Through her articles and books in the period 1938 to 1985, Elyne Mitchell significantly raised community awareness as to the vast extent and quality of the snowfields in the Snowy Mountains. She inspired two generations to ski to remote places such as Mt. Jagungal, the Cascades and Watsons Crags.
Elyne Mitchell (1913 – 2002) began skiing in 1936 with her husband and friends. As they lived on a large rural property on the Murray River at the western edge of the Snowy Mountains, they were able to spend much of each winter in the mountains. They carried their gear on pack-horses, riding from one exciting new slope to another and staying in huts or camping in the snow. Within a couple of years, her skiing had reached such a high standard as to win the Canadian Downhill Skiing Championship in 1938 (Photo 32). Elyne continued to ski up to the age of 77 years.
Elyne's book, Australia's Alps was first published in 1942 (reprinted in 1946 with a second edition in 1962), at a time when very few members of the General Public were aware of the rugged grandeur of the Snowy Mountains, and also the untapped skiing potential of the vast "back country" away from the established hotels and chalets. The book sold very well and had a major positive impact on the Australian Community, skiers and non-skiers alike.
In 1944 Elyne Mitchell strongly supported the creation of the Kosciusko National Park by writing Soil and Civilization pleading "for a sensitive appreciation and use of our continent, and preservation of our catchment areas". By 1985 Elyne could see "that closing huge areas at the head of river systems, even the greatest river system, and making them into national parks, is not the complete answer to the problems of conservation". Elyne then commented, "Where there has been over-grazing and much burning, something other than stopping both has to be done, and just what that should be is not easily learnt. Certainly it is not by shutting the area up so effectively that there is no one but a too small park staff to cope with rabbits, wild pigs, feral cats and dogs, and noxious weeds – and fires when they occur. In the last few years I have thought that the complete elimination of cattle and cattlemen has not worked out. Dense scrub, dangerously impenetrable for fire-fighting, is growing in many places that were once clear, brought about by the fact that that country has been burnt, and it now provides far more tinder in a dry year. The numbers of tourists walking causes eroding paths. The numbers of campers pollute lakes and streams. Closed up as a national park, the Snowy Mountains are virtually unprotected from weeds because there is insufficient money to have them sprayed. Problems that were recognized in 1944 are now possibly worse, and the answers are not yet found. One wonders why the cattle and cattlemen should be forced out, while tourists and campers are totally uncontrolled."
Elyne then considers possible solutions. "I can only suggest that perhaps the careful leasing of land below the tree-line, to responsible cattlemen, could result in better care of the mountains. It would be in the interests of these men to control noxious weeds and vermin, which no national park can afford to do." She then considers possible control of visitors. In conclusion, "Finally I would say that it seems absolutely disastrous to enclose large tracts of land in national parks which no government can afford to look after correctly." (Discoverers of the Snowy Mountains, MACMILLAN 1985, pp210 – 212).
Since Elyne wrote these words in 1985, skiers and walkers have observed that the dense scrub is steadily extending through what had previously been open woodland and across what had been alpine meadows that in past years presented magnificent wildflower displays in summer. The slopes surrounding Whites River Hut provide an excellent example. Compare the open slopes in Elyne Mitchell's 1941 photo (Photo 30 in this installment) with the current thick scrub on many of what were the open slopes visible in her photo. It is now necessary to climb quite some distance up-slope from Whites in the direction of the Rolling Ground to find great skiing.
The alpine bushfires are becoming more intense and almost impossible to control. For example, the 2003 alpine fires burnt for several weeks, destroying many huts of heritage significance and threatening ski villages several times. Ironically the grassy, scrub-free ski runs turned out to be the best fire breaks.
Christine Nixon, the Head of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction Authority, on 28 April 2009, questioned the size of national parks and has called for a fundamental "rethink" of the community's relationship with national parks.
In the early hours of 18 April 1951, fire broke out in the swichboard of the Hotel Kosciusko. The destruction was almost complete and an important era in the History of Australian Skiing had ended. Increased interest in downhill skiing meant that this site was of limited suitability and the Hotel Kosciusko was not rebuilt.
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