Friday, 11 February 2011

Home Sweet Hut: Part 2

Reading the log book in the Friends' Scout Hut

Large huts and small huts are chalk and cheddar. The smaller structures offer a quieter, more intimate group experience. For a start buildings like Ironstone Hut, the Friends' Scout Hut and Junction Lake Hut  can only sleep four or five. And that changes the dynamic altogether.

The Friends’ Scout Hut is hugged to the bosom of some dolerite bluffs, giving it two solid rock walls. That and its snug size make loud conversation seem out of place, apt for a hut built by students from a Quaker school.

On our recent visit, only the wind raises its voice, whistling insistently at the door, tearing in vain at the join between corrugated iron and rock. Our mugs of hot coffee and handfuls of chocolate-laced scroggin taste all the better for that protection from the elements.

I ponder whether the cave-like feel of such huts awakens something primal in us. Time slows, talk is sparse, warmth and light grow in importance. Candles are perfect in huts, casting shifting shadows around the enclosed space, and the most wonderfully welcome glow to anyone coming in from outside.

The welcome glow of candles: a hut essential
Food preparation is unhurried, especially when there’s a fire in use. If we’re hungry there are always snacks being offered. Bench and preparation space is usually scarce, and yet by some unspoken agreement we will still eat our main meal all together. Perhaps it enables us to better carry on the convivial chatter – and mutual mockery – that so often accompany a small group on walks.

The experience of each hut is unique, just as each structure responds uniquely to its setting. Junction Lake Hut, built around 1970 by Dick Reed and friends, sits on a curving bend near the source of the Mersey River, and a little way back from the lake. It is made of pencil pine and King Billy palings, slabs and shingles that were split on site, and has a tin chimney (now closed off).

I was surprised to learn that Dick Reed was already in his 70s when he built this hut. He’d built one at Lake Meston just a year or two earlier, and a number of others in the decades before that. He knew the upper Mersey and Overland Track areas very well, creating his own maps complete with “boil-up” spots marking favoured tea-break stops.

After we’ve eaten and washed up, there’s a civilised jostle for beds. I end up with a top bunk, though whether through being slow or soft I can’t recall. I am content with that until the running river works its bladder-magic in the wee hours. Getting down from the rustic wooden bunk isn’t recommended in the dark, so the necessary scrabble for a torch and my subsequent clattering climb down, wake the other three.

Inside Ironstone Hut in Tasmania's Central Plateau

The need for relief becomes contagious. The next hour or more is taken up with a toileting procession and the humorous talk that follows. When silence eventually returns, I think up a ditty to put in the log book. I forget to take down a copy of my “poem”, but years later I can recall at least a few lines, including that the Mersey has no mercy and something about the watery attrition brings on thoughts of micturition

Huts breed simple pleasures.


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