Dundas Hut in the Tararua Ranges, built 1961.
If you've ever spent time in NZs national parks chances are you have stayed in a hut originally built by and for government deer cullers. The network of huts these men built has enabled hundreds of thousands of outdoors folks to enjoy the BushLife in a way not possible in the rest of the world. There is no feeling like that, when you finally see the hut after a tough day on the hills. The next time you stay in a hut spare a thought for what it would have taken to build it way out in the back country and those that built it. How many lives must they have saved over the years?
"Between the years 1957 and 1972, the prodigious NZFS machine built 644 huts, 36 shelters, 26 vehicle bridges, 142 footbridges, 22 cableways, 2900 kilometres of roads, 1400 kilometres of 4WD tracks and about 4000 kilometres of tramping tracks. By the 1970s, New Zealanders could boast perhaps the densest network of backcountry facilities in the world, and certainly the only one almost wholly constructed by a government However, hut modifications are not always appropriate. To the heritage-conscious historian, some huts must survive in near-original condition. By 2006, a half-century had passed since the first NZFS huts had been built, and their heritage value needed fresh assessment. To this end, DOC employed Wellington historian Michael Kelly to research and write about deer-culling huts, the result being his informative 2007 publication Wild Animal Control Huts: A National Heritage Identification Study.
As Kelly put it:
‘the iconic status of the government hunter was inspired by the writing of Barry Crump and others. The role of the hut in all this is not often explicitly acknowledged but it certainly provided the ‘settings’ for the books. The hut was an ever-present stage or prop in such books. Some hunters remember particular huts with fondness, either for particular events, or for the scenery surrounding them, or the length of their association with them ... Huts are therefore our abiding, tangible heritage of decades of wild animal control."
Extract from Shelter from the Storm by Shaun Barnett.
Cobb tent camp after it had restored by DOC in 2015. This camp is located in Cobb Valley, Kahurangi National Park. Materials for the restoration were sourced from nearby—beech and manuka poles for the superstructure, cedar for the fireplace, while the bench, stools and platforms are fashioned from red beech with axe and adze.
Before the huts the men worked from tent camps. These camps were introduced in the 1930s by the Department of Internal Affairs to provide them shelter, hundreds of these camps were constructed in the backcountry, and many cullers, hunters, track cutters and trampers used them over the years. As hut and helicopter numbers expanded, tent camps gradually disappeared. They soldiered on in a few places, mostly in the Ruahine Range, where several existed into the 1980s. But by the mid-2000s the Cobb tent camp was the last one still functioning.
Chris Main describes a basic tent camp to John Rhodes during an interview, 2009.
"The tent camps were of standard NZFS construction, and cullers were trained to build them. The fly, supported on poles, was about 20 feet long. At the open end of the tent was a fireplace, built up on stones, with a chimney of wood or iron if available. ‘Galley sides’ were laced from the tent onto the fly at the fireplace end. Cullers could cook in shelter under the end of the fly. Doors were made from the chaff sacks that we used for air-dropping food from fixed-wing planes at the start of the season. We slept on a bed of brush and fern covered with sacking. Each camp could accommodate two or three men, occasionally four."
Dip Flat 1960-3, NZFS hunter training camp. Part of their training was on how to set up a tent camp. Note the wooden chimney's.