Cradle Mountain Trailside Museum destroyed by fire

The Trailside Museum at Cradle Mountain, a small historic building located immediately behind the Waldheim carpark was destroyed by fire early on Monday 16 November 2020. Investigations into the cause of the fire are ongoing, but it is not considered suspicious and lightning is considered the most likely cause.

TNPA President Nick Sawyer was staying in one of the nearby Waldheim cabins and witnessed the final stages of the fire. His photo of the fire was taken at 8:05 am, about 20 minutes after fire was first spotted by a family staying in the cabin nearest to Waldheim. The structure had almost completely collapsed by this time so there was no hope of saving anything. There was no obvious damage to the surrounding forest apart from the burned pandanis apparent in the photo.  Nick had been awakened at first light by a brief thunderstorm and heavy rain, so he can confirm that a lightning strike is a possible cause of the fire. There had also been some rain during Sunday which would have contributed to the surrounding forest being too wet to burn.

PWS is currently seeking community input into the future of the site. The main options under consideration are:

  1. Leave site as is – foundation stones to remain in situ and installation of a simple plaque or interpretive panel detailing the buildings history
  2. Replace building with replica – using similar construction techniques and materials e.g. red cedar shingles

Background information from PWS:

The Trailside Museum, built in the 1940s, provided a remnant of cultural heritage in the Waldheim precinct at Cradle Mountain. In particular, it was valued for its heritage construction using King Billy pine shingles and for its aesthetic appeal.

In 1935 the Scenery Preservation Board appointed Lionel Connell as the first permanent ranger at Cradle Mountain. Connell was responsible for the construction of the Trailside Museum and several other buildings and tracks in the area.

The Trailside Museum was built between 1940 and 1942. It was a basic timber hut built on a platform excavated into the ridge. The structure was originally intended to function as a museum ‘to display models and natural history specimens to assist bushwalkers to identify animals, plants and rocks seen during walks through the park and give visitors and school classes a concise summary of its natural features’.

However, following construction, the museum project lapsed and arrangements were made for the structure to be used as an evacuation shelter/bunkhouse during World War II. After the war, the building was used for a period as ranger accommodation.

In 1962, under a co-operative arrangement between the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (QVM) and the park management authority, the Trailside Museum was fitted out to fulfil its intended function as a museum. During the later phase of the museum’s life, high humidity inside the museum was causing damage to the displays and in 1980, the QVM removed the exhibits from the building.

Most recently, the museum has been used infrequently for temporary displays and as a venue for talks and slideshows, such as the annual Cradle Mountain film festival and the annual Weindorfer Memorial service.

It was extensively renovated in 2019 to remove internal asbestos wall-cladding, repair the annexe and replace rotten roof shingles and floor boards.

The Trailside Museum is not listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register (THR) and had not been formally assessed for listing. Most of its heritage significance as a structure would have been lost in the fire and a reconstructed building would be unlikely to be assessed as meeting THR thresholds.

If replaced, costs are expected to extend beyond the insured value of the building, particularly for sourcing King Billy pine of which the building was primarily built.