones, was of course the danger of fire. Fire at an Antarctic base is very easily started and can be disastrous if you have all one’s eggs in one basket, so to speak. At Scott Base, all essential services were duplicated so that no one hut was completely essential for our existence.

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