Plan of Manns Hill Hut:
The Williams River Valley Artists' Project (WRVAP) is proposing Manns Hill Hut as a host for a Straight-Line Residency because it has also been a very good host for our own residencies during 2009. It has also had a very rich life for such a transitory building—or perhaps because of it—as it has been lived in by many other people and has been involved in the major events of war, migration and now climate change in the 70 years since it was first constructed.
Some of the ten members of the WRVAP have known the hut for many years, but the rest of us got to know it in 2009 when we formed the project in response to the renewed plans to divert the Williams River to create the Tillegra Dam. These plans are to create a water reservoir that seems far in excess of existing needs within the geographical area it can service, and historical experience with damming rivers suggests that the Williams River would be destroyed in the process.[i] The WRVAP was also formed to support the organiser, Juliet Fowler Smith, whose family farm that lies along the Williams River would be flooded if the plans go ahead.
We stayed at the hut several times during our visits to the farm in 2009. The nearest town is Dungog, three hours drive or train-ride North of Sydney where most of us are based. On those visits, we met locals and learned about how dam proposals have been aired periodically (and fought against) since the 1950s because, it is said, the natural land formations of the Williams valley mean that a relatively small dam wall could be used to contain as much water as occupies Sydney Harbour. We also learned that the land on which the Manns Hill Hut is located was cleared and dairy-farmed by Juliet's family for five generations. The hut was brought there in pieces on trucks in the early 1960s when Juliet's father, Snow, bought it for £150 when the Greta migrant camp (just North of Maitland) was being closed down. It would have been one of the huts that can be seen in images of life at the Greta migrant camp during 1949-60, on http://www.anvilcreek.com/campgreta/. Two of these images are reproduced below.
Snow said he was working for the Department of Agriculture by then, and employed share farmers—who are also long term Williams valley residents—who occupied the one good house on the farm until very recently. The hut was for his regular trips to the farm (mainly to keep the rabbits and weeds down, he says), and as the second home (especially in school holidays) for his four daughters. It was originally an army hut for men being trained for the Second World War, composed of approximately 17 x 5.5 metres of open space, with doors at each end.
When it was converted in 1949 to house migrants, mostly women and children (the men were apparently employed elsewhere on the Snowy Mountains Scheme, etc.), coming to Australia to escape the devastation of the same war, internal walls were added to make space for three families per hut. When the trucks brought the hut to the Williams Valley, one third went to become part of the Munni Public School (and was later lost when the school burned down) and the other two-thirds was brought to the farm and gradually had lino, toilet, shower, pantry, verandahs, garden patches and verandah roofs added, and eventually an entire new roof to replace the existing fibro roof that began to leak.
Twenty years ago, another third was built on as a self-contained extension for Snow and Bremer for when the hut was occupied by one or more of their daughters with their families and friends. Despite the successes of past local opposition to the dam, Snow believes that this time the Hunter Water Authority will have its way, and that the area will be flooded by 2015. Like most property owners in the area, he is negotiating to sell the farm to them rather than wait for its compulsory acquisition, and then lease it back until the dam wall is built. After that, he understands the new owners will remove the roof to prevent it floating off, and the rest will submerge as the dam fills up. Mann's Hill—which the hut is located beside, not on—is expected to become an island, and Snow has constructed a memorial plaque there among the existing cow bones. The artist-group is not as resigned to this outcome as Snow, but is nevertheless talking about leaving an ark on the hill as well, in case. We imagine a Straight-Line-in-residence in the hut being able to float free of its structure as it submerges, extending out to its full length on the dam surface or even flying off to somewhere else. But if it is painted-on, as is most likely, its term of residency will depend on how the hut itself survives submersion.
[i] http://www.notillegradam.com/ ; http://www.hunterwater.com.au/1279.aspx
Manns Hill Hut, Williams valley, 2009