AAC 4-5 Coach 2 at Harrietville Scan0075 

 

Omeo to Harrietville

AAC 4-6 Coach near Hotham Scan0024During the warmer months of each year, the inhabitants of Omeo had the choice of two routes if they wanted to travel to Melbourne. The route via Mount St. Bernard cost 72 shillings and the route via Bairnsdale cost 99 shillings. The fare included coach travel to the nearest railway station and then rail travel to Melbourne. In 1885 those traveling via Mount St. Bernard boarded the Melbourne train at Myrtleford, whilst those traveling via Bairnsdale boarded their train at Sale. Photo 5 is a postcard showing the coach at Harrietville, whilst Photo 6 shows it near Mount Hotham.

AAC 4-7 Med res Mailman descreened Col adj Scan0002We have only sketchy information about skiing at Mount St. Bernard in the 1880's and 1890's. Mr. R. W. Wilkinson tells us, in the 1934 Ski Year Book, about his snow memories from that time. He hired a packhorse in Harrietville for a half-crown (two shillings and sixpence) to take his belongings to St. Bernard for a winter holiday. "The ski at St. Bernard were of split woolly-butt, shaped and well turned up at the point, with leather boot-top fastenings for our feet but innocent of heel straps. Armed with a pole, long and strong, we journeyed to Hotham and Loch (seven and nine miles away respectively). Our only waxes were soap and floor polish." He describes how, "When there was bad weather on top, we followed the old Bairnsdale track down the Dargo for many miles, a sheltered and beautiful trip, with its richly verdured and diversified gullies under snow". He also states that the lessee of the Hospice worked a mine on the Dargo in the winter as well as keeping the Hospice open for the few winter visitors who spent one or more nights there.

The Hospice lessee would have used either skis or snow shoes to get to his mine in winter, but we do not know which. At this time, it is quite likely that skis were being used by miners for both access and recreation on the winter snows on the Dargo High Plains and elsewhere in the Victorian Alps, but very little information has been recorded in easily accessed records.

Once the coaches stopped running from Harrietville in May each year, the mail between Harrietville to Omeo was conveyed on foot through the snow, with the mailman and his dog making the five day return trip once a week and staying over-night at the Mount St. Bernard Hospice and at Cobungra Station. Tom Roberts, a leading Australian impressionist, visited the Hospice in early winter 1889 to paint the mailman on his trip to Omeo through the snow. This work (Photo 7) is of great historic significance. It is an accurate record of the conditions encountered by the Harrietville to Omeo mailman in winter, because Tom Roberts completed his landscapes at the actual site and not in a studio. If you take a copy of Photo 7 to the top of the CRB Hill, you can readily identify the location on the Great Alpine Road (looking towards Mount Hotham) from where Tom Roberts captured this scene. The direction and length of the shadows cast by the mailman and the trees, suggest the time was about 9am to 10am, which is consistent with the mailman having set out earlier that morning from the Hospice, bound for Omeo.

AAC 4-8 Mail 1933 Charlotte's Scan0017The mail has been carried by dog sled on flatter, snow-covered terrain in Australia. Photo 8 shows the mail being carried from the Chalet, Charlottes Pass, by dog sled in 1933.

AAC 4-9 Petersen 1900 Crop Hull p14 Scan0008The 1932 Ski Year Book contains an article written by an "Old Timer" who, in the 1890's, had lived in the Saltpetre Creek gold mining camp, on the western slopes of Mount Gibbo (summit 1750m altitude), about 45km north-east of Benambra. The first fall of snow in the district was expected on 24 May each year and the snow persisted until mid-October. He stated that the skis were called "snow shoes" and everyone made their own from local timber, by a process he described in the article. A steering pole was used to avoid crashing into the trees that lined the access tracks. "Although the ski were crude and our knowledge of skiing was limited, the ski served a useful purpose in the Gibbo District. The mail boy came in and went out over the range on his 'snowshoes' every Sunday and, if one wanted to trace the elusive dingo, a day was often spent on snowshoes."

The first recorded winter ski crossing of the Victorian Alps was made in 1900 by the Petersen brothers, Peter and Harry. Leaving their mine at Square Mountain (marked as Petersens' Mine in Photo 9) they travelled on home-made skis to Brandy Creek where other miners were working underground through the winter. They crossed Mount Hotham and descended the Bon Accord Spur into Harrietville the next day. They returned up the St Bernard road then down into the left branch of the Dargo River and through miles of rough country. They then climbed out of the Dargo Gorge and returned to their mine. (Hull, 1990).