16 October 2023

They might not look like much, but here's why Canberrans want these old huts rebuilt

| James Coleman
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remains of Demandering Hut after the 2020 Orroral Valley bushfire

All that remains of Demandering Hut after the 2020 Orroral Valley bushfire. Photo: ACT Government.

Two heritage-listed stockman huts razed to the ground during the Orroral Valley bushfire in 2020 are set to rise from the ashes.

Demandering Hut and Max and Bert Oldfield’s Hut in the Namadgi National Park date back to 1945 and 1967 respectively, when sheep farming was among the ACT’s biggest industries.

Demandering Hut was constructed by Bill Cotter and Jack Simpson on a leasehold purchased in 1860 by Jack’s great grandfather, Garrett Cotter, after whom the Cotter River is named.

From 1956, it became an outstation of the Mount Clear property, owned by the Curtis family, and used by graziers in summer when sheep were moved to Tantangara (now Kosciuszko National Park). The leases were terminated in 1979, and the area absorbed into the Gudgenby Nature Reserve (now Namadgi National Park).

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Max and Bert Oldfield’s Hut was built by Max Oldfield and his cousin Bert (Herbert) Oldfield. About half of the huts in Namadgi National Park are in some way associated with this one family.

Both huts were included on the ACT Heritage Register for their “aesthetic, historic, social and rarity values”, and have doubled as emergency shelters for bushwalkers over the years.

But when fires swept through the region over the ‘Black Summer’ of 2019/2020, they were rendered heaps of blackened rubble.

The ACT Government asked for feedback in November 2022 about a proposal to rebuild the huts, and Canberra came back loud and clear – more than 90 per cent of the 800 responses were in favour.

remains of the Max and Bert Oldfields Hut after the Orroral Valley bushfire

All that remains of the Max and Bert Oldfields Hut after the Orroral Valley bushfire. Photo: ACT Government.

Minister for Heritage Rebecca Vassarotti said new works would now be built near the original hut sites.

“They stand not only as a tribute to what was lost, but as a testament to the universalising nature of our shared heritage,” she said.

The Government has also launched a ‘Historic Huts’ project, where family members and caretakers will work with heritage specialists and archaeologists to “build a single archival record that communicates the story of each original hut”.

“As part of the Historic Huts project, we will be engaging with First Nations people to include their stories of culture and occupation in the interpretive designs and construction of the new sites,” Ms Vassarotti said.

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Minister for Planning and Land Management Mick Gentleman said the huts would be carefully designed and constructed to reduce the risk of a repeat.

“This is … an opportunity to design and construct the huts in a way that will reduce fire risk and provide a basic level of emergency shelter for bushwalkers during inclement weather,” he said.

An artist's impression of the Demandering Hut rebuild

An artist’s impression of the Demandering Hut rebuild. Photo: ACT Government.

The Government will also work on a new Conservation Management Plan to protect the former sites of the huts that burned down and manage them as “historical ruins”. This received strong support from 99 per cent of responses during community consultation.

Other historic huts and homesteads in the Namadgi National Park include Brandy Flat Hut (a 1980s rebuild of a 1900s original), the Brayshaws and Westermans homesteads along the Settlers Track, the Gudgenby Homestead, Horse Gully Hut, and the Orroral Homestead – dated in the 1860s and considered the oldest original homestead in the national park.

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