Schlink Hilton Hut was constructed by the Snowy Mountains Authority 1960-61 as a base for workers maintaining and upgrading the highest powerline in Australia, between Guthega Power Station and Khancoban. The name derives from pioneer ski tourer Dr Herbert Schlink, first to ski the classic Kiandra to Kosciuszko tour, and the hut once being the largest and most comfortable staff quarters within the backcountry.
The Guthega Power Station was designed to provide the necessary power to complete the southern developments of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. After completion of the Power Station in 1955, the SMA constructed the Schlink Pass Road through to Geehi, establishing a construction camp near Whites River Hut to accommodate workers on the road and 11kV powerline across the range.
Test pylons and lines were installed in the Dicky Cooper valley and at Consett Stephen Pass, to assess the impacts of snow and ice. Completed in 1960-1; the line was upgraded to 66kV in 1962-3 to supply works at the Island Bend, Geehi and Murray sites; and to 132kV c1968 to power the Jindabyne Pumping Station.
As completed, the Schlink Hilton had 8 bedrooms accommodating 16 staff on bunks with mattresses, a radio room, an equipment store, a piped water supply, a wood-fired kitchen range that provided hot water to kitchen and shower, a flushing toilet and septic system, a Warmray heater in the dining/common room, and a diesel Lister generator for lighting.
Kept locked through the 1960s, research and athletic groups were permitted to use the hut as a base, the latter for high-altitude training in preparation for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
Following opening of the northwest end for public use in the mid-1970s, the bathroom and kitchen fittings had to be removed for health reasons, the hut becoming less ‘Hilton’ over time.
The Schlink Hilton Hut was originally named the Schlink Pass Hut, after the saddle 1km south of the hut. Dr Herbert Schlink was a noted Sydney doctor and hospital administrator, long term member and president of the Kosciusko Alpine Club 1909-20 and then the Ski Club of Australia 1921-62. In the mid-1920s he lobbied for the establishment of huts to support a ski tour between Kiandra and the Hotel Kosciusko; which led to the NSW Government building Pounds Creek and Tin Huts, and Schlink leading the first party on the first ski tour from Kiandra to Kosciuszko in 1927. Knighted in 1954 for his services to medicine Schlink was also widely regarded as the ‘father of Australian skiing’. In 1960 Sir William Hudson, Commissioner in charge of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, renamed the pass former known as Whites River Saddle — Schlink Pass — in honour of Schlink’s connection to the region and its development.
Work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme had commenced in 1949, with the Guthega Dam and Power Station being the inaugural project, constructed 1951-55 by Selmer Engineering. The Munyang River Aqueduct was also built by Selmers 1953-56. The Guthega Power Station had only a modest generating capacity; its main purpose was to test various design and construction aspects that would be used across the Scheme and provide power to assist construction works upon the Snowy-Murray projects at Jindabyne, Island Bend, Geehi, Murray and Khancoban.
Around 1956 works commenced on the Schlink Pass Road with the SMA established a construction camp ~400m north of Whites River Hut as a base for road and powerline works. Work on the electricity transmission line (running from Guthega Power Station to Murray Switching Station at Khancoban) began with the erection of a number of trial powerline spans — near a quarry to the north of the hut, at Dick Cooper Creek, and at Consett Stephen Pass, the latter being the subject of a famous photograph of a man measuring the buildup of rime (ice) half way up a power pole. This was the highest powerline in the entire Scheme, probably Australia, and it was necessary to ensure both pylons and the transmission wires could withstand the local wind, snow and ice conditions. Following these tests the original line — believed to be 11kV — was constructed c1958-61.
Schlink Hilton was built either during construction of the line or just after its completion in either 1960 or 1961. Its role was to provide shelter for line and road maintenance crews and storage for line spare parts. It also appears likely it was used as accommodation for construction workers during upgrades of the powerline. The first of these occurred in 1962-1963, when the line was upgraded to 66 kV to supply greater power to SMA projects in the area, and then again in the late 1960s when the Italian firm EPT upgraded the line to 132 kV so that electricity from Murray Switching Station could be used to power Jindabyne Pumping Station (this last upgrade was carried out by). The powerline was described by one SMA engineer as ‘the foremost among high altitude lines in Australia’ and it was inspected along with Geehi Dam by the Queen during her 1963 royal tour.
By about the mid-1960s the hut was becoming known by a nickname, Schlink Hilton, thought up by either John Hellmrich, senior supervisor on the transmission line job, or Island Bend’s Bill Young, regional electrical officer Kosciusko. The name reflected the good facilities, (bathroom. etc) available at the hut and its comparatively large size. Only one other SMA hut in the Park — Byatts hut (demolished in the 1970s) — was of similar design.
During the 1960s the monthly maintenance trips along the transmission line were of at least two days in duration, especially in winter. Their length was determined by the relatively slow oversnow transport then available (i.e. Tucker and Porsche vehicles). Schlink Hilton played an important hole at this time in providing overnight accommodation during these trips, and also in providing shelter during emergency line repair jobs (the line was most vulnerable to damage during the worst weather). Subsequently, with skidoos giving faster mobility to linesmen, the necessity for an overnight stay decreased. The hut became less vital, then unnecessary to SMA operations, but is still important as a shelter.
Up until the mid-1970s or so the SMA kept the hut locked, (though it may have been partly open in the 1960s), and also locked some storage areas within the hut (e.g. the radio room and store rooms). The Authority did however permit numbers of groups to use the hut. These included various scientists studying the broad-toothed rat and other rodents, and sports groups — in particular the NSW Amateur Athletic Association, which for several seasons used Schlink Hilton as a high-altitude training base prior to the 1968 Mexico Olympics. It is probable that Schlink, owing to its size and facilities, was more used by these sorts of groups than other SMA huts in the park.
By the mid-1970s increasing numbers of visitors in the Whites River Corridor area saw break-ins at the hut and the loss of important items such emergency food supplies. Finally, a locked door was positioned in the hut’s hallway, and the living room, kitchen, bathroom, former radio room and a bedroom were left open for the public. At the same time the southeastern door was locked, a stove was put in an adjoining bedroom, and at some stage security grilles were placed on the windows of this section of the hut. Still the hut was often left in poor condition at the end of winter. At least one group, the Jindabyne SMC Sports and Social Club, wanted to take over a portion of the hut on a permanent basis.
In 1978 there was correspondence between the SMA and NPWS concerning the hut’s future. Opinion within SMA about retention of the hut seems to have been mixed. In May the NPWS, in accordance with its policies aiming at the removal of various huts from the Park, wrote to SMA requesting that Schlink Hut be removed. When SMA responded by asking if the hut could be turned over to ‘other interested organisations’, NPWS replied that this was not permissible under the legislation and repeated its request to have the structure removed. However Schlink Hilton was not removed though the reason for its retention is not clear.
The hut continued to have a high level of use in both winter and summer but was dirty and the septic and other systems could not cope with the usage. In 1982 NSW Health Commission reported on the hut, after cases of sickness occurred believed to be partly due to pollution associated with its septic system. The building become known as a source of the ‘mountain lurgy’, one of the main reasons huts where closed in various areas of the park. The issue was as much to do with user behaviour; in winter to stop the internal toilet freezing at Schlink users either left the water running continuously through it (which flooded the septic) or worse, continued to use the toilet after the water in the bowl and in the supply to the cistern had frozen — leaving a mess that would remain till the Spring thaw!
In the 1990s NPWS replaced the internal toilet with a large new composting toilet, which in turn was replaced with pump out units in 2002 when conditions had proven unsuitable for composting. Since the 1990s the mattresses and bed frames have been removed, the kitchen has been gutted, the ineffectual Warmray heater was replaced with a larger unit in a more central position, and the standard of accommodation has become consistent with other shelters and less like its international hotel namesake.
Higgins, M: ‘Schlink Hilton – History & Heritage Significance’, unpublished report for PWS, 1990. KHA newsletter article 1991 derived from this study.
Cserhalmi & Partners (Jean Rice): Schlink Hilton Hut Heritage Action Statement, NPWS 2009
Downing, P: Huts and Homesteads of the Kosciuszko National Park, Pauline Downing 2010, p114-5.
Hueneke, Klaus: Huts of the High Country, ANU Press 1982, p33.
KHA records, database and images.
Scott, D: personal recollections.
Some Nearby Points of Interest
132kV Powerline running from Guthega to Geehi, and attendant road.
Scklink Road quarry, now partly revegetated, north of the hut along the road.
Orange (Diane) Hut site, site of former linesmen’s shelter hut, just north of the Valentine Trail turnoff.
Concrete bridge over Dicky Cooper Creek, between Orange Hut site and Dicky Cooper Hut site, where the creek bends around west and then south.
Water – at the creek just uphill of the road. High flow, never dry.
Toileting – pit toilet.
Firewood – limited supply uphill of the road.
IN AN EMERGENCY
Nearest Phone Reception Point –??
Nearest Trackhead/Public Road – Guthega Power Station (unstaffed) & Guthega Road ~11.5km (3hr walk along formed road)