The High Country – Hut Etiquette

Having travelled the Victorian High Country extensively for over 40 years (by foot, ski, 4WD and even once by horse), I simply love and appreciate everything that it offers and, for me, there is no better place in the world. Given the option of say two weeks in the High Country or two weeks travelling the world, I’ll take the High Country every time. I also appreciate and try to understand the history of the High Country, especially the huts which have provided shelter, comfort and enjoyment over so many years. So it’s with some surprise to read what one organisation thinks are the ‘rules of engagement’ when it comes to using the High Country Huts.

Victorian High Country Huts Association Code of Conduct - (Source: Victorian High Country Huts Association Facebook Page)

Victorian High Country Huts Association Code of Conduct – (Source: Victorian High Country Huts Association Facebook Page)

The Victorian High Country Huts Association Facebook page and Huts Victoria cover what they do in regard to recording, maintaining and preserving the Victorian High Country Huts, and it’s eminently laudable; however, when it comes to their code of conduct, I really have to disagree with some of their views. My first issue with their code of conduct is this:

HUTS ARE FOR TEMPORARY SHELTER ONLY not for accommodation.

I don’t see the difference between temporary shelter and accommodation. Just about every hut that we’ve stayed in over the years has had beds/bunks and tables of one sort or another installed, notably the older huts, and so they have clearly been designed to be used as accommodation. Moscow Villa being one of the most salubrious and the privately owned Bluff Hut is specifically open to all travellers as accommodation, ostensibly horse riders, and the original one even had a sauna. Now we always prefer to camp outdoors, but when it’s wet and cold and a hut is available, summer or winter, we’ll use the hut. That’s what every traveller that we’ve met on our travels prefers to do. There has been an unwritten law amongst High Country travellers as long as I can remember that, when it comes to High Country huts, it’s first in best dressed, just like getting the best camp spot. No one has ever argued with that view. I just don’t see a problem with using huts for overnight or longer accommodation (more on this shortly).

Camping near Mt Lovicks - Bluff Track Victoria

Camping near Mt Lovicks – Bluff Track Victoria

Moscow Villa - Bentleys Plains Victoria

Moscow Villa – Bentleys Plains Victoria

Horseyard Hut - Moroka Range Victoria

Horseyard Hut – Moroka Range Victoria

My second issue is with this:

Enjoy visiting the huts, but do not use them for overnight accommodation as their cultural values can easily be destroyed.

Many huts of the High Country have been in existence since the turn of last century, and longer, and been used by walkers, horse riders, skiers and 4WDrivers over that entire time for overnight accommodation and I suspect that the cultural value has grown with use. The only time that any cultural values are destroyed is when careless use or bushfires destroy a hut, with the latter being responsible for the majority of huts being destroyed. However, some huts simply deteriorate naturally, until there’s barely anything left. If huts are basically there for decoration, then I think that they become somewhat pointless, especially when some huts such as Jorgensens and Junction Huts are located an easy 30min drive from a major sealed/unsealed road and others are even closer. And when huts are replaced, I’m not sure that any cultural values will be destroyed if they happen to be used as accommodation, especially when they built to a size to support accommodation. I also suspect that it will take some time for Jorgensens and Junction Huts to gain any historic ‘cultural’ value.

Moscow Villa - Bentley Plains Victoria

Moscow Villa – Bentley Plains Victoria

Derelict Hut - Camms Top Place Victoria

Derelict Hut – Camms Top Place Victoria

Derelict Hut - Camms Top Place Victoria

Derelict Hut – Camms Top Place Victoria

Jorgensons Hut - Donnelly Creek Victoria

Jorgensons Hut – Donnelly Creek Victoria

Junction Hut - Junction Track Victoria

Junction Hut – Junction Track Victoria

The Code then goes on to say:

LEAVE THE HUT CLEAN AND SECURE
Leave the hut as you would like to find it. Check that the fire is out, restock dry firewood and close the door and windows securely. Don’t leave emergency food stores in the huts, they clutter up the hut and encourage rats.

KEEP FIRES SMALL
Please keep fires small and within existing fireplaces. Never leave the fire unattended and ensure it is out before leaving. If you need to light a fire to keep warm, make sure you keep it small.

I fully concur with this, but it too is somewhat contradictory, in that it implies that the hut has been used for accommodation. Accommodation doesn’t necessarily mean one has slept in the hut, but that it’s been used for an extended period, whether as an entertainment area, relaxation area, meals area, convenience area or whatever. Is there any difference between putting up tents around a hut and all your chairs and cooking gear inside, or just setting up inside? In the Victorian High Country Huts Association Facebook page, I noted at least one comment suggesting that other travellers can’t visit the hut if someone is occupying it or has surrounded the hut with tents, vans and vehicles. Whichever way a hut is ‘occupied’ it’s not going to be convenient for passers-by to simply amble in and explore, anymore than were a group camped at an interesting spot.

Camping - Jamieson River Victoria

Camping – Jamieson River Victoria

Wombat PO Hut - Wombat Creek Victoria

Wombat PO Hut – Wombat Creek Victoria

This is one recommendation that I don’t think is entirely accurate or complete:

GOT TO ‘GO’?
Use a toilet or take a walk – at least 100 paces from hut and campsites. Dig 15cm deep and cover well.

Firstly, 15cm is simply not deep enough for a toilet hole, it needs to be at least twice that so that animals don’t dig things up. Some say that bacteria that breaks down the deposits doesn’t live more than 15cm deep; however, I can conclusively say that’s not true. We’ve been camping in one place along the Goulburn River for many years and have been using a Jimmy’s Thunderbox (there are other options) so that we dig only one, deep, hole for our week or so of camping, and when we’ve returned the following year, there has been no evidence of our deposits when digging a new hole in the same spot, just clean, friable, soil. The other thing not mentioned, which is far more important, is that toilet holes should be dug at least 50m (some suggest 100m) away from water courses (more so than huts and campsites), so that flooding/heavy rain doesn’t expose the deposits and allow them to get into a waterway. The further away and the deeper the hole, the less likely that this will happen.

Jimmy's Thunderbox

Jimmy’s Thunderbox

And this statement:

COLLECTING WATER
Collect water from upstream of the hut to avoid possible pollution. Boil water for at least five minutes to avoid gastroenteritis and giardia.

First off, I don’t understand what is meant by collecting water from upstream of a hut to avoid pollution. Upstream, downstream, the water isn’t going to be any different unless you’re allowing something to pollute the water. And what of those who may be camped upstream or downstream of your camp? Certainly boiling water is crucial if taking it from watercourses and at least 5-10min boiling is recommended. But I’d also recommend taking your own water with you, as you can never be guaranteed to find clean, flowing, water in the High Country. We’ve often camped where there’s no water at all or, what is there, has been brackish and stagnant, and only in absolute desperation would we have considered using it for cooking/consumption (after boiling and filtering in whatever manner available). On all of our Cruises, everyone takes between 10-20lt of water filled at home. Not only is this safer to use, the extra allows us to properly put out fires (this too is important).

Checking out the water - Wonnangatta River Victoria

Checking out the water – Wonnangatta River Victoria

Little River Junction - Snowy River Victoria

Little River Junction – Snowy River Victoria

I believe the most important point is that I’ve gotten far more out of these huts because I have slept in them and spent time in them. I’d say the same applies to the others that I’ve been with on our Cruises. Even though we’ve stayed in several of the huts more than once, each time it’s a different experience. And I’ve experienced far more by doing so and gained a far better appreciation of these huts, than if I’d just walked in, had a look around and then left. That’s exactly what led me to stay at the new Jorgensens Hut and gain a better appreciation of what it offered. There are no experiences or memories gained by walking in and out, as it takes time to gain a proper appreciation of each hut. It took us years before we managed to come across Moscow Villa when it was empty, and we absolutely loved the experience of staying there for a night. Who knew that bats lived in Moscow Villa?

Quiet enjoyment in the High Country (waiting for wood to dry) - Moscow Villa, Bentleys Plains Victoria

Quiet enjoyment in the High Country (waiting for wood to dry) – Moscow Villa, Bentleys Plains Victoria

McMichael's Hut - Howitt High Plains Victoria

McMichael’s Hut – Howitt High Plains Victoria

While many organisations are well meaning and do very good work overall, they sometimes become overly possessive or personally attached to what they do and want everyone to follow their rules, even though their rules can be quite arbitrary and even contradictory, as pointed out. This is one of those areas where I believe that it’s a case of use it or lose it. If you can’t use the huts, except through convoluted and confusing reasons, then people will begin to disrespect them and question why have them at all. The same applies to increasing closures of the High Country; once it becomes forgotten, few will care. The ability to use huts means that, overall, they will be appreciated and looked after, and places that are occupied are usually safer than ones that are not.

Wombat PO Hut - Wombat Creek Victoria

Wombat PO Hut – Wombat Creek Victoria

I’m as passionate about the High Country Huts as anyone, but I truly believe that huts are assets that need to be used and not considered as fragile museum pieces that can only be used in exceptional circumstances. The thing that I keep repeating so often is that one should never, ever, fail to consider the unintended consequences of any well meaning action or policy. No matter how laudable some decisions may sound, there can always be cracks within that will eventually result in major failures. Changing what has been accepted practice for decades is one such area of potential failure.

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