The following paragraphs are Will Semler's memories of skiing in Australia in the early Post War (circa 1946 to 1959), when Will was a member of the Ski Club of Victoria. He is also an AAC Member who has greatly assisted the AAC Ski Heritage Subcommittee by supplying valuable heritage material, such as historic club newsletters, for use in this AAC Ski Heritage Series. They are followed by another member's recollections of a 1950 ski trip.
After the 1939 fires there was no winter accommodation except the Victorian Railways Chalet. Built to accommodate 24 persons, we often had 30 and more staying there. It was booked from the Victorian Tourist Bureau office in Collins St. The office staff had no concept of the facilities that they were booking, since they had not been to Mt. Hotham to see the chalet for themselves.
How did you get to Mt.Hotham from Melbourne in 1946?
You caught a steam train to Wangaratta, starting on the 2nd Division of the Spirit of Progress from Spencer St at about 6PM. This was the most modern train in Australia and its 1st Division ran non-stop to Wodonga. As soon as the train pulled out of Spencer St we would start to queue up to get to the Dining Carriage, where the First Class passengers had priority.... We slowly progressed through various carriages till nirvana arrived, i.e. we were standing behind a dining passenger, salivating and hoping that person would hurry up and finish their meal.
At long last that diner would get up, but approximately at the same time as the train pulled into Wangaratta, meaning one had to miss dinner and get off the train. Hoys old bus would be waiting. By this time it would be about 10pm. This bus was a well known wobbler from side to side and also for freezing the passengers. At long last, some time after midnight, we arrived at the pub in Harrietville. On the return trip one would also stop the night specialised there and have an evening meal. At meals, the owner would command us to sit wherever he felt it was appropriate. If you did not follow the owner's instructions, you would not be served any food.
At day break there were a line of horses waiting. Some with saddles, some were pack horses for the packs and supplies and of course the skis. Off up the Bon Accord Track and in to the snow. The horses always went along the very outer edge of the track giving you the "Jimmy Brits". When the snow depth was such that the horses were sinking to their bellies with every step, we unshipped, kicked the horses in the bum and started to ski, having strapped the skins on first. The horses knew their way back to Harrietville far better than we did and the horses had no trouble in returning.
Using a horse and sleigh, a Norwegian, Eric Johnson, would haul packs and other baggage from the snowline up to the Victorian Railways Chalet at Hotham Heights, whilst we climbed on our skis. We passed the Bon Accord Hut and up to the Razor Back over the summit and reached the Chalet usually when it was starting to get dark.
One time three young chaps tried to come along. One of them was so disgusted with the effort that he hurled his skis over the edge and went back to Harrietville. He later became famous by designing the Myer Music Bowl by which time he undoubtedly forgot about his earlier travail.
A lot of people would send "grog" (usually alcoholic spirits to minimise the size of the package) up in summer, as unfortunately at that time "grog" was an integral part of the skiing holiday. In fact Eric Johnson started to supply this much sought after merchandise even in winter. He had built a shack, big enough to provide over night shelter for himself and his horse, near the Razor Back. He designed and made some snow shoes for the horse but was also famous for his cracks in his heels. He assuaged this problem by stopping every ½ hour and filling the cracks with pitch.
The Hotham Chalet (Photo No. 3) was run by a very helpful manager who, however, gave up some years later and started a service station in South Melbourne. He had a sort of kelpie dog who loved to run along with the skiers as they slid down, get hold of their stocks and thus mostly arranged a header into the snow. In summer the kelpie decided that he also needed a holiday and whenever an open tray vehicle turned up he would hop on for a ride. He would come back on the tray of another vehicle, may be a week or so later.
The main activity in the morning would be to wax the skis. Most people had their own system by which they swore. For going up we would have seal skins which were strapped on to the skis when needed. We might have say 5 or 6 runs from the top down to Swindlers Creek a day (Photo No. 4).
Quite often we would just trundle along anywhere if visibility permitted it. All sorts of names were given to the various runs by various circumstances. For instance Mr.Pink and Mrs Hamburger found one from the summit hence "The Pink Hamburger".
My brother Stephen and I only had pair of ski pants between us. We went on alternate weeks and met halfway in order to swap pants. Good friendships were forged up in the snow but, to the best of my knowledge, I am now the only survivor of those skiing friendships.
After some time the CSIR (later to become the CSIRO) built a hut for high-altitude weather observations, which were supervised Phil Law. They made important observations when they had a spell between having a good time. Later still The University Ski Club built a chalet. In some way its design was the forerunner of many built there and in other parts of the Australian Alps.
On one occasion when I was part of group going to Mt.Bogong I caught the flu or cold and decided to stay in Bright to get over it. After a couple of days I felt well enough and started going up the Bon Accord Track up from Harrietville. Clearly I ventured out of my "sick bed" too early and there were many rest stops on the way. At the end I was within sight and some 50 feet away from the Bon Accord Hut but simply could not go any further. After about half an hour of wistfully looking at the hut I was able to get there. It was occupied by two cheery Air force chaps equipped with the traditional banana bag to hold all their belongings. They immediately offered me a bed. It was one of those steel constructions with a chain link top. As soon as I mounted this steed it collapsed under me. Next they brewed some tea for me. Unfortunately the previous inhabitant of this Billy was some kerosene. After one sip I hurtled out of the hut at lightning speed. I felt better the next day and got as far as the Country Roads Board emergency hut just above the Razor Back. It had 4 bunks but there were about two dozen cheery enthusiasts over- wintering in it. There were no toilet facilities and no doubt, when the spring sun melted the snow, there would be many "brown pointers" around. Next day I ventured further and reached the Hotham Chalet, where I was welcomed as a "gate crasher" but I was allowed to stay a few days.
The State Electricity Commission was building a dam for the supply of power. The area was ruled with an iron hand by Mr. Williams the manager. He was afraid that skiing might interfere and would not allow any access. After a lot of talking he allowed us, that is the Victorian Ski Club, to put up a tin hut in the area now known as Falls Creek. Prior to this, a friend who was the odd man out of Brockhoff or other biscuit family, was the man who stayed in the high plains all the year to measure rain and snow falls had suggested this area as a possible skiing area. One Easter we had a working bee and tried to put up the first Armco Hut in Australia on the site. Despite all our efforts we could not manage to do so without a gap in the wall near the corner. Rather discouraged after returning, we went to the ARMCO office in Collins St.
In no time at all, they cheerfully told us that the drawings were wrong! 3 weeks later a new working bee girds its loins only to find that the hut had disappeared. On the grapevine we found out that the SEC lads had simply taken it and planted it for their own amusement on Spion Kopje (a mountain on the other side of the valley to Falls Creek. Now came a SCV master stroke in diplomacy. Instead of complaining, probably without any result, we officially donated the hut to the SEC and staff.
From then on the SEC was helpful and Falls Creek development started. We never went to look at the hut but presume the lads would have had no trouble without drawings!
In the high plains area there were a few cattleman's huts e.g. Wallace's. The scouts also built one near Mt.Cope. I remember a memorable occasion when the Rover Scouts, after doing their duties received the command: "Rovers you may now smoke." Photo No. 5 shows the Rover Scout Lodge and Photo No.7 shows a typical snow scene on the Bogong High Plains.
Pre-war solid stone Cleve Cole hut was still intact. It had room for four paillasses on floor level and another four at head height. Hot water was provided by filling a kerosene tin with snow and putting it on the fire. You had to constantly poke the snow down because it melted instantly created an air cushion and almost stopped any more snow melting. After may be an hour you had enough water for a short shower. You carried the tin into the cubicle immersed the end of a pump taken from a petrol station into it and stood naked on an icy wooden grate. As you pushed the pump from the side to another, you slipped off the grate and made a header for the wall. After a few minor injuries the technique was mastered and you had a shower in the by-now cold water.
There was a second little room where the stores were kept. These had to be sent up in summer. The most eligible bachelor in Tawonga (whose name escapes me and who married the most eligible girl on the plains North of Omeo of the Treasure family whose christian name at present also escapes me) was the only person who would do this. In winter you had a similar system as to Hotham except the night was spent at the Tawonga pub. In the morning we walked out across the valley and then up the Staircase Spur to the cattle hut, hoping that we would not be forced to stay there by the weather. Onwards we would ski onto the summit hut and then along the semicircular top of Mt.Bogong till we dropped down to the Cleve Cole in the evening. Meat was stored in a "refrigerator", which was a water-tight tin buried in the snow, but with a sufficiently good marker, so hopefully one could find the "refrigerator" when wanted.
I remember one expedition I led. One of the girls rang me during the year asking whether my brother, who was chief chemist at McRobertson's chocolate, could please get some of it as it was very scarce for her fiancé, a Scot sailer. We obliged. Next we heard that this had broken up and that she was engaged to a ski instructor from Mt. Buller, who was presently with the army in Darwin. The arrangement was that we would all meet at midnight in the Tawonga Pub that is she, her fiancé, her sister and my friend, who was a shearer from the Western district and I. It was well past midnight and the pub was in total darkness. The doors were all open, as was usual in those days and by feeling our way along the wall we not only found the kitchen but also the fridge. No sooner was that door was opened than we heard a hoarse cry:" Get out of there". This came from a tame one legged magpie sitting on the mantel piece. The light from the fridge also revealed that the girl who needed the chocolate had acquired a third fiancé, who was the British consul in Yokohama. They had just got married and were jointly with us on their honeymoon. Next day, on the way up, one of the horses bumped the skis on its back against a tree and managed to break the tip off mine. Luckily I always carried an aluminium tip with me and skied on that all that week. Tactfully we arranged the little spare room to the honeymooners and managed to store some of the supplies under the floor boards. As a matter fact, I believe I still have a tin of dried onions and some other stuff there now well past half a century later. The honeymoon girl had a loose hip and several times a day her husband had to slip that back. Clearly his diplomatic experience was helpful to him in that task!
Wireless contact from Mt. Bogong to Mt. Hotham
Once every evening at the Cleve Cole Hut, we got onto the wireless and tried to contact Mt.Hotham. It was a staccato conversation with many "overs". On one occasion on my return to the Tawonga pub there was great hilarity in the bar. An amplifier shouted out a rude joke my brother at Cleve Cole exchanged with the Mt.Hotham counterparts.
Lake Albina Lodge
Was a stone Hut with an "engine room" underneath. In it resided a generator able to give us some light at night. There was accommodation for some 8 or so people. We used to get to Thredbo where by that time the chairlift had been constructed. It took us to the top and then we went on by compass. When there was visibility it was no problem but when fog reigned it was rather touchy. In the hut there was a "drying room" consisting of a cupboard with a hook. One of our party, a lady, specialised in washing out her stockings and hanging them on that hook. Our boots underneath at least got a drink. (Photo Nos. 12 and 13 are portions of the original lodge plans showing Albina's facilities).
Lake Albina was frozen over and the scenery all around (Photo No. 8), and for that matter wherever we went, was simply stunning. Big drifts overhanging ravines, huge icicles and sheer cliffs to which the snow could not cling. One of our party was a dentist, a former Austrian and a fabulous skier although diminutive in size. Frank Leyden was always part of the gang and a whole long story had been written about this special character.
Additional Information about the Lake Albina Lodge
With the loss of the Lake Albina Lodge nearly 30 years ago, memories are rapidly fading as to the comfortable facilities it provided to all skiers and bushwalkers who passed that way and used it (the doors were never locked). Lake Albina Lodge offered running hot and cold water, hot showers, a flush toilet and gas cooking. When completed and fully outfitted prior to the 1952 Ski Season, it was arguably the most comfortable Australian ski touring lodge outside of the then existing ski resorts. The two portions of the original lodge plans, presented as Photo Nos. 12 and 13, will give the reader an excellent idea as to how well-appointed that lodge was.
The decision to build the Lake Albina Lodge was made at a public meeting held on 10 November 1950. Dudley Ward's completed architectural plans are dated 23 November 1950. The main feature shown on the plans that was not built, was the stone fireplace and chimney, due to the realization that all the fuel needed for cooking and for heating the lodge would have to be transported in to the lodge from Cooma and that open fires have a very low energy-efficiency, with much of the fire's heat being lost up the chimney.
An example of the magnificent scenery within a couple of kilometers of the Lake Albina Lodge is presented as Photo No. 14, which is the view of Little Austria from Alice Rawson Peak, located about 2km north-west of the lodge.
Illawong Lodge (then known as Pounds Creek Hut) is upstream from the Guthega Dam, on the Snowy River in NSW and not far downstream from the Blue Lake. We started from the end of the Guthega Road. We put on our skins and with packs on our backs, which contained enough food for the week, trudged to the hut. It was a sheet iron hut in those days before the AAC refurbished and extended it and we slept under the roof. Sometimes it was possible to cross the Snowy here on a snow bridge, but the man-made bridge installed in the 1960's, is a necessity in most winters
Had a tin hut with bunks consisting of chain link covered steel frames around the walls. A cooking stove was in the middle of the hut and above it was a hood which was capable of giving the forehead a knock even to the shortest member of any party. As with most of the resorts one had to walk up to it with pack and skis on ones back. On one occasion we were well past our knees in snow when we heard the axe men at work. We heard a crash not far away as a huge trunk hit the ground. "Nearly killed a skier", was the applauding remark of a mate. On that occasion we also found that there were no paillasses. When we cooked, a member, who was on his own, made suitable noises to us in order to invite him to have a taste. This he did with gusto. He also must have had superhuman food instincts. Even in a thickest fog if one of us would unpack some chocolate he would appear out of nowhere clearly keen to participate. When we got up in the morning we found that he had stacked all the paillasses on his bunk and thus had a luxurious night. On one of my expeditions to Mt.Bogong I recalled this scene and to my embarrassment found that the lady on our team was his fiancée and they were going to get married and go to New Guinea together. At one time we actually constructed a ski jump at least 3' high. On the memorable occasion when my brother Stephen ventured on it he achieved something no physicist would believe. He took to the air but the skis and bindings took an altogether different route!
Mt. Donna Buang was, of course, the nearest ski slope to Melbourne. In those days it quite frequently had a good covering of snow. One would take the train out of Flinders St. and get to Lilydale where there was a half an hour or so refreshment stop. All glasses and cups had the inscription: "stolen from the Victorian Railways" cast into them. We would get to Warburton and then start the steep track up to the turntable. From then on a fairly wide track would go to the SCV hut. On one occasion about midnight we found a tree had fallen across. It took us well over an hour to circumnavigate it. It was such rough country. Not far away was also the university Ski Club hut. Visits from possums interested in our diet were frequent. The skiing was limited to short runs occasionally interrupted by the local wombat crossing the run. I wanted to introduce my friend Charlie a glider pilot to skiing. I drilled into him that in skiing, contrary to the natural inclination one has to lean down hill. As a glider pilot he did not have this natural resistance and he leant more and more forward until he landed on his nose.
Fire burned down the only chalet in the early 1940's. There was still a cattleman's hut at Boggy Creek not too far from the summit. It was meant more or less for emergencies. Seeing that there was nowhere else and although it was considered an emergency hut I remember being there with literally some dozens. In retrospect I don't know how we managed this.
Very soon the Ski Club of Victoria proposed to build a chalet and we had an Easter working bee. It seemed to be very hot because we worked like galley slaves. At the end it was proposed to launch a beer fest, namely making use of a barrel someone had brought up. Bad luck, he did not bring up a bung. The then deputy chief engineer of the Melbourne City council who for this occasion was robed in a fluffy white pullover tried everything his engineering knowledge permitted. Suddenly hurrah and a stream of the liquid shot up into the air. He did not hesitate and sat on top pretending to be a bung himself. Soon foam climbed up the fluffy and into his hair to make him completely "be-foamed". Some actually licked this nectar. When all this was over and we came back to Melbourne we found out that all our labour was useless as we worked in the wrong spot and thus were above the spring that was intended to supply the future chalet.
They had another dramatic moment in the construction. The roof was on when a strong gust of wind blew into the open window almost making it all air borne. I only spent one night there in winter and that was many years later. By that time a "Poma" was introduced to tow people up the hill. It was a round disc as a saddle connected to the rope by a spring loaded rod.
Unfortunately the one I mounted had a broken spring and I received what seemed like hammer blow up my spine. It took me a very long time to get back to the lodge as every move was like a knife stab. I was sharing a room and we spent a hilarious night together. He also suffered an injury of some similar kind. When one of us issued an un-gentlemanly sound the other who had found a comfortable position would laugh. Sure enough the position would reverse. Next morning I beat a painful crawl back to the car and foolishly drove home under my own steam. Having arrived home and walking up the drive the pain suddenly disappeared and I could not explain to Gwen why I came back.
Over the years Buller became very popular and the road up extremely busy. We wondered whether we could not find another access and accordingly arranged for a small survey party in summer. My brother Stephen joined us from Sydney. Unfortunately he had some boots in which he kept slipping on the many rocks we had to climb down on. I did not realise how much it took out of him nor did he. Eventually having descended to the bottom of the valley we decided that the task was hopeless and started to return. After a few upward steps Stephen could not go any further. We decided for the party to go back and Stephen and I stay the night down there. Luckily it was a clear night with only the mozzies providing shade. As is usual when you are exhausted a short rest seems to you that you are fully recovered and Stephen suggested we should go up. O.K. After 10 steps he would collapse again. This was repeated a number of times. Some hours later we saw some lights up the slope. It was the rescue party approaching. As a mater of fact when they arrived at the Ivor Whittaker Lodge they woke up my wife Gwen, who had no idea I might have been in trouble and told her that I am alive! The rescue party was led by a stocky "New Australian" built like a gorilla, including exceptionally long arms. He brought out a bottle of whisky and offered it to Stephen. I pushed it aside, knowing well what effect that had on tired out people. The "New Australian" then drank the whole bottle in one swipe, he took hold of Stephen like a cement bag, swung him on his shoulders and ran up the hill!!!
Ben Lomond. Tasmania
It was time to explore that possibility. There was supposed to be a hut there although we could not find out too much about it. Mr Mattingley (ex Swinburne College) and I organised a party. It turned out to be the two of us and 7 girls. Ansett, which was then a little airline and had not yet taken over ANA, flew to Launceston. We simply took the skis into the DC2 and dumped them in the space between the seats, presumably to train us for mountain climbing in case we had to go to the toilet. A bus to the bottom of the mount and then we traipsed up. Near the top Mr Mattingley confided that he had to have an appendix operation and that he could not stay and he returned. That operation was never heard of again so I suppose the 7 girls must have been too much. The bunks were around the walls and there was a kind of stove in the middle. The weather was good, the slopes rather mild, presumably Ben Lomond might have been better off it if it had grown taller. We cadged a lift on the way back which included an offer of delicious kangaroo tail soup.
Close to Hobart with a forestry hut including a little stove was near Lake Dobson. From then on you had to trudge quite a distance to the better slopes. Skiing started to become fairly popular.
All this is less about skiing than the stories around it, but that is how it was just after the end of the Second World War.
The following account of Leon Smith's 1950 ski holiday, highlights the problems that could arise whilst spending a week in the Alpine Hut, a commercial ski-touring lodge completely lacking any means of communication with the outside world. Frank Leyden's experiences at Alpine Hut during the period 1942 to 1946, were described in the Second Installment of this Ski Heritage Series. We first provide additional information about the Alpine Hut followed by the account of Leon Smith's 1950 fortnight there (he was only booked to stay for one week, but circumstances beyond his control, compelled him to stay for two weeks).
Alpine Hut (Snowy Plains Area of the Kosciuszko National Park)
Under the heading, The Alpine Hut, Brassy Mountain, T. Southwell Keeley wrote in the 1940 Ski Year Book, "The year 1939 saw the opening up of an entirely new snow area 20 miles north of the Chalet. This was accomplished with the building of what is known as the Alpine Hut at an elevation of 5,400 ft. at the foot of the Brassy Mountain, exactly 50 miles from Cooma. It is situated in excellent snow country in the heart of the Main Range."
"The hut owes its origin to the foresight and enthusiasm of Mr. Oliver Moriarty . . . . He formed a small no-profit propriety company known as the Alpine Hut Club Pty Ltd to finance and build the hut. The company consists of fifty enthusiasts, mostly members of the Kosciusko Alpine Club . . ."
Mr Keeley described the facilities in the hut and stated it was planned to extend the hut to improve comfort and to accommodate 18 persons. The final additions were made prior to the 1946 ski season and Photo No. 9 is a sketch plan of the completed hut prepared by Frank Leyden. Two-tiered bunks (shown in Photo No. 9 with a "2") were used wherever possible to avoid cluttering up the bedrooms with too many beds at floor level. The "Ladies Bedroom" had two single beds. The "Big Bedroom" and the bedroom at the end of the building each had a single bed in addition to their two-tiered bunks. The cook had a bed in his room beside the kitchen. The provision of food in the Alpine Hut plus a cook to prepare meals, not only increased the comfort of the occupants, but also decreased the weight of their packs on the journey into the Alpine Hut. Pack horses were available to carry skis and packs to the Brassy Gap in some years.
The advantages of the Alpine Hut's location were its proximity to Mt. Jagungal (8 km), to Gungartin (12 km) and to White's River Hut (13 km). At that time the Kosciusko Alpine Club (KAC) had fitted out the Whites River Hut so that it also provided a comfortable base for ski tourers. It was common practice for skiers to spend one week at the Alpine Hute, then another week at White's River Hut and finally a third and final week at Charlottes Pass.
Very few maps were available of the area around Alpine Hut. The map used by Frank Leyden in 1943 is presented as Photo No. 10. Frank has added many landmarks in black ink, as well as the transport arrangements.
Lean Smith's 1950 Holiday at the Alpine Hut
In 1950 Leon was working for an instrument maker making carburettors and after a year decided he had learned all he could and left the job at the end of July. It seemed like a good idea to have a holiday in the mountains and this was to be his first trip to the mountains without his parents, so he stayed at the Old Hotel Kosciusko, where the Southern Alps Ski Club was in residence, for 2 weeks and was booked in for a week at Alpine Hut following that.
He left the Hotel, went down to Berridale and was picked up next morning by Cec. Constance who transported skiers between Berridale and the snow line below Alpine Hut on the back of a Blitz Wagon.
They picked up several people from Cooma Railway Station, young men belonging to the Palm Beach Surf Club, most of whom had never skied before and then headed out to Alpine Hut. When they got to the point where the blitz couldn't go any further they were dropped off and they walked and skied in to the hut, arriving late in the afternoon.
Amenities at the hut were very basic. No electric light, no hot water. The outside dunny was a small shed over a pit. Whilst some radio communication with White's River Hut and the Chalet, had been possible during Frank Leyden's visits in the period 1942 to 1946 (his sketched floor plan shows a wireless room), there was no two-way wireless equipment operating in 1950.
According to local folk lore, each year the shed was dragged sideways over a new pit, thus like a planet moving around the sun, the toilet was in orbit around the hut and in theory photographs could be dated by the position of the planetary toilet.
There was a manager and his girlfriend in residence, and after a time some plates of food appeared. Leon took one look and said "thanks but I'll wait till dinner". The manager said "this is dinner". He announced that he was not at all interested in the job, had only taken it because he was drunk at the time, and there was hardly any food in the hut. What was there consisted of weevil-infested oats, melon & lemon jam, black tea, dehydrated parsnips and nothing much else. Meat for the season was provided by driving a beast up to the hut and then slaughtering it, and hanging it in a shed, however the foxes had got at that and there wasn't much of it left. Leon had taken half a dozen Cherry Ripe bars with him, and rationed himself to a small portion of one of those each day.
There were 2 or 3 very good skiers in the hut, who didn't want to ski with an inexperienced 18 year old kid, and the others of course hadn't skied before, so Leon skied mostly by himself (he did have a compass and a map) and navigated his way to Mawsons and Tin Hut.
After the week was over, he got his gear together and skied down to the snow line to meet Cec. Constance. After waiting for several hours, he realised that Cec. wasn't going to turn up, so he skied back to Alpine Hut. Everyone else had been booked in for 2 weeks, and perhaps Cec. thought Leon had also been booked for a two week vacation.
So Leon survived on the Cherry Ripes, oats etc. for another week. At no time was any more food delivered to the hut. When asked, weren't your parents worried when you didn't turn up after the week at Alpine was over? Apparently not. Of course there was no way to get a message out to anyone.There was a significant decline in ski touring in this area in the 1950's and 1960's. Bob Ward wound up the company in 1968 and a Scout Group took up the caretaker role for the Kosciuszko Huts Association (KHA) in the early 1970's, replacing or re-glazing doors and windows. It is sad to relate that this hut, specifically built for ski touring and favourably regarded by many skiers, including Don Richardson, Elyne Mitchell and Alan Andrews, "burnt down unexpectedly in 1979" (KHA Profile dated 21 January 2006).