Mt Feathertop is the second highest mountain in Victoria and one of the most picturesque peaks in the state. It is linked to the nearby Mt Hotham ski resort by The Razorback, a high narrow ridge, but otherwise surrounded by steep slopes which continue right to the summit. Unlike most nearby mountains, Mt Feathertop has steep slopes right to the top and does not have the rounded summit dome that is typical of many nearby peaks. ©--David Sisson 13:52, 28 August 2006 (EST)
This was the first history of the Feathertop Bungalow and skiing on Mt Feathertop, but another history can be found in: Wendy Cross. Australian skiing: the first 100 years. Walla Walla Press, 2012. pp. 236 - 240. The story is the same, but we tell it in slightly different ways.
I have also written brief descriptions of the eight walking routes on Mt Feathertop on my Hiking notes page on WikiSki.
Mt. Feathertop 1851 - 1912.
The mountain was first climbed in 1854 by Dr (later Baron) Ferdinand von Mueller who was unaware that the name Feathertop was already in use. He suggested that it be named Mt La Trobe after Victoria's governor at the time. The first winter ascent was made by members of the Bright Alpine Club in September 1889. They wore snow shoes, not crampons or skis.
Gold mining occurred on the slopes of Feathertop from the 1870's to the mid 20th century. The Champion Reefs on the spur of the same name were mined from 1868 to 1874 producing 1,927 ounces before the gold ran out. Attempts to revive the mine were made from 1920 - 1925 and in 1945, but no more gold was produced. The Razorback Mine operated intermittently on the Razorback from 1895 - 1903. It was about 1½ km south of where Champion Spur joins the Razorback; remnants were visible after the 2003 fires. Another mine on the Razorback was The Government Grant and Birthday Gold Mining Co. which in 1895 built a large water powered crushing battery with a 1 km inclined tramway connecting it to the mine. But the ore did not live up to forecasts and it only produced 55 ounces before being abandoned in 1897. Tribute parties mined a little more before the mine and battery were burned by wildfires in 1906.
More information on mining can be found in: Brian Lloyd. Gold at Harrietville. Shoestring Press, 1982. Beneath the Razorback, a DVD on the history of mining on the Razorback with visits to locations to the sites of mines, batteries and relics is available from Heritage Rat Productions.
In 1906, at the instigation of Jim Tobias and the Harrietville Progress Society, a rough track to the mountain from Harrietville was cut running close to the present track up Bungalow Spur. A 'shelter shed' was also built near a spring on a flat area below the treeline, but in 1912 it was replaced by Feathertop Hut. The hut was mainly used as a base for summer excursions, but was occasionally used for climbing and snow walks.
Early skiing on Feathertop.
The first skiing on the Razorback was in 1900 when brothers Harry and Peter Petersen skied from their mine on Mt Tabletop to Harrietville via Bon Accord Spur. The first full crossing of the Razorback on skis was by pioneer skier R. W. Wilkinson accompanied by the Norwegian consul, Hans Fey in 1912. They apparently traversed the Razorback from the Great Alpine Road right to the top of Feathertop in just 3 hours, an impressive time even with today's equipment.
Late in 1919 the nearby Buffalo Chalet was leased by the Norwegian born Hilda Samsing. She put considerable effort into promoting Mt. Buffalo as a winter destination and imported skis to hire to guests. This was probably the greatest stimulus that led to the explosion of interest in skiing in the 1920's.
In August 1923, a "Snow Carnival and Ski-ing Championship" was held on Mt Feathertop. 100 horses and 150 pedestrians climbed up from Harrietville.
Organised by the Harrietville and Bright Progress Associations. Ideal day, fine and clear. Over 100 horses and many pedestrians left Harrietville between 7.00 and 8.00 am for the scene of the sports, where every preparation had been made for the comfort of the visitors. The only building on the mount was a shelter shed erected by the Progress Association and consequently visitors had to be content with a picnic in the snow. After partaking of refreshments, a start was made for the skiing ground, where a course of 800 yards had been marked off and flagged. Among the events was a dish race, in which ten starters each sat in a large dish, and one can imagine as they gathered speed, the heat which would be generated by these dishes in their spinning career down the slope. Spills were numerous and seats of trousers suffered...
Feathertop Hut was the only structure on the mountain, but the success of the carnival planted an idea in the minds of some keen skiers and a nearby hotel manager who was about to lose her lease.
Early days of the Feathertop Bungalow.
In 1925 the Feathertop Bungalow was built by a syndicate led by Gordon Langridge (founding president of both the Ski Club of Victoria and the Chamois Ski Club) and Hilda Samsing. Norwegian born Samsing was a decorated nurse in World War 1 and held the lease of the Buffalo Chalet from 1919 - 1924. She lost the lease to the Victorian Railways, who took over as the new landlords of the Buffalo Chalet. The syndicate built a well graded pack-horse track up Bungalow Spur from Harrietville to allow building materials to be delivered. By the late 1930's the track was being used by tractors.
The Bungalow was prefabricated in Malvern Road, Prahran by Davies & Co. and then transported to Harrietville. Six sleds, each pulled by six horses, moved the sections from Harrietville to the building site where it took three weeks for 17 carpenters, two plumbers and six labourers to erect it. The outside walls were utilitarian corrugated iron with the inside lined with tongue in groove wood. There were eight bedrooms with four beds in each, a large dining and lounge room, two bathrooms and a kitchen. The building featured electric lighting and hot water. However the Bungalow didn't have a septic tank and two outdoor toilets were on the edge of a cliff above an understandably fertile valley.
After fit out and delivery of 50 pairs of Norwegian skis, the Feathertop Bungalow opened for business on 13th July 1925 with a display of fireworks in the evening. The total cost was £3,000. It is impossible to provide a relative price in today’s money, but the original Buffalo Chalet (before extensions) had cost £7,000 when it was built 15 years earlier.
The Feathertop Bungalow was intended to be a minor forerunner of a huge project incorporating a 300 bed chalet and international standard ski jump, the total cost was to be £80,000, an enormous sum for the time. The syndicate was planning a project much bigger and better than the Buffalo Chalet with a road, walking tracks and extensive ski runs. If this project had been built, it is probable that Feathertop would have developed into Australia’s premier ski mountain.
However the owners of the Bungalow had gambled on speeding up construction by building on a miners right, rather than waiting for approval for a long term lease or waiting even longer to buy the land. Langridge later wrote that he believed certain bureaucrats deliberately obstructed the owners of the Bungalow in their attempts to obtain a 50 year lease of the land. The railways, who were the new operators the Buffalo Chalet, also did their best to thwart this new competitor. By 1927 it became obvious that no lease would be granted and the owners salvaged what they could by selling the profitable Bungalow to the railways for a bargain £250, only 8% of what it had cost to build. (One source says it was £450.)
There are interesting parallels between the Feathertop Bungalow and the Buller Chalet, as they were very similar projects. The Buller Chalet was built in 1929 by a syndicate of skiers and Mansfield people. It only slept 14 when first built, but had grown to accommodate five times that number within a decade. At a time when few people owned cars, both were a similar distance from a rail head and both were accessed by road and then a relatively gently graded bridle track. Both had similar facilities. Of course after the experience of the Bungalow's land tenure, the builders of the Buller Chalet made sure they had a secure lease on their land. Despite the economic hardship of the Great Depression, the Buller Chalet was a huge success and was extended to 32 beds in 1932 and between 67 and 80 beds in 1939 (sources differ on it's final capacity). It escaped the 1939 fires, but was burnt down in 1942 when an unattended fire spilled out of a fireplace. It's interesting to speculate if Mt Feathertop would have developed in the same way as Mt Buller, if the visionaries who built the Bungalow had managed to get a secure lease or to buy the land.
The last decade of the Bungalow.
Before the railways realized the potential of the Bungalow and appointed a manger, conditions were more basic than they had been earlier. From 1930 to 1934 Mrs Ada Banks was employed to ride up to the Bungalow, deliver perishables such as meat, clean it prior to guests arrival and to cook for them during their stay. In later years the Bungalow was staffed in winter and peak summer periods. Groups such as the Wangaratta Ski Club often hired the entire Bungalow for a week and contrary to some modern conjecture, it was usually full in winter and got plenty of business in summer. Managers of the Bungalow when it was owned by the railways were: Ada Banks 1930 - 1934, Jim and Pearl Bradshaw 1935 - 1936, Mr & Mrs H. Richards 1937 - 1938, Mr & Mrs Marshall 1938 - 1939.
Guests could hire a riding horse and a packhorse to carry their luggage. The horses often stopped just above the snowline, but if the snow wasn't too deep, horses frequently went right up to the Bungalow. The Wraith family owned the general store at Harrietville and provided most of the horses. Accommodation and meals cost 12/6 for a weekend, ski hire 5/- and pack-horse hire was 5/-. In 1934, a £6 package deal bought: rail and road transport from Melbourne, an overnight stay in Harrietville, a riding horse to the Bungalow and five days board.
There was some clearing of ski runs, but the treeline was a little lower in those days. No ski lifts were ever built. Due to easier access, many pre war skiers considered Feathertop more suited to intermediate skiers with Hotham better suited to experts due to the perilous crossing from Mt St Bernard along the uncleared road.
However, Mt Feathertop did host a number of ski races, although it never hosted the national championships. In the pre war years there were over 20 active ski clubs in Victoria and most held races on the mountain. From 1925 until the mid 1950’s, it was impossible to actually hold state championships as the largest club, the Ski Club of Victoria, refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of other ski clubs, despite the membership of other clubs being many times that of the S.C.V.
Some photos show an apparently smaller Bungalow without the northern section, so it appears that an extension may have been added or a wing demolished after 1925, but I have not found any written evidence of this except for varying estimates of bed numbers.
The Black Friday Fires of 13 January 1939 were the biggest the state has ever seen and consumed Razorback Hut, the first Bon Accord Hut, and the Bungalow. The old Feathertop Hut was spared.
The outbreak of World War Two prevented any rebuilding, but in 1946 the Wangaratta Ski Club took out an option on the site of the Bungalow with a view to building a complementary lodge to their new (1946) lodge near Mt St Bernard. They let this option lapse some time in the late 1950's.
Feathertop huts in 1936.
From: C. J. M. Cole. Victorian chalets and shelters, in: Australian and New Zealand ski yearbook 1936. Page 22.
The Bungalow, Mt Feathertop. Controlled by the Victorian Railways Commissioners. Location on Mt Feathertop about 1½ miles from Summit. Distance from Harrietville by pack track, 5½ miles, from Hotham Heights by Razorback Ridge, 9 miles. Altitude 5,000 feet. A well-built and comfortable iron chalet which accommodates 24 people. Hot water and telephone installed. Reservations. Government Tourist Bureau. Ease of approach in all weathers renders the Feathertop Chalet a popular resort during the months of June to September, when a regular staff is on duty. Special arrangements may be made at other periods. Fine practice and racing grounds are available. Serious tours along the Razorback to Hotham and to Bogong High Plains by Blair’s Hut are recommended only to skiers with experience.
Feathertop Hut. Owners, Harrietville Progress Association. Location Mt. Feathertop. 1½ miles from Summit, 70 yards north of Bungalow. Altitude 5,000 feet. Size 19 x 11 feet. Construction, galvanised iron, lined with pine, wooden floor and one window. Equipment includes bunks for 6 people, table, shelves, axe and billies. Water is conveniently available.
Razorback Hut. Controlled by the Tourist Committee. Location : On Razorback Ridge. Distance from Feathertop Bungalow 4 miles, Diamantina Hut 3½ miles. Altitude 5,350 feet. Size, 14 x 10 feet. Construction, a galvanized iron hut with window but no floor. Equipment is limited to a table. Water is not readily accessible. Locate spring down gully on west side of ridge.
The inconsistent punctuation and spelling (galvanised - galvanized, etc.) is original.
Post war huts.
In 1966 the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club built the large M.U.M.C. Hut at the top of North-west Spur, carrying materials in from the roadhead on the North Razorback. Two club members had died mountaineering in New Zealand and it was intended that the hut be used as a base for mountaineering instruction. M.U.M.C. Hut
By the mid 1960's, it was obvious that the old Feathertop Hut was approaching the end of its life and in 1968-1969 the Federation of Victorian Walking Clubs built the new Federation Hut on the treeline at the top of Bungalow Spur. Federation Hut was renovated and reclad in timber by Ian Stapleton in 1988, but was burnt in the 2003 fires. It was replaced with a new hut built by Parks Victoria in December 2004. Federation Hut
Essentially since the war, Mt Feathertop has been much the same as now, for serious backcountry types only. While Feathertop was a moderately popular destination for skiers before the Second World War, it was never a major rival to Hotham.
The opening of Feathertop Bungalow (newspaper article).
MOUNT FEATHERTOP. WEEK-END IN SNOW. BUNGALOW OFFICIALLY OPENED. £80,000 Chalet Planned. (BY OUR SPECIAL REPORTER)
BRIGHT, Sunday. -With the official opening of Mount Feathertop Chalet Limited's bungalow yesterday another alpine playground has been added to Australia's holiday resorts. The bungalow is only temporary - and has built by the company to show that "it means business." The immediate erection of a mountain chalet to cost £80,000 is planned and with the construction of a short motor road this delightful resort promises to enjoy wide popularity. At the head of the company is Miss H. W. Samsing, for many years the manageress of Mount Buffalo chalet, who is now abroad studying the mountain resorts of Europe. Although the bungalow is only temporary - it accommodates 20 - many persons have already booked accommodation.
With the party of 25-that came from the city were Dr. and Mrs. Barry Thomson, Mr. and Mrs. C. J. Mitchell of Lilydale, and Miss. Jessie Gerrard, Mr. Arthur E. Callaway (secretary of the Country Roads Board), Mr. E. Williams (of the Tourist Bureau). Mr. H. R. Gollan (representing the Railways Commissioners), Mr. J. E. Toole, a member of the Millions Club (Sydney) and the Kosciusko Alpine Club; Mr. F. W. Ratten (secretary of the company) and Mrs. Ratten, and members of the Melbourne Ski Club.
The new venture could not have been launched under happier auspices. Motoring along tho road to Harrietville yesterday morning the party inspected the flourishing plantations of the Forestry Commission and saw also the beginning of the Bright school's plantation at Harrietville. The cars were left behind, and the party mounted horses that were lent by district farmers, whose interest in the enterprise is most keen. The ascent of the mountain was begun in bright sunshine that made richer the colours of the deep fern gullies along which the track winds. The air became cooler and damper until the clouds were left below and the first signs of snow were met. There were just a few scattered patches at first- "like a lady's glove lying forgotten" quoted one of the party- but they soon became more frequent, and as the party entered the snowbelt, away below the pretty village of Harrietville could still be seen until a mild snowstorm drew a screen around the mountain At first the snowstorm was so light that it was hardly noticeable, but before the bungalow was reached snow was falling heavily. Ski runners came down the track to meet the party at the bungalow and to complete the picture. The ride from Harrietville was five miles, but many were sorry it was over.
Opening of the Bungalow. The bungalow is perched on the top of a deep valley 5,000 ft. above sea level. It has beds for 20, a large dining-room, two bathrooms with hot water, and electric light. There is also a wireless receiving set that picks up 3LO easily. Six weeks ago the land on which the bungalow now stands was not even cleared, and everything used had to be dragged up the mountain in a sledge.
After lunch Councillor F. Bhir and Councillor F. Gow officially declared the bungalow open.
Mr. Frank Barker, who has been interested in the Australian Alps for many years, welcomed the coming of the Feathertop bungalow. "Australians do not know their own country," he said, "and this will help them to learn a little more about it." By the extension of a road across the Razorback, Mount Hotham, and Mount St. Bernard would be easily accessible, and a round trip made possible."
Mr. Gollan said that the chairman of the Railways Commissioners (Mr. Clapp) had asked him to wish the company every success. The feeling in some quarters that the commissioners were unsympathetic had arisen through misunderstanding. The chief task of the railways was transport, and the commissioners welcomed the bungalow and hoped that the chalet would be built quickly. They would be happy to see a chain of chalets across the Alps, and would assist in every way to that end. Mr H. B. L. Smith of the Bright Progress Association, also wished the company success.
Sports in the Snow Although the weather has been fine and clear for a fortnight, snow fell all day yesterday and for ski running the "going" was too soft. This disappointed the runners, who had come to give exhibitions, but delighted the novices, who were persuaded to attempt the course about 100 yards from the bungalow. Everyone can enjoy ski-running if there is a soft place to fall in. By the time the ski-running and falling was over a blizzard had begun, and during dinner the wind tore down the wireless aerial. While most of the party was dancing a few more courageous faced the gale and fired the rockets and flares for which the other mountain resorts were waiting. The rockets rose high above the gale and were plainly seen from Harrietville. All night the storm ranged, but it was not until this morning, when the uprooted trees could be seen that its intensity was realised. Snow fell lightly while an attempt was made to reach the summit of Mount Feathertop this morning. Walking through snow that has transformed the most ordinary country into a fairyland has a strange fascination, especially to the wise ones who, linger behind until a firm track is trodden down. In clear weather the view from Feathertop is said to be almost unequalled, but this morning the snow and mists were so thick that surrounding peaks were seen only as dimly outlined shadows. The top of the mountain is bare of vegetation, and was covered with ice, so the summit could not be reached. Near the top the snow was so deep that walking became almost impossible and some crawled and others rolled over parts. The ski-runners, however, were completely happy and gave some thrilling exhibitions. Those who had attempted to ski the day before were given the encouraging knowledge that even experts fall sometime.
Return to Harrietville Immediately after lunch the party returned to Harrietville. Some rode and others walked, and there were many arguments about the better method of travelling. The storm last night had blown trees across the track, and when a horseman was forced to make a wide detour through the snow the walkers laughed. When a horseman passed a group trudging kneedeep through snow it was his turn to be superior; but must be confessed that those who walked, reached Harrietville first. A party of axemen soon cleared the track of fallen trees. At Harrietville motor-cars were waiting to take the tired party back to Bright. Everyone was tired, and that was not surprising when a horse ride of 10 miles, mountaineering, and snowsports were crowded into one week-end.
The people of the district are enthusiastic about the opening up of Feathertop, and many came to the official luncheon, at which about 50 guests were entertained. Mr. Gordon Langridge, provisional director of the company, who supervised the building of the bungalow, said that without their help it would not have been possible. Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs Barry Thomson are also provisional directors.
The Argus. Monday 13 July 1925. Page 17.
1929 arrangements for the Bungalow
FEATHERTOP BUNGALOW. WINTER ARRANGEMENTS. Railways Commissioners' Plans.
The Railway Commissioners announced yesterday that arrangements had been completed for the reception of guests at the Mount Feathertop bungalow, which was recently purchased by the department as an adjunct to the chalet at Mount Buffalo. Booking for Mount Feathertop through the Tourist Bureau is now open. The Bungalow is located just below the crest of the Razorback Range, and about one and a half miles from the summit of Mount Feathertop. The winter season is very much longer than at than at Mount Buffalo, and snow suitable for winter sports continues well into October and often into November.
In accordance with the department's policy of conducting the bungalow in co-operation with the chalet at Mount Buffalo, the manager of the chalet is arranging for parties of guests to visit the bungalow either for day trips or longer periods. A charge of 30/ will be made for a day trip, which will cover motor and horse transport and meals. For visitors direct to the bungalow from Melbourne, a combination return ticket covering all travel to Bright and meals en route, motor-car transport thence to Harrietville, horses for the remainder of the journey up the recently improved and well graded six mile track and accommodation at the bungalow, are being issued for £7/15/. This will cover a period of five days. Visitors will leave Melbourne on Mondays and Thursdays and return on Saturdays and Tuesdays respectively. A clear three days of snow conditions will thus be ensured. The daily tariff for visitors who do not use the combination ticket will be 15/ in the winter season, the personal luggage of each visitor must be limited to 14 lb to conform to the carrying capacity of the pack-horses from Harrietville to the bungalow. At present the snow is 2ft deep around the bungalow, and the depth is increasing daily.
The Argus. Friday 15 June 1928. Page 17.
South of the summit pyramid at the start of the Razorback there is a hill with a small cairn and a plaque in memory of Molly Hill, a 30 year old nurse who was the first skier to die in Victoria. Mary (Molly) Ann Hill was with a group from the Ski Club of Victoria that was stuck at the Feathertop Bungalow during six days of poor weather. On Friday 2 September 1932 a group of six set out for Hotham Heights. One source says that before her fatal accident, Hill slipped and injured her wrist, but after her arm was put in a sling, opted to continue with the crossing. After they climbed to the Razorback, Molly slipped on a steep patch of ice and slid over 60 metres down a steep slope before hitting a tree. A rescue party was quickly organised and she was stretchered to Harrietville from where she was driven to hospital in Bright. Molly Hill died of head injuries later that night and was buried in the Cheltenham cemetery.
WOMAN SKIER. FEATHERTOP FATALITY. 200 FEET DOWN STEEP SLOPE. STRUCK TREE AT BOTTOM.
BRIGHT Friday. - As a result of an accident while a ski-ing party, comprising three men and three women, was crossing the Razorback from Mount Feathertop to Mount Hotham to-day Miss M. A. Hill, of Tooronga Road Caulfield died in a private hospital in Bright at 10 o'clock tonight.
Miss Hill was a member of a party which set out this morning from the bungalow at Mount Feathertop having been weather-bound there since Saturday. The party was in charge of the Secretary of the Ski Club of Victoria (Mr J. Docherty) and it was intended to cross the Razorback to Mount Hotham. The weather was fine this morning, but the surface of the snow had become frozen and it was soon found that ski-ing conditions were very difficult. Miss Hill sideslipped, and before she could recover her balance she went 200 feet down a very steep slope at a terrific speed, striking a snow gum tree at the bottom.
When the other nembers of the party reached her, after a very great difficulty, it was found that she had been severely injured. She was made as comfortable as possible in a sleeping bag, while Mr Docherty hurried back to the bungalow for medical aid. A message was sent to Harrietville where residents formed a stretcher party in charge of Constable Dudley. Miss Hill was carried in this way down the mountain, a distance of five and a half miles, and was in a crtical condition when she was admitted to the hospital.
The Argus. Saturday 3 September 1932. Page 21.
HAZARDS AND HEROISM IN VICTORIAN SNOW. SKI-ING ACCIDENT. MELBOURNE, Sep. 3.
Details received to-day tell a story of hazards and heroism of a descent of 5000 feet of a rough and broken mountain side by nine men who yesterday carried Miss Mary Hill seven miles to Harrietville, after her fall of 200 feet into a ravine when ski-ing on the Razorback.
PERILOUS RESCUE. To reach her, they had a dangerous climb into a deep chasm which was filled with snow that had become frozen and was as slippery as glass. Miss Hill lay unconscious in the snow near a gum tree against which she had crashed in her fall. Her skull was badly fractured and her condition is serious.
SIDE-SLIPPED. She was carried back to the summit of the Razorback by the secretary of the Ski Club of Victoria, Mr. J. Docherty, and Mr. Gregory, members of the same party. They were crossing the Razorback from Mount Feathertop to Mount Hotham when Miss Hill side-slipped on her skis and disappeared into the ravine. She was placed in a sleeping bag. Docherty skied back to the bungalow at Feathertop for help.
Cairns Post. Monday 5 September 1932. Page 5.
SKIING ACCIDENT Woman's Death. Falls Down Steep Slope MELBOURNE, September 2.
While ski-ing with a party at Mt Feathertop to-day, Miss M. A. Hill, of Caulfield slipped 200ft. down a very steep slope and collided with a gumtree, receiving sevete injuries from which she died to-night. The other members of the party had great difficulty in reaching her. The injured woman was carried on a stretcher down the mountain a distance of five and a half miles.
Hobart Mercury. Saturday 3 September 1932. Page 11.