Roland Turner

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Illawong Lodge, Kosciusko National Park, NSW, Australia

I spent the Easter long weekend at a place called Illawong. It is an 8 bed ski lodge in Kosciusko National Park that is several kilometres from the nearest roads, power, gas, water, sewer, telephones, etc. It is operated by a club (Illawong Ski Tourers Inc.) and is used, primarily in winter, as a place for its members to stay and to ski cross-country from. (The nearest ski lifts are also several kilometres away.) The building's isolation creates some interesting problems for winter occupants. Most notably, the only way in is on cross-country skis, so carrying all of the food and fuel for a stay is difficult. To make life a little easier, the lodge stocks non-perishable foods and has (propane) gas plumbing for cooking and heating, fed from 42 * 9Kg bottles at the building's rear. Each Easter long weekend, a work party is held to perform maintenance on the building, to carry in the coming winter's stocks of non-perishable food and to carry the gas bottles out, refill them and carry them back in.

In addition to regular maintenance, this year's work party included a major piece of work to install a new processing system for grey-water (shower/sink water). By virtue of the building's isolation, it has no access to a sewer, so all waste water has to be broken down on-site and released back into the environment. This is essentially what a septic tank and leaching field does, with some added challenges. (a) The local environment is regarded as forming (part of) a fragile ecosystem, our output needs to be pretty clean. (b) The peak load for the system is in mid-winter, it needs to be buried deeply enough to stay permanently above freezing (300mm deep, apparently). The new system consists of a settling tank, a pipe to an even slope, then two ~10m sections of horizontal pipe running across the slope (these sections are to be used on alternating years). These sections have holes in them and sit in a gravel on sand on plastic membrane. I did not read the thesis of the guy who designed it, but my assumption is that the purpose of all of this is to provide a microclimate for bacteria to live in as they break down the grey-water. The upshot of all of this was the need to dig a trench around 23m long, ~60cm wide and 90-150cm deep, install membrane, sand, gravel, pipe, more gravel, then reinstall earth and turf to the original level. Without power tools. This took several days. Simultaneously, a smaller hole was dug for the settling tank, small trenches for the connecting pipe, etc., and of course, the food/fuel carry and (some) other lodge maintenance was going on.

The nearest road (and the means of access) is the road to Guthega dam, the highest dam in Australia's modest hydro-electric scheme. Looking up river from the centre of the dam wall, Illawong can be seen in the distance.

Views from the track to Illawong. The river is the Snowy River.

The pipe towards the trench, and where the trench will be.

More of Illawong's surrounds.

As the lodge only sleeps eight, something of a tent city springs up at Easter to house the work party.

Illawong also built and maintains a suspension bridge across the Snowy River. This bridge has become a landmark (and the best way to cross for some distance upstream or downstream) for those walking or ski-ing on the main range.

Watch the trench vanish before your eyes. (From a seven hour timelapse.)

The tribe gathers for the evening feast.

Some drama for the weekend. A walker (no connection to Illawong) about 1Km above the other side of the suspension bridge hurts herself and is unable to walk. One of her companions discovers that his mobile phone works (they were line of sight to the top of Perisher, where there is a cell to serve the ski-fields) and calls for an ambulance. One arrives!