In the white turmoil of an Antarctic snow storm, finding shelter fast can be the difference between life and death. In 1957, the intense orange and yellow of Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut at New Zealand’s Scott Base in Antarctica was a beacon to those caught out by the weather. Now the original colour scheme has been restored.

The Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) Hut was built by a team led by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1957. It was from here that Hillary later led the historic expedition to the South Pole. The hut has now been restored to the original colours. (Photo: Tim McPhee)
The Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) Hut was built by a team led by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1957. It was from here that Hillary later led the historic expedition to the South Pole. The hut has now been restored to the original colours. (Photo: Tim McPhee)

Sir Edmund Hillary’s Hut, also known as the Trans Antarctic Expedition (TAE) Hut, was the first building erected at Scott Base in Antarctica. It was recently returned to the original intense orange and yellow colours and won the International category of the 31st annual Dulux Colour Awards in Melbourne which honours inspirational colour application in built environments. Antarctic Heritage Trust Executive Director Nigel Watson says they’re delighted. “The award celebrates an iconic site and is recognition of the extreme lengths we went to, with Dulux, to recreate the original paintwork. This started with the careful stripping of the outer paint layers to reveal the original Berger colours and then working with Dulux to create an exact match.”

The Trust’s team had the honour of naming the exterior colours mixed to match the originals. The yellow has been called ‘Pram Point’. This is the name for the geographical location of Scott Base: named after the Norwegian ‘pram’ (small dinghy), which Robert Falcon Scott’s team used to row around on the sea locally. The orange paint has been named ‘Sno-Cat’, after the Tucker Sno-Cat tracked vehicles used in the early days of Scott Base during the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

A Tucker sno-cat, a tracked vehicle used by the Transantarctic Expedition, on display at the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand. (Picture: Appie Verschoor)
A Tucker sno-cat, a tracked vehicle used by the Transantarctic Expedition, on display at the Canterbury Museum, New Zealand. (Picture: Appie Verschoor)

The painting of the hut was undertaken as part of the Antarctic Heritage Trust’s conservation of Hillary’s Hut. Almost 600 artefacts were also conserved with the work completed in time for Scott Base’s 60th anniversary in January of this year. The Trust’s Programme Manager Al Fastier says the restoration was an enormous task. “Painting in sub-zero conditions was a major challenge, with wind chill or storm conditions often making it impossible to work outside. With persistence and cold fingers, the team achieved a remarkable transformation - even using brushes rather than rollers to replicate a 1950’s finish.” 

Over the 2016-2017 summer the Antarctic Heritage Trust's team on the Ice spent more than 5700 hours carefully restoring Hillary' Hut (TAE Hut) and conserving more than 500 artefacts. After removing the pitched roof, installed in 1989 to mitigate the leaking roof issue, the roof was repainted and the flues were replaced. (Picture: Antarctic Heritage Trust)
Over the 2016-2017 summer the Antarctic Heritage Trust's team on the Ice spent more than 5700 hours carefully restoring Hillary' Hut (TAE Hut) and conserving more than 500 artefacts. After removing the pitched roof, installed in 1989 to mitigate the leaking roof issue, the roof was repainted and the flues were replaced. (Picture: Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Sir Edmund Hillary led the establishment of Scott Base and ‘wintered over’ in the hut as part of New Zealand’s involvement with the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the International Geophysical Year. The hut was repainted green, along with the rest of Scott Base, in 1965/66. Nigel Watson says returning Hillary’s Hut to its original retro colours not only reflects its history, it makes a visible statement. “The bright, retro colours mean Hillary’s Hut stands out among the almost exclusively modern, green-painted buildings of Scott Base, drawing attention to its unique standing as the birthplace of Scott Base”. 

The TAE Hut before renovations began when it was still green. Following a discussion in 1965 all buildings at Scott Base were painted green which was supposed to reminding over-winterers of the New Zealand landscape. (Picture: Sergey Tarasenko)
The TAE Hut before renovations began when it was still green. Following a discussion in 1965 all buildings at Scott Base were painted green which was supposed to reminding over-winterers of the New Zealand landscape. (Picture: Sergey Tarasenko)

In addition to the exterior, the five main spaces inside the hut – mess room, radio room, Sir Ed’s room, the kitchen and cold porch – were all repainted in a multitude of colours, as specified on the original architectural plans.

Some of the Trust's team who worked on the restoration. From left: Sue (lead conservator), Martin (lead carpenter), Ciaran (conservator), Geoff (heritage carpenter) and Lizzie (AHT Programme Manager - Artefacts). (Picture: Antarctic Heritage Trust)
Some of the Trust's team who worked on the restoration. From left: Sue (lead conservator), Martin (lead carpenter), Ciaran (conservator), Geoff (heritage carpenter) and Lizzie (AHT Programme Manager - Artefacts). (Picture: Antarctic Heritage Trust)

Source: Antarctic Heritage Trust