The Hut: A Love Story

18 February 2016 Ricky French

The Hut: A Love Story

AUSTRALIA IS ALWAYS at its most un-Australian in winter. For a few short but nasty months a good chunk of the place is swamped with frigidness. I say a chunk because, of course, Australia is so vast it defies generalisations. The northwestern chunk doesn’t do winter. It sits in another room, does its own thing, and slowly bakes under day after day of rampant sun, cooking you senseless by 8am. It’s another planet. Inland Queensland is dying of thirst – no rain since the time of Jesus – and suffers from a deluge of ABC Rural reporters, eager to deliver the latest bad news. ‘This just in: El Nino has made land and is deadset on finishing off what the drought started.’ Me, I simply continue my winter mission: to find the best bush hut in the country.

Last year I documented a trip to New Zealand, where I holed up in Daphne Hut on the banks of an icy river, with a hungry fireplace and good bench space. Perfect. I also visited replicas of Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic huts in Hobart. Too neat, I protested. Where was the chaos, the mess, the smell? But I was on the right track in sniffing around Hobart for perfect bush hut candidates. A few weeks ago I received a tip-off about ‘secret’ huts on the slopes of Mount Wellington.

Most Mount Wellington huts aren’t marked on maps, aren’t written about, their coordinates are guarded closely. That set me off. Let me at ‘em! I started snooping. A hiker in the know emailed me to say he would tell me where they were if I met him at a clandestine location above the Salamanca Markets. Great! But then: ‘I just had a chat to my wife and she’s pulled me up on talking about the secret huts.’ Bugger. At least it was clear who wears the gaiters in Hobart hiking families. Not to worry, a new email arrived from someone I don’t even remember contacting, giving me unencrypted GPS coordinates. Thank you, mysterious Deep Throat. I packed my bags.

Mount Wellington has never inspired lyrical descriptions. The most common adjective it gets is ‘barn-like’. Rubbish. A barn is warm and dry, with soft nests of hay and fingers of sun slipping through the walls caressing your face. Mount Wellington is a pile of slippery rocks: a vast, cold, undulating landscape of grey and black. In winter it tries to shake you off its back. It freezes you stupid. Some said I was stupid. They didn’t know I knew its warm secrets.

Kara Hut looks like a cottage from a storybook, a facade of stones dotting the exterior, like shells stuck to a sandcastle. Inside, all the luxury you could imagine: a roof and a fireplace. What more could you want? Well, it also had a few bare essentials such as an axe, a saw, a sleeping platform with mattress and neatly folded woollen blankets, a table, a bench, a ladder, card table, camping chairs, hut shoes, newspapers, lanterns, pots, pans, bowls, plates, cutlery, candles, matches, firelighters, salt, honey, pasta sauce, baked beans, spaghetti, tinned corn, coffee (ground and instant), tea bags, sugar, rolled oats, olive oil, plasters, insect repellent, tissues, tampons, playing cards, tin foil, toilet paper, oven tongs, a dishwashing tub, soap, broom, spade, bottle opener, chopping board, electrical tape, reading glasses and a USB cable. Yes, you read right: no pepper!

I set up shop at 3pm. It was dark less than two hours later. The lights of Hobart glowed like demonic eyes through the trees. But they couldn’t see me. The previous occupants must have known I was coming – they left me dregs from a cask of Stanley Traditional Dry Red (‘a good all-rounder’). Make that great. I split wood with the axe, squeezed a tipple into a plastic cup and settled down on a camp chair by the fire. A night of opulence, of peace. A night at Kara Hut, Mount Wellington. You’ll never find it.

by Ricky French (@frenchricky)

This collection of stories has been shared as part of our celebration in the lead up to our 20th birthday. Stay tuned for more of our favourite content from the past two decades!

This article first appeared in Ed#487 of The Big Issue.