THE ALPS AT THE CROSSROADS AND THE GROWTH OF THE AAC AFTER 1962

This eighth installment of the AAC's ski heritage photos takes the reader back about thirty to fifty years to chart the growth of the Australian Alpine Club. During the period from 1962 through to 1987, there was further expansion of resort-based skiing facilities in NSW and in Victoria. The AAC expanded rapidly, building four lodges in the ten years from 1963 to 1973, three of which were in Victoria. Despite the opening of its newest lodge at Dinner Plain in Victoria in 1987, it had become clear that the prevailing government policies would not allow the AAC to achieve its dream of establishing a chain of ski touring lodges across the Australian Alps. In fact the authorities compulsorily acquired, and later demolished, Albina Lodge.

The Wykeham Perry painting represents Australian skiing in the 1960's and 1970's, when skiing through the trees on winding ski trails ("Wood Runs") was more popular than at present and skiers often paused to take in the magnificent scenery.

SIMULTANEOUS OPENING OF TWO NEW AAC LODGES IN 1963

Perisher Huette and Falls Creek Huette were both opened on the 1963 Queen's Birthday weekend, following a ten month period of intense activity, which had commenced on Wednesday 5 September 1962, when the Ski Tourers Association (STA) accepted the offer from Lend Lease to purchase the STA's Kareela Lodge for £12,000.

It had become apparent to Charles Anton during 1962 that his problems with the Kosciuszko State Park Trust were unlikely to be resolved quickly. These problems involved obtaining sites for the proposed Perisher Huette and for additional ski touring huts above the Winter snowline in the Kosciuszko State Park. He was aware of the major ski village advances being made in Victoria (described in the Seventh Installment) and concluded that Victoria provided more opportunities for ski club developments than did NSW. Quite a few Victorian skiers had joined and/or used the Ski Tourers Association lodges in NSW (such as Bill Bridgford, head of the lift company at Falls Creek and a long-standing Kunama member and also Malcolm McColl, who skied the Lake Albina area with Frank Spencer). Charles decided that he needed to reactivate old skiing acquaintances in order to begin a thrust into the Victorian Alps, commencing at Falls Creek. He made visits to Falls Creek and to Melbourne to make new contacts at all levels from the Premier of Victoria and state parliamentarians (such as Tom Mitchell, who was the Upper House Member for the North-East) down to key members of the Falls Creek Development Committee. An important new contact was Geoff Henke, a Winter Olympian (ice hockey), a Board Member of the Ski Club of Victoria, a director of the Falls Creek lift company and managing director of the J. Molony Ski Shop.

Bill Bridgford successfully negotiated, in November 1962, to obtain a club site for the STA at Falls Creek in the name of the Reindeer Ski Club. With a lodge already in Thredbo, the STA's activities now included resort skiing as well as ski touring and its activities were no longer confined to NSW, as indicated by Geoff Henke's J. Molony Ski Shop providing the AAC with a Melbourne-based Victorian Office.

Charles also decided that he needed more friends in "high places" in order to rapidly progress the development of new skier facilities in the snowfields. He decided the STA needed to establish its national significance by changing the STA name to the Australian Alpine Club (AAC) in late 1962 and then securing Vice-Regal Patronage. Charles thought he might be able to win his arguments with the Kosciusko State Park Trust, by invoking the Governor General's status as Head of the Federal Government. The minutes of the AAC Committee Meeting of 5 February, 1963, record the receipt of "A letter from the Governor General's Aide-de-camp, Tyrell, pointed out that personal political or individual fracas within the KOSCIUSKO STATE PARK would not be tolerated by the Governor General, unless he was fully informed on all matters pertaining thereto, and his direction would be final."

An impressive new letterhead (Photo No.1) was designed to reflect the AAC's newly enhanced status under its newly acquired Vice-Regal Patronage.

In his last STA Bulletin for 1962, Charles reported to the STA members that a Falls Creek lodge site had duly been secured. He requested that any STA members interested in joining the new project, to please contact him. He received only one response and that was from Warren Peck, a Sydney-based Kareela Member who mainly skied at Perisher, but who was scheduled to be relocated to Melbourne (for work reasons) in early 1963.

Unlike Perisher Huette, that had the benefit of more than one hundred Kareela members, plus the £12,000 in the bank from the sale of the Kareela Lodge, the proposed AAC Falls Creek Huette had no members and no money in the bank. Life Foundation Memberships were to be sold for £50 each and 200 would need to be sold to raise £10,000 – the likely cost of building a lodge in four months using paid tradesmen, since there were no members at that stage to provide volunteer labour. The economic conditions at that time were difficult, following the 1961 "credit squeeze", and could best be described as a mild economic recession. Not much money was available in the general community at that time for "luxuries", such as skiing holidays. Charles was questioned about finance for the new AAC Falls Creek lodge by the Victorian Executive of the AAC, but he gave an airy assurance of "no worries".