By Philippa Christie, Community Relations Ranger, Murihiku Area Office
The Port Craig Hut began its life in 1926 as a school house in what was once a busy sawmilling settlement run by the Malborough Timber Company. At its peak, over 150 employees ran the mill and processed up to 1800 cubic metres of timber per month.
It was the largest and most modern sawmill in New Zealand at the time.
The settlement also had a blacksmith’s shop, a wharf, a cook shop, a bake house, and accommodation for the workers. While many remnants remain of these buildings and the sawmilling machinery, the school house is the only intact building that remains.
As the depression approached, demand for timber declined and the business venture struggled until it finally failed and closed in 1928.
The school house saw less than four year’s use, and began its second life as a tramping hut in the 1960s.
The commitment, knowledge and skills of two volunteers have helped keep this historically important hut in Southern Fiordland weather tight and true to its original fabric.
An annual volunteer trip is run to carry out maintenance of the school house and surrounding relics from the saw milling era. This year the wooden exterior of the 86 year old building was showing signs of wear and the windows needed replacing.
Two volunteers—Greg Clark and Paul Clements—offered their time and skills to the project. Greg is a joiner by trade and built new windows for the school house from scratch. Paul glazed and painted the windows and transported them from his home in Dunedin. Not only did they construct the windows, they were onsite to carefully install them.
Paul has been involved in conservation volunteer trips for over 15 years, and during that time has made a considerable contribution in both time and monetary value to the historic heritage of the Port Craig area. He is also involved in manning the DOC stall at the annual Crank Up Days held in Edendale, and eagerly passes on his knowledge of historic areas and relics that DOC Southland manages.
Greg’s grandfather, Archie Clark, in 1940 built the last remaining split beech log hut in Fiordland—aptly named the Clark Hut. Greg’s interest in conservation and volunteering began when he was invited to help restore a wall section of the hut in 2010. He has also been involved in making replacement windows for Becketts Hut in the Takitimu Mountains.
Paul and Greg are shining examples of how volunteers are contributing to increased gains in the conservation of our natural, historic and cultural heritage.