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The Melbourne Bushies

- Fifty years along the track (1940-90)

Chapter 3 - The Sixties

Doug Pocock

In April 1960 the Club celebrated its 20th anniversary with a walk from Belgrave South to Mt Morton and on to Sherbrooke Forest. A large birthday cake was cut with due formality and Egon Donath spoke about the Club in its early days, mentioning how pleasing it was to see the Club thriving and active and how its members could look forward to its 50th anniversary.

Bill Thompson, the President, led the Club Easter trip in 1960 across the 'dry' Barry Mountains, an area with a reputation for scarcity of drinking water. The party of 30 walkers was possibly one of the biggest ever to do this walk. Maps of the area were rudimentary - in fact, Fred Halls planned to use this opportunity to correct the errors on the map current at that time. When camp was reached on Easter Saturday, the wind was howling through the trees. Next day the cloud was down and it rained and blew all day, which caused the party to split into three smaller groups. By the time darkness fell one group was caught out on a side spur, while the other two had joined up and camped at a Forests Commission camp. By Easter Monday all parties were trailing out of the bush at the Alpine Road - Dargo Road junction. Sam Larsen, whose legs had stiffened up on him, walked out slowly. 'They wouldn't let me stop for lunch in case my legs seized up,' he said. 'So they gave me this packet of bird seed [sunflower seeds] to eat and told me to keep going.'

On the Bogong High Plains SEC construction activity for the Kiewa Scheme slowed down in the 1960s. The area was now much more accessible and could be reached by the Mt Beauty - Falls Creek Road and by a ring road from Falls Creek to Rocky Valley, beneath Mt Cope, to Pretty Valley and back to Falls Creek. Langfords camp was eventually demolished in 1962, and some of the material was acquired for Wilkinson Lodge. The road to Shannonvale was completed in 1965 and the ring road was subsequently closed. Other roads constructed in the early sixties included the Snowy Plains Road, which made Tali Karng and Mt Howitt more accessible for weekend walking, and the Suggan Buggan - Jindabyne Road.

On its 21st birthday in 1961 the Club received the traditional key of the door in this case of Wilkinson Lodge. The Lodge, made accessible by SEC roads, was to provide a base for new activities such as High Plains walking and ski trips.

A track-clearing weekend in Ada Valley in the Powelltown area in June 1961 proved to be an exercise in ingenuity when it was discovered by the group cooks that the food for the communal evening meal was missing. Packs were raided in the clearers' absence for whatever food could be found - mainly rice and packet soups. A 'goulash' of sorts was made by the cooks and, just as it was served, two latecomers arrived bearing sausages, potatoes, peas and onions. Hence a large lunch was served the next day.

An eventful snow walk with added elements of snow-camping and mountaineering was led by John Brownlie in July 1961. Nine Melbourne Bushwalkers climbed the spectacular snow-covered ridge between Mt Timbertop and Mt Buller. This required cutting steps with an ice-axe - a new experience for all except the leader and Merv Scott who had climbed in the New Zealand Alps. A blizzard blew up that night and no one slept much, some tents collapsing. Next morning, with the blizzard still raging, the party descended into the Howqua Valley and crossed the flooded river. They tramped along the flat and climbed back to the ridge top to the hired van, arriving long after dark. The trip back to Melbourne, arriving at 3.00 a.m., was characterised by the singing of 'Three Blind Mice' as a round with the driver, to keep him awake.

Track-clearing weekend, Mt Whitelaw, 1963.
Track-clearing weekend, Mt Whitelaw, 1963. In the foreground are Robert Taylor (Fred Halls's nephew) and Max Corry.
Darrell Sullivan collection

Christmas walks in the early sixties always included extended Victorian walks. A 10-day trip, Mt Selma - Mt McDonald - Mt Howitt - Mt Stirling, and a 5-day trip to Tali Karng were run in 1961. In 1963 there was a 10-day trip in the Bogong area, a 9-day trip, Crinoline - Moroka Gorge and a 5-day trip, Howitt Plains - Howqua River. Later, in 1968, there was a 10- to 12-day walk from Licola to Mt Buller and a 12- to 14-day walk, Mt Cobbler - Crosscut Saw - Castle Hill. This was about the last year for trips in Victoria longer than 4-5 days. Any extended trips from then on tended to be in New South Wales or Tasmania. Athol Schafer and Fred Halls were regular leaders of Christmas trips.

Numbers of those attending walks have always fluctuated. In October 1961 van trips were so successful that the Committee decided to reduce the price by 2s (20c). The average Sunday trip cost had been 14-16s ($1.40-$1.60). About the most expensive trip in the early sixties was the Grampians at £3 4s 0d ($6.40). The Secretary's report for 1961, the 'coming-of-age' year, was of 150 financial members: 'a large proportion of these . . . around the 21-year-old mark themselves . . . another pleasing aspect is that the younger members are very willing to play their part in the Club organisation and many are already amongst our most trusted leaders'. The Secretary also reported that the Club had opposed the building of a private hotel on Wilsons Promontory.

The Prom was always a popular walking area. Val Elder (nee Goldsmith) recalls the regulations displayed at the entrance point, Darby River, which required visitors to be decently covered from neck to knee. In 1961 the track to Sealers Cove was cleared and the track from Sealers Cove to Refuge Cove was marked and partly cleared. There were no regulations about the length of stay, use of camp fires, or even the position of various camp sites. Regular spots included the south end of Waterloo Bay and Windy Saddle. Trips were organised to all parts of the Prom, not just over the tracks that exist today.

Talbotville, a deserted gold-mining town in the Wonnangatta area, was a popular destination for Club walkers. Its former residents had left behind furnished houses and personal belongings. Unfortunately Talbotville was destroyed by fire in August 1961, like Wonnangatta Station before it. Walkers in the Mt Cobbler region often visited 'Rivermount' on the Rose River, home of Mr and Mrs Bennie, well known in bushwalking circles of the time for their hospitality. Walk 1963 carried an obituary on Mrs Bennie, who died in 1962: 'She never failed to make everyone welcome, with anything from cake and ginger beer to full accommodation, even at a moment's notice.'

In Easter 1962 thirty or so Melbourne Bushies headed off to the Grampians in Gronow's van. Most were planning a fixed camp at Halls Gap, but a dozen or more, led by Fred Halls, went on an exploratory trip to Major Mitchell Plateau. Maps were very basic - the main one was based on a geological survey and showed the dips and strikes of the strata, but not a lot more. As 1962 was a very dry year, water was carried (water was thought to be at Wannon Creek, but was not found) and a dry camp was made in the headwaters of Fyans Creek. In Fred's book, Bushwalking in the Victorian Ranges, the camp spot is described as 'an open forest of tall Peppermints with a thick carpet of knee-high grass'. A visit in Easter 1991 showed it to he bare earth between thick scrub with rubbish strewn around. Those on another Easter trip in that dry year of 1962, led by Val Goldsmith in the Mt Clear - Mt McDonald area, also had problems finding water. Val reported a new forestry track the whole length of Bull Plain Spur.

In 1963 1:50,000 maps were introduced. Only a few were produced but it was certainly a step forward from the old 1:63,360 maps, many of which were pre-war.

Athol Schafer
Left: Athol Schafer in the Monda Track area, Healesville district, October 1962.
Right: Rex Filson with Lindsay Crawford in the background, circa 1965.
Darrell Sullivan collection; Bob Steel collection

On the June long weekend of 1963 the Club ran its first trip to Barmah Forest. It was particularly memorable in that the van became hopelessly bogged. Luckily the party was rescued by a local farmer who freed the van with his tractor. It was discovered that he was, coincidentally, the father of a member, Max Corry (not on the walk).

Late in 1963 rumour had it that there were plans for a chairlift up Mt Bogong. Luckily nothing came of this. Likewise nothing came of the road that was started up Mt Feathertop. The Howqua River was reported to he more accessible when the road to Fry's was improved. This was unfortunately true, and the area is now a favourite spot for 4WD vehicles, which were practically unknown in 1963. Mt William in the Grampians also lost its isolation: a road was constructed so that a radio tower could be built on its summit.

Easter 1963 was memorable for the trip from Hotham to Feathertop. Transport was by van. There were three walks of different grades. Joan Skurrie led one of the walks, Bon Accord Spur - Mt Hotham - Mt Feathertop - Freeburgh, with the group climbing Feathertop in the dark to watch the dawn from the summit. Breakfast was eaten at the springs on the northwest spur. The Bon Accord track, previously completely overgrown with blackberries, had been cleared that year.>

Murray River scene, Clump Point, Barmah Forest, Queens Birthday weekend, 1964.
Murray River scene, Clump Point, Barmah Forest, Queens Birthday weekend,
1964. In the foreground are Gwynnyth and Sue Taylor (now Sue Forrester).
Darrell Sullivan collection

The rural newspaper Koondrook and Barham Bridge carried an article on 20 June 1964 entitled 'They Went Bush', which ran: '... The party of mixed sexes was under the supervision of Mr Arthur Whyte and comprised particularly good types of young people . . . These trips are organised on most holiday weekends and are very popular with members of the club. They are properly organised and controlled.'

The Lilydale to Warburton railway line closed in 1965. This, along with closer settlement in the Yarra Valley, reduced the amount of walking done in the area. One of the features of train travel was the Hiker's Return Ticket, which enabled walkers to catch a return train from a different station to their starting point. This idea was not revived until Metrail established its Travelcard system in the late eighties.

There was a large influx of people in 1965 who remained active members for a long time, many to the present day. Among these were Michael Griffin (actually December 1964), Tyrone Thomas, Ed. Lawton, Andy Price, Ann Silva (later Sullivan), Rod Mattingley, Tim Dent, Spencer George, Dave Hespe (rejoined), Alma Strappazon and Art Terry.

One of these tells how, before joining, he obtained a copy of the walks programme to see where the walk was to be held on a particular day. It was to Mt Piper, so he made his way there independently and sat quietly on the top to watch the group pass. From what he saw he decided that they looked decent people, and the Club the type he would like to join. Another member tells how he joined in 1961 after going on a Moomba Day Walk (later called Federation Day Walk). Travelling home in the train, he was impressed by the group of walkers singing all the old folk songs. This was actually the Catholic Walking Club - wrong religion for this observer, and the VMTC (Victorian Mountain Tramping Club) met on Wednesdays, when he had night school, so he joined MBW.

The January 1965 issue of the News predicted 'a pluvial year' and this was well borne out by Rex Filson's Easter trip to Flinders Island. Unfortunately Rex's extensive organisation, including chartering a plane, was somewhat spoiled by almost continuous rain. The group camped in a dry watercourse, which subsequently flooded. Rex, a well-known drought breaker, declared the main town, Whitemark, renamed 'Watermark'. In the same year Fred Halls led a well-attended Easter trip to the Grampians, but did not have quite so much rain.

For some time there had been unrest among several members, especially weekend walkers, who were finding the Committee somewhat conservative in its attitude. For example, some of its members felt that it was unsafe to have activities in the mountains in the winter. A couple of meetings were held in private homes; one in particular became some-thing of a slanging match. Robin Mitchell proposed a new club - the 'Boonara Bushwalkers' - and drew up a simple constitution. This new club did not eventuate, however, as the faction was appeased at the somewhat explosive 1965 half-yearly meeting by several amendments to the constitution. These were designed to 'increase the power and standing of the Walks Secretary and to streamline the Committee and bring it closer to the membership'. With the passing of the first amendment, the President immediately resigned. The Vice-President, Anne Weiling, took the Chair and her first five minutes as Chairperson included the resignation of the Secretary, a suggestion that the meeting was unconstitutional, a request that non-members be asked to leave, and the moving of motions on the agenda.

John Siseman, John Bach and Fred Halls in the Monda Track area, Healesville district, October 1962.
John Siseman, John Bach and Fred Halls in the Monda Track area, Healesville district, October 1962.
Darrell Sullivan collection

The Walks Secretary, John Siseman, had resigned earlier (due to his marriage to Marion Houston and their planned honeymoon in New Zealand), and another Committee member resigned over the amendments, so another Extraordinary General Meeting was called to elect President, Secretary and Walks Secretary. Eventually the elections produced: John Brownlie, President, Anne Weiling, Secretary, Fred Halls, Walks Secretary, and Roy Beames, a Committee member. The new President had one week to prepare for the President's Weekend. One of the outcomes of the upheaval was a review of the constitution by Graham Errey, Rex Filson and Athol Schafer.

In 1966 the hoary old problem of late bookings on van trips and members turning up without any booking, together with the recurring problem of members not showing up for a walk after paying a deposit, led the Committee to increase the deposit on van trips. Later in the year, van expenses forced a further increase of 10 per cent on van fares.

Rex Filson organised a Queen's Birthday weekend trip in 1966 to Wyperfeld National Park, which was notable for the fact that walkers would have to carry water for three days - a state of affairs familiar to Adelaide bushies, but probably a first for MBW. This trip attracted 43 members, so the party was broken into two. The whole group experienced Rex's drought-breaking powers in the dry desert. Twenty-three members searched in vain for the fabled Maroong Rise - a 'high' point of the almost flat area.

In mid-1966 the previous old-time dance next door to the Club room (Room 110 of the Victorian Railways Institute building) became a rock dance, precipitating a crisis. Our meetings were disrupted, and on one embarrassing night the guest speaker could not he heard. There was also concern that the VRI building might be demolished. A questionnaire was circulated to members in order to gauge their feeling for a change from Friday to Wednesday meeting nights. This was initiated by week-end walkers, who often missed the Friday Club meetings. A poor response led to a stinging editorial in the News which, in turn, led to some very pointed letters to the News. Democracy was well and truly alive. Ultimately, in June 1967, it was decided to move to 161 Flinders Lane and to change to Wednesday meeting nights as soon as possible. In July 1967 the Club room was moved to 161 Flinders Lane, where MAWTC (Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club or Men's Club) met also on Friday, but on the floor above. No room was available on Wednesday nights, so meeting nights were not changed until 1970, when the Club again moved.

National Service was reintroduced in Australia, and Rod Mattingley was unfortunate in becoming the Club's first National Serviceman in mid-1966. In 1968 'the Vietnam branch of MBW' was opened when Geoff Kenafacke served there.

The News, August 1966 carried a grave warning by Robin Mitchell on the dangers of Donna Buang, such as lack of crowd control, poor first-aid facilities, people taking short cuts to the summit and inadequate clothing. This warning was to prove prophetic - the News of September carried the report of' a Federation of Victorian Walking Club search for missing schoolchildren. Fred Halls, the Club Search and Rescue delegate, was able to report that all were found safe.

Late in the year it was discovered that Rex Filson and Sue Hill had married secretly. The weekend following this discovery was a well-attended President's Weekend at Kinglake where a plan was hatched for an old-fashioned 'tin-kettling' of the happy couple, possibly the last tin-kettling held in Melbourne.

The year ended with seven Christmas walks programmed, including a 23-day Nullarbor Plain caving trip led by Rex Filson, who once again demonstrated his drought-breaking ability. While exploring an under-ground lake, Michael Griffin managed to puncture his rubber dinghy and sank to the bottom.

In 1967 there was an upsurge of interest in the Victorian Federation of Walking Clubs, including a proposal that Federation build a new hut on Feathertop to replace the old hut on Bungalow Spur. Our Club did not support the proposal, but the hut was eventually built. This year also brought the sad news that Lake Pedder, 'the jewel of southwest Tasmania', was to he flooded. The bright spot in this was a strengthened conservation movement throughout Australia. A Christmas walk led by Tyrone Thomas was advertised as the 'final chance to see Lake Pedder before it is drowned'.

In September 1967 there were resignations and Michael Griffin was elected to the Committee. Michael was proud of the fact that he instigated the removal from the by-laws of the old tenting rule: 'On Club walks males and females shall occupy separate tents, except in the case of married couples. Should shortage of tents prevent this, tent space may be allotted in the proportion of two females to one male, or vice versa, at the discretion of the leader.'

Felix Harding organised an 'old Bushies' get-together on Puffing Billy to Emerald in November 1967. About 80 people, some of whom hadn't seen each other for 15 years, renewed friendships. These meetings continued for about seven years.

During the fifties and sixties the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club (MUMC) held inter-club 24-hour walks. These walks were the forerunners of the popular sport of orienteering. The Melbourne Bushwalkers fielded teams in these walks. Many of our members staffed the soup kitchens and checkpoints along the route. To participate in these events people had to be strong walkers and competent navigators. In 1967 two hundred walkers took part. The group from our Club (Maria Verginis [Baker], Beverley Southwood [Morris], Andy Price, Art Terry, Johnny Rogers, Kel Wilson and Shirley Treloar) covered 52 miles (83 kilometres) in 23.75 hours to gain eighth place in the mixed-group section

Rex and Sue Filson

Around this time Robert Taylor and Charlie Weiling called a meeting of people interested in winter activities. This led to the formation of 'The Winter Group' a loosely knit group of members of various clubs who felt that their winter interests were not sufficiently catered for by their clubs. The formation of this group did not adversely affect MBW; the Club's winter walking trips continued to be well attended, and the 'tigers' were provided with snow climbing and skiing trips by the Winter Group. In 1969 MBW began programming langlauf ski trips.

Walk attendances were particularly good towards the end of 1968; the van was often filled to overflowing. This gave financial stability to the Club, which had been reportedly in a precarious position over the past couple of years. The van was still the most popular means of transport. A breakdown in figures showed that, of 69 walks, 43 were van, 21 public transport and only 5 private transport. Averages for day walks were 22, weekend trips 17, an average of 20 per trip. The van would show full on these figures because, generally, the weekend trip would be held in the same area as the day walk and all walkers returned on the same van. Once back in the city, members would often go to the Ling Nan Chinese restaurant for a meal. The group would leave their packs near the door, then clomp up the stairs to the large circular tables.

The Wilkinson Lodge Manager reported that he was pleased with an increase in the use of Wilky during 1968. In April 1969 a plaque was erected by the Rover Scouts at Investiture Rock, a large rock outcrop near Cope Hut on the Bogong High Plains, in memory of Bill Waters (originator of the Alpine Rover Crew) who had died in October 1968. Alan Bennett represented the Club at the ceremony. The News of May 1969 reported that the Federation Hut on Feathertop should be finished by winter, that the Summit Hut on Bogong was in extremely good condition and that a gas heater was planned for the hut.

One well-remembered weekend was Sue Taylor's Warby Ranges botany walk in 1969. As expected in the Warbys, there were plenty of wildflowers, but a visit to an orange grove where the owner heaped oranges onto the group was a refreshing bonus. John Siseman and John Brownlie both separated from the party (or was it vice versa?), John Brownlie being picked up at the Wangaratta Post Office on the way home. Another popular trip was led by Tyrone Thomas in June 1969 - a weekend with a difference, visiting volcanic caves and craters in the Western District. This attracted a full van of fifty. Some members even camped in caves on Saturday night discovering, like ancient cavemen, that camp fires fill caves with smoke.

A review in the News August 1969, mentions 'Pretty Sally', a feature of the Hume Highway. This was the long, slow climb up onto the Divide - very slow for a fully loaded Gronow's van. The Hume Freeway was constructed to reduce this problem and there is no longer such a delay. September brought a ban on smoking on all transport hired by MBW. Neither was alcohol to be carried on Club trips unless such trip were deemed a social occasion. The conservation movement began a push to stop subdivision of 48,000 acres in the Little Desert. This ultimately brought about the creation of the Little Desert National Park and established the political power of the developing Green Movement.

Even though we have been transported to and from walks by picnic van for many many years, we used to have more public transport trips - Athol Schafer used to read Edgar Alan Poe horror stories aloud to while away the time. One walk we were to meet on the Spencer Street Railway platform for the trip to Woodend. We stood around for a long while waiting for John Brownlie the leader. When he didn't turn up Robin Mitchell suggested that we proceed to the train. We all boarded and took up seats and as we moved off some of the party looked out of the window and there was Brownlie in another train going the opposite way. Further along the way another look out of the window and there was our illustrious leader on a pushbike pedalling like fury - he had commandeered some kid's bike to catch up with the train. He finally was united with his party and had the job of returning the bike after the walk. Another walk saw Nick Cole frantically pedalling along-side the train which he had missed. He never did catch up with the party.

Rex and Sue Filson

A rumour that the Club room at 161 Flinders Lane might soon become unavailable surfaced mid-year 1969. A subcommittee of Rex Filson, Robin Mitchell, Liz Shaw and myself was formed to look for new premises. The need became pressing when the Club received short notice to quit. While the subcommittee looked at various prospects, including buying our own premises, the Club went back to its old Club room at Room 110, VRI building. The problem was finally solved by joining with the MAWTC to rent the Club room in Hosier Lane at the rear of the Forum Theatre. As there was only one meeting room and the MAWTC met on Fridays, the change to Wednesday night meetings, decided hack in 1967, was finally implemented.

Club membership remained steady for much of the decade, hovering around 125 members with an increase to about 170 in the last couple of years. During the 1960s many walking areas were opened up by forestry roads. This development, combined with more members acquiring cars, made weekend walking possible in areas hitherto accessible only on extended walks.