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Throughout the high country of mainland Australia, a handful of wonderful cattlemen’s huts have survived from the romantic days of seasonal alpine grazing — a tradition called ‘transhumance’ in Europe.

Typically they were used for a few weeks every summer and autumn, while the cattle were up on the high plains. When the cattlemen were not in residence, the owners were happy for responsible skiers and walkers to use them as emergency shelter, and sometimes had co-operative arrangements with walking clubs who helped maintain them. The grazing came to an end, a few years ago, banned by governments to protect the fragile alpine high plains from erosion. The sphagnum bogs are particularly precious, as they slowly release the annual snow melt to the mountain streams.

For many years, walkers and locals campaigned for the recognition of the heritage value of these superb vernacular structures, and many were maintained and restored by clubs such as the Kosciuszko Huts Association. As recently as 1989, Charles Warner’s Kosciuszko walking guide listed 80 functional huts and hundreds of ruins and hut sites.

They are precious for many reasons. Wheeler’s Hut, for example, in the Kosciuszko National Park, had an old tin bath on the verandah. For 50 years, trout fishermen had held their catch against the bath and run a pencil round the fish, then labelled them with the date, the angler, and the weight.

In effect, the bushfires of 2003 and 2006-7 destroyed most of the huts and their attendant yards. These fires have each burned through more than a million hectares of the mountains! Maybe a few will be restored eventually, but essentially, most of the huts are gone, and they will eventually only be remembered as site names on a map.

The cultural loss has been significant, and cannot be replaced, though support groups like the KHA are rebuilding huts wherever possible. A new Broken Dam hut was opened in December 2007. 

Park authorities have always had an ambivalent attitude to the huts, being worried that unprepared walkers would rely on them, and not carry tents and stoves. And experienced walkers have often stayed away from huts, seeing them as a focus for bush rats and over-use, and areas where firewood would always be scarce (in the days when campfires were still permitted). Many huts have been removed by Park staff, including the picturesque Temple Hut seen above.

Many bushwalking writers and photographers have taken great interest in our huts, and below you will find references to a few wonderful examples of books dealing with this fascinating subject.  We also painted, sketched and photographed the huts, and our images provide a bittersweet link with a bygone age.

It is not presently possible to provide comprehensive online links for hut books, but I can recommend the Octagon Bookshop, Omeo,  which stocks many titles. They may be telephoned on (03) 5159 1411.

The main early hut books are:

Tasmania —  Simon Cubit, A High Country Heritage, Regal, 1988.

Kosciuszko — Klaus Hueneke, Huts of the High Country, ANUP, 1982.

Victoria — Harry Stephenson, Cattlemen & Huts of the High Plains, self pub, 1980.

Alison, Temple Hut, Walls of Jerusalem, 1980