Category:Australian High Country History

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NSW High Country

Cattle at Blue Lake in about 1900, photographed by Charles Kerry and part of the Tyrell Collection held by the Powerhouse Museum
The long term locals strolled up to the high country for millennia. One of the local tribes was the Ngarigo, but other tribes visited for feasting on the bogong moths that estivate in their millions every summer. Bogong moths are very fatty and a wonderful food source. There were many routes up from the plains. The Pallaibo Track, from the old park entrance, where the Perisher Road crosses the Thredbo River, up to Sawpit Creek follows one of these routes. The Alpine Way follows a route from the western plains.


Horse Camp Hut, a typical mountain hut
In the 1820s or 1830s cattle grazing began in the NSW high country. Graziers from surrounding districts brought their cattle up in summer to graze on the snowgrass plains, and took them back to the low country in winter. The cattlemen were responsible for the construction of most of the alpine huts and for naming many of the geographical features of the area. "Bethany's Book", by Tom Kenneally is a fictional representation of life on an early selection in the Monaro. Mr Kenneally writes fiction, but his research is good.
Kiandra 1896 Trophy
Remains of a fenceline in the Upper Snowy River Valley near Charlotte Pass
]The hard hooves of cattle did a lot of damage to sensitive alpine vegetation, and cattle grazing was banned in the Kosciuszko National Park in 1957.
Kiandra 1904 Ladies Trophy
It has taken many decades for the environment to recover.
A chimney, all that remains of an early hut in the Upper Snowy Valley near Charlotte Pass
Gold was discovered at Kiandra in 1860, leading to the shortest gold rush in Australia lasting less than a year. Mining continued in Kiandra for many years. Many features, such as Three Mile Dam and associated aqueducts were built for use in hydraulic mining. There were many other smaller goldfields, such as Thredbo Diggings and Grey Mare.

Skiing as a sport, and previously known as snow shoe riding, began in Australia on the Kiandra goldfields in 1861. The first Ski Club in the world has now been identified as the "Kiandra Snow Shoe Club". The Norwegian “Trysil Skytte og Skiloberforning” Association was also formed in 1861 but did not commence competition until January 1862. ref.Norwegian newspaper May 1861 reprinted at [[1]]

The Kiandra Club, now known as the "Kiandra Pioneer Ski Club" is the longest continuously operated snow ski club in the world, and is located at Perisher Valley, NSW. [[2]]

All Australian skiing activities were held annually in the Kiandra district until about 1909 when the Hotel Kosciouszko and the Kosciusko Chalet at Charlotte Pass were built. The servants quarters of the Hotel are now Sponars Hotel on the Summit Rd to Perisher. Kosciousko Snow Revellers, the Australian Alpine Club and Australian Ski Club, some of the oldest ski clubs in Australia, were formed at about this time.
The Kosciusko Chalet
. Ski clothes were a little different in those days. What the well dressed skier was wearing in 1933 and 1928

The construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme opened up the alpine areas, and brought many European migrants with skiing experience to the area. One of these migrants was Tony Sponar, who identified the location of Thredbo, and, with Charles Anton, was one of its founders.

During the construction and filling of the dams for the Scheme three towns were inundated - Talbingo, Adaminaby and Jindabyne. The towns were relocated. The people of Jindabyne and Talbingo chose to have a new town built, while modern Adaminaby consists of buildings moved from the old site. Old Jindabyne is directly below modern East Jindabyne. When the water in the lakes gets low you can see signs of the old towns. As the dams were filling the Army entertained itself practising loud bangs and bridge demolition on the bridge over the Snowy River in old Jindabyne. Several towns were established during the construction of the Snowy Scheme. Some, such as Guthega and Cabramurra remain. Others, such as Island Bend, were demolished. The Snowy Scheme relied on migrant workers. For many years Cooma was the most cosmopolitan town in Australia, with an exotic mix of nationalities.

Some Australian engineering firms, such as Thiess Constructions, were founded and made their reputations building the Scheme. The SMA remains a the Snowy Engineering Corporation, which acts as a consultant on major civil engineering projects throughout the world.

Over the ensuing years a series of clubs were established along with some high country huts that served as a base for ski trips. These included the Kunama Hutte which was destroyed in an avalanche in 1953 killing Roslyn Wesche inside. Roslyn Lodge, the Australian Alpine Club lodge in Thredbo was named after her. Tony Sponar set up a ski tow at Kunama. After the avalanche he moved it to the Kosciusko Chalet at Charlotte Pass.

Another hut was Albina Hut overlooking Lake Albina built in 1951. The main range also served as a home for a speed skiing course and a range of other races set up there over the years.

Thredbo, Guthega and Perisher were developed in the late 50s and early 60s, although the first club lodges were built in the early 50s. Contemporary newspaper article. In 1964 a chairlift was opened that ran from Thredbo Valley across to Charlottes pass. Sadly the chair only operated for 2 years.

When the resorts were first opened the area that became Kosciuszko National Park was managed by a trust, known as the Park Trust. It was not managed as a national park. One of the objectives of the Park Trust was to maximise tourism, although in the early post-war years there were issues of availabilty of accommodation and restrictions on building according to a contemporary newspaper article. The leases and other occupancy rights that give resorts and lodges a right to exist (apart from Blue Cow) were granted at this time. In 1967 the National Parks and Wildlife Service was established and management of the Park was transferred to it. The NPWS has different objectives, and conservation and protection are the primary drivers. That is not to say that the NPWS is anti-development - Blue Cow was established under the jurisdiction of the NPWS, and other uses of the Park such as mountain biking and horse-riding are permitted. There has also been significant expansion of existing resorts. However any development is subservient to the primary objective of protection and conservation. Large areas of Kosciuszko National Park have been declared wilderness areas. Effectively, the only access to these areas is on foot. This restriction is highly controversial. Some resorts justify their own inaction by blaming the NPWS, without justification. None of the resorts are in wilderness areas.

Perisher Blue was originally four separate resorts - Perisher, Smiggin Holes, Guthega and Blue Cow. Perisher and Smiggins merged in 1972. Blue Cow was developed in the early 80s and opened in 1984. Amazingly, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW) called for tenders in 1981 - Copy of advert. For the first year access was by bus through the Skitube tunnel. In 1985 the train was fully functional. Blue Cow amalgamated with Guthega about 5 years later. The combined Blue Cow and Guthega were in turn taken over by Perisher to form what we now know as Perisher Blue. In 2009 this resort was re-branded, and is now known as Perisher.

An early shot of Perisher, showing mid week crowds in what is probably the early 1960s

Wikiski has a list of every Australian ski tow ever built here.

On July 31 1997 a landslide at Thredbo claimed the lives of 18 people as the Bimbadeen and Carinya Lodges collapsed and slid down the hill in the middle of the night after torrential rain.

Perisher has recently helped the establishment of the Perisher Historical Society to preserve and explore the history of the Perisher Range Resorts. There has been a Thredbo Historical Society for some time.

A collection of photos from the 1930s on. A bit obsessive about roads (something to do with the DMR being a source), but there are some gems in there.

An obsessive/compulsive contributor has collected Random Internet Links About the History of the Snowy Mountains while trying to work out Geographical Name Derivations, with limited success. One up him - work out what Thredbo came from.

Victorian High Country

Prior to European settlement, Aborigines inhabited the high plains in spring and summer for many thousands of years. The first European to visit the Bogong High Plains was John Mitchell who climbed from the Kiewa Valley in 1843. In 1851 the plains were traversed from the Buckety Plain spur by Brown and Wells. Settlement of the lowlands areas surrounding the Bogong High Plains inevitably led to the use of alpine land for stock grazing and grazing licenses were first issued in 1851 to Jack Wells and Jim Brown. Most of the Bogong High Plains was pioneered by these cattlemen. Limited numbers of cattle are still permitted to graze the high country. Much of the Victoria high country was pioneered by gold prospectors and modern towns like Woods Point and Walhalla date from the 1860's. The rediscovery of Moroka Gorge

Before the Second World War, six commercial ski lodges were operational in Victoria: The Buffalo Chalet (1910 - 2006), The first Hotham Heights (1925 - 1939), St Bernard Hospice (1863, renovated 1925 - 1939), Feathertop Bungalow (1925 - 1939), the Buller Chalet (1929 - 1942) and Rundell's Alpine Lodge at Flour Bag Plain (1905 - 1914, 1921 - 1928).

Falls Creek was first called Horseshoe Creek by the early cattlemen. Due to the boggy conditions, horses often lost a shoe in this area. The creek was renamed by the Country Roads Board, while carrying out a road survey for the State Electricity Commission in 1938.

Hotham came into being as a ski resort in 1925 when Bill Spargo, chief ganger of the crew upgrading the road asked if he could open the new house that was the central base for the crew in winter as a guest house. The same year Feathertop Bungalow also opened and St Bernard Hospice was renovated and reopened. Previously the only ski lodge in Victoria was the Buffalo Chalet.

Wikiski has a list of every Australian ski tow ever built here.

Summary of Victorian heritage from Bogong Horseback Adventures

History of University Ski Club

History of Icicles Ski Club, which includes stuff about the early days of Mt Buller.

Complete directory of huts in the Victorian High Country from the Kosciusko Huts Association website.

Tasmanian mountains

Wikiski has a list of every Australian ski tow ever built here.

The article Skiing Tasmania for 78 Years by M.Jones gives a good historical background to skiing in the state.

A directory of Tasmanian mountain huts and their histories

A dateline of events at Mt Mawson

Fire

Fire is an ever present threat in Australia and the alpine areas are not excluded from this. Local fires have occurred at all the resorts as well as fires that have swept right through the Alpine areas.

Large fires have occurred many times:

History of fire in the NSW Mountains

Name Derivations

Main Article: Geographical Name Derivations

There are a lot of colourful names in the Victorian Alps and the Snowy Mountains. For example, how did Mt Dissapointment get its name? Why is Thredbo named as it is. (If anyone knows this, add it, please. And Geehi and Jagungal and Gungartan and Selwyn and heaps more. It is surprising how the derivation of so many names cannot be discovered online) Why is our highest mountain, Mount Kosciuszko name after a Polish Person? Check out this article for geographic name references. Good for trivia nights.

If any Victorians want to add Victorian place names the appendices to this link have a detailed list of names which locals are more likely to recognise.

Contemporary Newspaper Reports

The National Library of Australia has a website called Trove that includes searchable archives of newspapers from 1803 to 1953 and also photographs and images. Try searching on "Kosciusko" or the names of individual resorts for some fascinating insights into the past. For example, this is an article about the search for Laurie Seaman after whom Seaman's Hut is named and a contemporary reconstruction of the tragedy.

Old Ski Maps

Old ski maps from resorts dating back to the 50's and 60's and more recent ones as well.

Old Photos

Collections of historic photos of the high country. Gallery 1 Gallery 2 Gallery 3

Here is a video of skiing at Perisher in 1968 Youtube

Snow Depth Records

Snow depth records have been kept for the Australian Alps since 1954 by Snowy Hydro and earlier in some other places.

Geological History

This article gives a comprehensive but simple geological history of the mountains.

Snow Websites

Snowsports hit the web fairly early and in 1995 2 sites launched within weeks of each other. Cyberski and ski.com.au in June and July of that year. Thredbo was the first resort to get a website up and running the following year.

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