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The Melbourne Bushies

- Fifty years along the track (1940-90)

Chapter 18 - Those Held in High Esteem

Liz Telford

Life and honorary members, taken at the Club's 50th anniversary picnic.
Life and honorary members, taken at the Club's 50th anniversary picnic.
Alan Clarke collection

According to Section 2A of the Melbourne Bushwalkers' Constitution, 'life membership may be conferred on any person as a mark of high esteem and in appreciation of exceptional service to the association'.

The Club is privileged to have nine life members, all from different eras of the Club's history and all of whom have provided outstanding and exceptional service to the Club. In many respects Egon Donath, Frank Pitt, Norm Richards, Athol Schafer, Denis Barson, Fred Halls, Val Elder, Rex Filson and Rod Mattingley have given a part of their life to the Club.

EGON DONATH Joined in 1940

In April 1940 Egon Donath, then a German language teacher, led a hike to Mt Morton in Belgrave. His party consisted of Australians and Germans who wished to practise German and enjoy the bushland of Melbourne. This walk has been recognised as the first Club walk though no formal Club structure existed at that time. The Mt Morton walk was re-enacted in 1950 and 1960 to celebrate 10 and 20 years respectively of the Club. Sadly, today Mt Morton is covered by houses.

The early programmed Club walks always included an 8-mile (13-kilometre) hike. Egon enjoyed leading these easy or 'sissy' walks as they were commonly called. He also led walks at dawn to Sherbrooke Forest to see the lyrebirds and other walks to One Tree Hill, Kalorama, Croydon and Greensborough.

Egon experienced the bush around Melbourne before the beginning of the urban sprawl in the late forties and remembers seeing the effects of the 1939 bushfires, particularly on the trees at Warburton. Egon was a key member playing an important role in the founding years of the Club and was on the Committee from 1944 to 1952.

NORM RICHARDS Joined in 1944

Norm Richards joined the Melbourne Bushwalkers in 1944 and went on to become President the following year. Norm held the Committee positions of President and Vice-President from 1945 to 1960. He was President from 1945 to 1951, again in 1957 to 1958 and was Vice-President for the remaining years.

Norm and his Committees were responsible for writing our Constitution in 1945, establishing a monthly newsletter, the News, printing regular walks programmes and implementing a proper Committee structure. These initiatives, formalised in the mid-forties, are still in existence 50 years later and in many respects are responsible for the continued strength of the Melbourne Bushwalkers.

Norm led many day walks, weekend trips and extended tours for the Club. His greatest challenge was always to reach the top of the next hill or the far edge of the next patch of scrub. Norm had a special empathy with areas above 5000 feet. On leaving the mountains his parties would always sit down for half an hour at the 5000-feet line for a lingering farewell.

Today, Norm is appalled by the desolation of the countryside, especially by trail bikes, four-wheel drives, commercial property developers and tour operators. He could do without ski lodges and ski lifts. Norm remembers when there used to be one hut at Falls Creek and skiers had to side-step up the Frying Pan Spur to earn a downhill run. While much damage has been done, Norm is still optimistic for the future and believes we will have to work harder to protect our beautiful bushland for future generations.

FRANK PITT Joined in 1944

Frank Pitt joined the Melbourne Bushwalkers in 1944 and played a vital role in the early years of the Club. Frank was Secretary from 1948 to 1951, 1955 to 1957 and on the general Committee from 1952 to 1954.

Frank was an active leader of day walks during his membership of the Club. He led local walks to Mooroolbark, Lilydale, Warrandyte, Yarra Junction and also organised several long bushwalks over the Christmas breaks. For the Christmas 1951 trip, Frank organised an 118-mile (189-kilometre) walk that included Merrijig, Howqua River, Mt Howitt, Wonnangatta Valley and the Dargo High Plains.

ATHOL SCHAFER 1952 - Still active

Athol Schafer began walking with the Club in 1952 and is still very active in the Club. The Bogong High Plains and Mt Kosciusko National Park are Athol's favourite walking areas. Athol loves the sense of freedom he gets from walking in the bush, the comradeship and enjoys relaxing around the camp fire after a hard day's walk.

One of his most memorable trips was an extended walk with George and Shirley Telehin in 1977. This challenging two-week trip started at Mt Battery and ended at Mt Buffalo, visiting along the way Dinner Plain, Mt Cope, Mt Nelse and Mt Bogong. The party stopped at Wilky to find a group of Melbourne Bushies at the lodge who insisted that Athol and party make use of hot showers very quickly! (Schafer, 'Battery to Buffalo', Walk 1978). Athol has led numerous day walks, weekend trips, extended tours and still leads historical walks around Melbourne for the Club. Athol had a 14-year stint on Committee from 1958 to 1971, plus 1982. He was Editor of Walk from 1965 to 1971 (excluding 1970) and News convenor for four years.

Athol's deep commitment to the Melbourne Bushwalkers is clearly reflected in his long service in official Committee roles and in his continuation as a leader of walks for the Club. He was awarded life membership in 1969.

DENIS BARSON 1952 - Still active

Denis Barson, our van driver for a record 37 years, was awarded life membership in 1976. Denis fell in love with the Australian bush during those years of driving for the Club. Of the many wonderful areas that Denis visited, the Grampians and Wilsons Prom are his favourites.

Denis Barson.
Denis Barson. Taken on a trip in the Grampians in the Mt William - Major Mitchell Plateau area, May 1972.
Helen Dent collection

Denis's involvement with the Melbourne Bushwalkers started in 1952 when he commenced work with Gronow's furniture removal business after completing his national service. Jumping at the opportunity to earn overtime, Denis accepted the weekend van driving for the Club. The Club stopped hiring a Gronow's van in February 1979. Then Denis drove a Quince's mini-bus before the Club decided to hire a van from Jack Baxter. In 1984 the Club purchased a van from Jack Baxter and continued to employ Denis to drive it. Regrettably illness forced Denis to stop driving for the Club in late 1989. His last trip was Sylvia Wilson's walk to Hughes Creek.

Denis's latest return to Melbourne was in 1974 when Tim Dent led a weekend trip to Tyers Junction in the Baw Baws. On the Sunday the group was greatly delayed due to difficult walking terrain. Denis waited for the party and built a large fire that helped guide the group back to the van in the dark. The party didn't get back to the van until 10.00 p.m. and subsequently reached Melbourne at 1.00 a.m. This incident highlights Denis's dedication to the Club in providing services that we could not expect from any other van driver.

FRED HALLS 1952 - Still active

Fred Halls, a close friend of Norm Richards, joined the Melbourne Bushwalkers in 1952. Fred was actively involved with the Committee of the Club from 1957 to 1973; during that time he was Walks Secretary, Vice-President, on the general Committee, delegate to Search and Rescue, delegate to the Native Plants Preservation Society, on the Walks Subcommittee for 12 years and wrote many articles for Walk. He was awarded life membership in 1969.

The Cobberas - Tingaringy National Park, the Snowy River National Park and the Victorian Alps between Crosscut Saw, The Bluff Range, Braces Gorge, Mt Darling Range and Mt Kent Range are Fred's favourite walking areas. Fred has led many day walks, long weekend trips, extended tours, botanical walks and historic rambles over the years and still leads the occasional trip.

Fred also enjoys walking in parks where there are Aboriginal sites. He has organised several Club Easter walking trips in the Grampians - the Victoria Range, the western Black Range near Rocklands Dam and also to Mt Stapylton to study Aboriginal rock art and relics. There have been many Club weekend trips organised by Fred to Kooyoora State Park to search for Aboriginal relic sites, rare native plants and orchids hidden amid the granite tors and rock shelters.

Fred, an avid conservationist, has a deep love for the Australian bush and is determined to see that it is adequately protected. Not only has Fred provided outstanding services to the Melbourne Bushwalkers but he has also been motivated to share his great knowledge on bushwalking by writing two books, Bushwalking in the Victorian Ranges, The Kooyoora Country by Road and Track and a booklet entitled Bushwalking.

VAL ELDER 1958 - Still active

Val Elder (nee Goldsmith), our only female life member, joined the Club in 1958. The night Val joined she became the Secretary of the Club, a role she took on with much enthusiasm. Val was Secretary from 1958 to 1961, Vice-President from 1963 to 1964, was on the Editorial Subcommittee for Walk from 1963 to 1964 and wrote many articles for the News and Walk. She was awarded life membership in 1965.

Val Elder
Val Elder

The Bluff, Mt Howitt and Crosscut Saw are some of Val's favourite walking areas. Val's most challenging walk was the 1961 Christmas trip to the Divide in the Victorian Alps, led by Robert Taylor. Drought conditions had resulted in the mountains being exceptionally dry and in very hot temperatures the party struggled to find water. The party spent their New Year's Eve squeezing moss to gain four very valuable pints of moss juice. That evening biscuits, cheese and strong tea, not champagne, were on the menu. Fortunately, there were no serious mishaps although several members of the group became severely dehydrated. (Taylor, 'Walking the Divide', Walk 1963 )

Like many bushwalkers, Val loves the bush, the solitude, the far-reaching views and enjoys the pleasures of camping in a lovely spot that doesn't have to be shared with a lot of other people.

Val moved to Canberra in late 1964 but she still finds time to attend Melbourne Bushies' trips. In 1982 she was liloing down the Snowy River with Bob Douglas and party. In 1987-88 she went canoeing down the Murray and in 1989, sea-kayaking around Hinchinbrook Island. These two trips were led by Doug Pocock. Val has just completed a zoology degree and was recently a member of a field trip collecting fish fossils in the Kimberley Ranges.

REX FILSON Joined in 1956 and later in 1961

During a five-year working holiday around Australia, Rex Filson arrived in Melbourne in 1956. Having been an active member of the Newcastle Bushwalking Club and not knowing anyone in the city, he decided to join the Melbourne Bushwalkers. After six months in Melbourne, Rex continued on with his around-Australia trip, rejoining the Club in 1961 when he returned to Melbourne Rex organised many Club walks and his specialty was unusual walks that often happened to be in wet weather. He led a three-day 'water' walk through the Barmah Forest where the group walked waist-deep in water most of the weekend, the wettest-ever trip to Flinders Island where the party was marooned by a closed airport, and the first and second Club trips to Snake Island. The first trip to Snake Island was similar to the Barmah trip - very wet; the second was the complete opposite - stiflingly hot. Rex's favourite walking areas are Barrington Tops (Rex's Club nickname) and the Australian Alps.

Rex was an active Committee member for nine years between 1965 and 1979. During that time Rex was Vice-President, on general Committee, on the Walk Editorial Committee from 1966 to 1972, delegate to Search and Rescue, National Parks and the Federation of Walking Clubs, instigated the formation of the Family Walking Group and was the Club telephone contact. He was awarded life membership in 1973.

Rex's deep commitment to the Club and bushwalking extended to his professional interest in botany. He became Australia's first lichenologist. He has written books and technical papers on lichens and won a Churchill Fellowship to study lichens round the world. Rex and his wife Sue also made a study of Australian wildflowers for Walk, complete with beautiful illustrations ('Wildflowers of Autumn and Winter', Walk 1968; 'Flowers of the Bogong High Plains', Walk 1969; 'Wildflowers of East Gippsland', Walk 1970).

Rex has now retired and lives close to Barrington Tops in New South Wales.

ROD MATTINGLEY 1965 - Still active

A friend of Rod Mattingley's attended the Club's 1965 Easter trip. It sounded such a great trip that Rod decided to book on the first walk after Easter and promptly joined the Club.

Rod was Walks Secretary from 1972 to 1973 and Wilkinson Lodge Manager for 13 years from 1974 to 1986. The Club was very lucky to have Rod as Wilky Manager as he has a special affinity with the lodge; it was like a second home to Rod. During Rod's years as Wilky Manager, he organised work parties to replace the lino, install a new stove, replace the septic tank, fix the drainage system, collect wood for the winter and many other projects that have made Wilky more comfortable. He was awarded life membership in 1989.

Rod continues to lead many walks for the Club. He most enjoys two- to-four-day trips anywhere in snow-gum country. One of Rod's most memorable excursions was an extended trip to the Nullarbor caves in 1966, led by Rex Filson. He remembers Nick Cole wearing a dinner suit into every different cave and ceremoniously burning the suit at the last cave they visited. Also, Rod was one of the first Club members to try cross-country skiing when John Brownlie imported skis into Australia from overseas in 1967.

When Rod joined MBW bushwalking was very unusual. In the 1960s people looked at you strangely if you walked by with a pack on your back. According to Rod most people in Victoria had little knowledge of the alpine areas. Today, bushwalking and backpacking are much more socially accepted, with bushwalking shops all over Melbourne, regular bushwalking columns in newspapers and a greater awareness of the importance of conservation.

Melbourne Bushwalkers is honoured to have members like these who have given service far above that normally expected. It is only fitting that our Club has held these people in high esteem and has awarded them life membership in appreciation of their contribution.

Bushwalking offers so much - great friendships, the chance to visit out-of-this-world places, peace, solitude, challenge and an affinity with nature. In my opinion, the Australian bush has inspired our life members to contribute so much to our Club. I am sure it will continue to inspire many others in the future because once bushwalking gets in your blood nothing can be done.