Question Murray Valley Ski Club...

Discussion in 'Backcountry' started by Thomas WHiteside, Dec 29, 2016.

    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Hey everyone,

    What do people know about the Murray Valley Ski Club? Their lodge at Hotham (near Diamantina Hut) has long been left to go derelict but I can't find much about them.

    I know forum member 'Bogong' expressed similar sentiments in May 2012, suggesting it was likely a 'failed club' and theorising there must still be a few members left paying rates to RMB.

    My digging has only turned up a little more information. There's an article on Trove from the Cobram Courier dated 13th April 1951 announcing the creation of the club by a group of skiers based on Cobram and Numurkah, with the President named as Mr. Geoff Leverett, the Treasurer as Mr. C. Foster and the Secretary as Mrs. J Collins.

    Beyond this, David Sisson's 'Australian Mountains' website states the building was built in 1953, while another article I found on Trove from the Cobram Courier dated 28th January 1954 outlines plans for a nine person working bee to prepare the lodge for the coming winter.

    I've spoken to a mate who works up at Hotham year round managing leases and he's told me the club folded in the 90s and the property is now held by the RMB. However, he can't tell me anymore until he heads back up to Hotham and has access to the records in early January (he's back in Melbourne for the Christmas / New Year period).

    Hopefully my mate will turn up some more info fairly soon, but until then, does anyone know anything else?
    :thumbs: skifree likes this.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    I've also found a little bit about the club's first President, Mr. Geoff Leverett.

    His parents were based in Napier St, Essendon and he was married to Miss Joan Brooks (Cobram Courier, 14th January 1949, and Cobram Courier 3rd January 1952).

    He seems to have been an engineer, and in 1952 he and his wife moved from Cobram to Clare, North Queensland after he he got a job there working on the Rubicon River Irrigation Scheme. Additionally, his wife worked at the Cobram Post Office before the marriage (Cobram Courier, 17th June 1954).

    He is listed as visiting Mt Hotham in June 1948 (perhaps for the first time?) with Mr. John Holland and Mr. Frank Bourke (Cobram Courier, 11th June 1948).

    He was also involved in Cobram's 'District Aero Club' (Cobram Courier, 21st January 1949).

    I know none of this is very helpful yet, but it's a start...
    Telemark Phat

    Telemark Phat Part of the Furniture Season Pass Gold

    All I can tell you is that Bogong and David Sisson are one in the same.
    :thumbs: cin likes this.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Thanks, didn't realise until now!
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    For what it's worth, I think there's a strong chance the club, or at least its first president Geoff Leverett, had a connection to two fairly interesting and high profile characters.

    As stated above, the Cobram Courier makes mention of Leverett visiting Hotham in June 1948 with Mr. John Holland and Mr. Frank Bourke. I think it's quite likely this was John Holland, founder of John Holland Construction Group, and Frank Bourke, Richmond FC footballer and father of Francis Bourke, Richmond FC champion and coach in the 60s - 80s.

    John Holland was born in 1914 (and died 2009), so would have been aged 34 in '48, so that fits, and he was also an engineer like Leverett. He grew up on the Mornington Peninsular, went to Frankston High School and studied civil engineering at Melbourne Uni, then worked for Commonwealth Oil Refiners from '36 to '39, before joining the Australian Army Engineering Corps in '39 with the outbreak of the war. He served in the Middle East, Greece, South Pacific, then worked for BP on return (which had taken over COR) until he formed in own company in 1949. John Holland's more famous projects are the Westgate Bridge (marred by the collapse during construction) and the Sydney Myer Music Bowl.

    Holland was also a keen sportsman, playing cricket, football, hockey and tennis. So far haven't founded anything concrete to establish the John Holland listed in the Cobram Courier is one and the same as this John Holland, but I think the idea of a young, moneyed engineer and sportsman visiting Hotham at this time 'fits the picture' so to speak.

    Frank Bourke was born in 1922 (died in 2011), so would have been aged 26 in 1948. Again that's the right kind of age to be out visiting Hotham. Bourke was a dairy farmer based in Yalca, outside Nathalia and also played for Nathalia FC. Nathalia is a small town very close to Numurkah and not far from Cobram so I think its very likely this Frank Bourke is the same person as the one in the Cobram Courier. Bourke also had a brief career at Richmond FC (playing 16 games and scoring 48 goals) in 1943, and '46-47. However, his career was cut short by a knee injury. However, his son Francis Bourke became a club champion for the Tigers, playing 300 games (from '67 - '81) and coaching the team in the early 80s .

    Again, this doesn't tell us an awful lot about the Murray Valley Ski Club, but perhaps slowly a picture is beginning to form. If I'm correct about Holland and Bourke, I think the club's history could be more interesting than I first thought...
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2017
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    legend Dedicated Member

    Jack and Bet (Elizabeth) Collins and their family ran it in the 1970's. From memory, their daughters Michelle and Kristen were in charge of bookings, gas supplies, firewood collection and a number of other working bees for a while. Hotham Heights management tried to shut it down by imposing huge fees on the smaller places in the late 1970's - making a base rate of around $500 in charges (based on a minimum of 20 beds). It could sleep 8 people comfortably.
    A few VMTC friends and self would go up and get firewood for the winter. We also revamped the kitchen and fixed up the fireplace (around 1976 - 78).
    :thumbs: Thomas WHiteside likes this.

    weerab Dedicated Member Season Pass Gold

    I had worked that out too, not too sure if it's a good idea to put it out there. He has a connection to another regular poster but i won't say who.

    currawong Old And Crusty Season Pass Gold

    I don't think that Bogong ever tried to keep his real name a secret. If you look around his website you will find contact details

    I agree about not talking about connections
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    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Thanks guys I've been in direct contact with David since I started this thread and he's been quite helpful.

    'Legend', thanks so much. Your post is very helpful. Can you give me any more information? Here's a few initial questions off the top of my head:

    Am I correct in thinking 'Bet' Collins is the 'Mrs J Collins' listed as the club's first secretary (i.e. using the old convention of 'Mrs <insert husband's name>')?

    Did Jack and Bet ever talk about the club's formation or how they got involved?

    Did they ever make mention of Geoff Leverett or Bourke and Holland (they seem like quite colourful characters - they were all amateur pilots as well (Cobram Courier, 19th November 1948)).

    Did the club have much in the way of an active membership, or was it very much a Collins 'family affair' with an assortment of people coming and going with perhaps some paying members of the public?

    How did you get involved with the club? What's the link with VMTC?

    Do you have any photos of the club or its interior?

    Is it true the club folded in the 90s, and for the reasons suggested by David Sisson?
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    For what it's worth, it appears to me the club got off to a shaky start. Leverett and his pilot buddies, Holland and Bourke, all head to Hotham on the opening weekend of the ski season in '48, then MVSC is formed in April '51. In June '51 the club makes plans to build a temporary pre-fab lodge at Falls' Creek (erecting it in July - mid winter - which seems kinda strange!) and also arranges a mid July day trip to Mt Buller ('Ski Club Builds Lodge - Bus to Mt Bulla' (sic), Cobram Courier, 5th June 1951). However, in early 1952 Leverett moves to Queensland (Cobram Courier, 3rd January, 1952). It then appears the club went dormant for a year, the Hotham lodge isn't build until 1953, while the article referring to the summer working bee in '54 is titled 'Ski Club Revived' and states 'members of the club have become somewhat scattered and are spread all over South Australia, Queensland [and] NSW)' (Cobram Courier, 28th Jan 1954). This also suggests that while the club had been 'revived', it was still struggling. It seems like maybe the Collins were the only original members left and it fell to them to keep the club and lodge running. Interesting too that there is no further mention of Falls Creek or Buller. I wonder why they made the quick switch to Hotham, its not like the skiing or access to the mountain are any easier...
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2017

    VSG Pool Room Season Pass Gold

    I am a tad curious as to why this detailed enquiry and where is it going?
    :thumbs: currawong likes this.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    No real reason and no idea where it's going. Don't have any connection to the club. Was just up last week and for reason decided to have a closer look at the building (have always ignored it). Then when I tried to look up a bit about it I realised how little there is recorded about the club's history - especially considering its close location to the Razorback and the fact it's a pretty early private lodge - built only six / seven years after the Alpine Club of Victoria. So I decided it'd be fun to see what I could turn up, especially after I realised even Bogong / David Sisson knew very little about the club. I also just find the boarded up building kinda spooky.
    :thumbs: skifree likes this.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Well again, for what it's worth, I've worked out Geoff Leverett and his wife Joan weren't in Clare, Qld very long. They moved to Hobart in June 1954 (Cobram Courier, 17th June 1954) and had their first son, Phillip, there in October 1955 (The Argus, 2nd November 1955).

    I've also worked out Leverett was born in 1922 (making him 26 when he first visited Hotham and 29 when MVSC was formed), spent the rest of his life in Hobart, and died in 1988 (I've found his grave in the Hobart Regional Cemetery, Kingston). He also had three children, Phillip, Janine and Meegan.

    No idea yet whether he stayed involved with MVSC after the early 50s.

    Also found some nice photos of the club from 2004 (courtesy of my Hotham mate).
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    mr Part of the Furniture Season Pass Silver

    i'll put in an offer for it if noone wants it! ive always dreamed about that one.
    :thumbs: Thomas WHiteside and Seth like this.

    Seth Old And Crusty Season Pass Gold

    There is a new shiny one just below the Dargo road turn off. Freehold as well.

    or just find one of the pockets of freehold along the road and build your own!
    :thumbs: ladycamper, piolet and mr like this.

    mr Part of the Furniture Season Pass Silver

    im liking the mid-century modernist furniture!

    thanks Thomas for chasing this up, ive always wondered......
    :thumbs: Thomas WHiteside likes this.

    CaptainC Active Member

    Yes, I believe his sister posts here, Guess who she is.

    gettingtooold Dedicated Member Season Pass Gold

    Whoever his sister is, that is irrelevant unless she wants to contribute.
    Good on you Thomas for the research as I must admit something like this mystery would get me curious. Keep going and good luck with it. :thumbs:
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Thanks 'gettingtooold' and 'mr', I'm slowly starting to get somewhere I think. My friend at Hotham had a chance to have a look at their records today. Unfortunately the file / brief on the property he had access to was was quite limited (he thinks the rest will be in the archives) but he was able to uncover some important things.

    The file has the lodge being built in '52 by Jack Collins and others, so this is basically consistent with David Sisson who puts the build date as 1953. However, the file states that not long afterwards the other members sold their shares in the lodge to the Collins and Mr Collins then passed ownership of the lodge on to his children. Again, this all fits with what 'legend' recently posted.

    The brief (which I believe was put together prior to 2006) also states, 'The Collins family still owns and occupies the private lodge, with a few associate members who book the lodge from time to time.' So it appears we have a ski club which quickly became a family lodge (and a club in name only) after its founding President went interstate and its other foundation members sold their interests to other foundation members, Mr and Mrs. Collins.

    Like most early clubs, the club's occupancy of the site was maintained through a 'permissive occupancy' arrangement with the Department of Crown Lands and Survey and the Committee of Management the Department appointed in 1965 (the Hotham Resort wasn't created by statute until 1972). The permissive occupancy arrangement meant the occupancy could be terminated unilaterally at any time without compensation.

    The brief states the following:

    'By letter dated 18 June 1964, the Department of Lands and Survey offered the Club “permissive occupancy”. The agreement signed by the Club’s then President and Secretary and by the Secretary to the Committee of Management appointed by the Department, granted Permissive Occupancy of the site from 1 February 1965 at an annual fee of £30.'

    This raises some really interesting questions. The lodge was clearly built in '52 / '53 but no PO arrangement was officially entered into until '64/ '65, so how was the site secured and managed between '52 and '64? Did they simply occupy the site, build without permission and adversely possess the site for the first 12 years? If so, why did the Lands Department take so long to make the arrangement 'legit' and why did it act when it did? I suspect the creation of the Committee of Management is the main reason, and perhaps fear of adverse possession (15 years in Victoria) spurred the Dept into action.

    From the mid 60s to the late 90s I then still have a massive gap as to what happened with the club, beyond what 'legend' has written about his experiences with the club and the issues with increased fees / rates in the 70s.

    It seems there was then a long dispute from the late 90s until the mid 2000s about securing a lease for 'the club'. Then in 2006 when no lease had been entered in to, notice was served, the original permissive occupancy was terminated and the site reverted back to control by RMB. This was also partly due to it being in designated in a Public Park and Recreation Zone (PPRZ) and being so far from sewerage, water, and electricity.

    My mate's also found a heritage assessment of the lodge from 2003 that arose out of the fires, where it's mischaracterised as a hut, so that might contain some interesting stuff too.

    Last thing I've discovered, Leverett first attempted to start a Ski Club in 1950 when he advertised an 'inaugural meeting' at the Cobram Mechanics Hall in the local paper (Cobram Courier, 13th Oct, 1950). However, it appears it took until 1951 for the idea to get off the ground.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2017
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    One last point for tonight. I've just realised all the exterior stonework on the lodge's chimney has been stripped off since 2004 (exposing the brickwork underneath) which is a bit of a shame. Compare the two photos below.

    My guess is the stonework came from the quarry at 'the pimples' (two raised mounds on the side of the Hotham summit - flattened when they put the skiers bridge over the road). This shale rock was used in construction when they rebuild Hotham Heights (Mk 2) in 1939 / '40 and used by the Alpine Club of Victoria ('46), USC ('49) and Lindsay Salmon's Drift Chalet ('51) ('Hotham Horizon', Donald Bennett) so I think it's fair to assume it was still being used in '52.

    legend Dedicated Member

    A few of us from the VMTC did the rock work in the mid '70s after the original chimney surface was found to be crumbling.
    We collected the rock from near the Blowhard hut.
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    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Oh right. What was the original chimney surface? Similar shale rock?

    Do you think the rock work has been removed since 2004 or crumbled off due to lack of maintenance? It's already starting to fall away a bit at the top in 2004.

    mr Part of the Furniture Season Pass Silver

    i like your profile pic Thomas! - Joyce Brockoff hut. day when i stop running my company in the big smoke im going to run a coffee / soup / toastie shop in there and lose all my retirement money and love every minute of it

    CarveMan Moderator Season Pass Gold

    A mill in super should keep you in business for a decade or so.
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    mr Part of the Furniture Season Pass Silver

    exactly carveman. what a way to blow it!
    :thumbs: Thomas WHiteside likes this.

    legend Dedicated Member

    From memory is was cement rendered, but after about 30 years it was crumbling quite badly.
    We sealed the remaining render, then used slate. Another 30 years (early 2000's) and this was removed by ??
    Perhaps it was starting to crumble and it was removed for safety reasons??

    legend Dedicated Member

    I remember Jack (he was a builder) and Bett Collins saying they had a choice of several sites including near the top of where the Heavenly Valley lift now stands. In those days apparently you could build just about anywhere. As stated above, Hotham wasn't under any given management authority.
    They chose the site due to a spring just below the hut (water can be pumped from there to inside to a header tank for a shower, septic toilet, and kitchen sink), it was relatively sheltered and was quite close to the road. I think there were only half dozen 'chalets' on the mountain located further round where Hotham Heights now stands. They also had a rope tow leading up to southern end of the Razorback, about 200m from the hut (this was dismantled late 60's / early 70s).
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    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Your theory the stonework was removed for safety may well be right. Though I kind of doubt it instinctively, hard to see it really posing that big a risk or anyone bothering to go to all that effort. But also hard to see anyone seeing much value in the stonework and 'stealing' it either. I also doubt it all crumbled off on its own. Hmm. Another puzzle.

    You're right that at the time there were only a half dozen or so buildings: Hotham Heights Chalet, Alpine Ski Club, Wangaratta Ski Club (on Mt St Bernard), Cosray Hut, USC, Edelweiss Ski Club, Boondoo, and Drift Chalet. There was also Joyce Brockhoff Memorial Hut of course. Interesting to note, I don't think a Diamantina Hut would have been there when they built. The first Diamantina Hut (built in 1923) burn down in the '39 fires and the current hut wasn't build until 1966 / 67.

    In terms of ski toes, from what I've read, in 1952 there was only the Blue Ribbon nutcracker and then rope toes were also put in at Higginbotham and the Basin c. 1958. There were also two rope toes over on Mt. St. Bernard operated by Wangaratta Ski Club, the first put in on the main face in '55 (and then moved to 'La La Dash' for five years) and the second on 'Nursery Slope' in '58. Have never heard of the Razorback toe before, what else can you tell me about it? Are there any photos of it around? Do others know anything about it?

    Interesting that the Collins said you could build just about anywhere back then. I know in the late 40s the early clubs like Alpine and USC had to really fight to get their POs for private lodges. Maybe things had changed and become more relaxed by the early 50s (presumably due to the work of the pioneer clubs)? When you say they had the 'choice' of several sites including the top of Heavenly Valley (I'm assuming you mean where the Loch Carpark is), do you mean they were given several options by an authority (e.g. the Lands Dept) or just that there were several good sites available for them to choose from?

    Do you know if Jack and Bett are still alive? Or is there anyway of contacting the Collins family? Did they ever move from Cobram?
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Also, am I right in thinking Jack once played for and coached Finley FC (the 'Tigers')?

    And did Bett ever write childrens' books? I've found a book online by a Bett Collins called 'the Snowgum Fairies'...
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    I've had a chance to read the 2005 Butler report's entry on the club. It's quite helpful, it fills in a few gaps and contains a schematic floor plan.

    Firstly, it fleshes things out a little re the construction process and materials and also adds that 'Mr. C Foster' was a fellow named Charlie Foster. It also contains some testimony from MVSC co-manager, Kristin Duckworth (nee Collins) which confirm what was in the property brief and what 'legend' has told us. Kristin has the club being formed in the 40s, I don't think this is strictly true, but it does fit with foundation members taking an interest in skiing at this time. The report also names a Randall Collins as the other co-manager.

    The key revelation I think is that the club did originally intend to build at Falls, however it got caught up in 'red tape' from the SEC with regards to the Kiewa scheme being built at the time, so the club decided to build at Hotham instead.

    Sadly there is no mention as to whether the club secured a PO at this time or just simply went ahead and built.

    The report also contains an amusing story about the time a snow plough accidentally parked on the lodge's roof in heavy snow cover. This caused some damage to the roof and rafters, which had to be refurbished because of that.

    Would really like to know more about the Razorback rope tow that has been mentioned earlier.

    legend Dedicated Member

    Yes, the club did form in the post war '40s. I knew the Collins family well in the mid - late '70s.
    Michelle, Kristin did most of the work - organising working bees, bookings, etc. and Randall (he was a teenager at the time) was a bit young then to contribute to the scheme of things.
    Bett did many different artworks (painting, pastel and charcoal). I would not be at all surprised if she wrote a children's book (maybe for her grand kids).
    I never saw the rope tow in operation on the southern end of the Razorback, but in the early 70's there were a couple of poles. It was a portable rope tow.
    The Collins had moved to Brighton (that's when I met them). Jack and Bett were also part of founding members of the VMTC in 1948.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    Thanks 'legend'. I know you never saw it, but do you have any idea who owned and ran the portable tow? Was it a MVSC / Collins family tow or run by somebody else?

    The 2005 Butler report also contains a story about a snow plough accidentally parking on the lodge's roof after a heavy snow fall and the roof needing to be refurbished / replaced. Do you know anything about that incident?

    Also, do you have any photos of the club during the 70s? Were the non-Collins members / visitors all involved with VMTC too? I'm assuming you met the Collins through the club.

    Finally, I'm afraid to say I've discovered Bett died last month. There's a funeral notice to her in the Herald Sun.

    I've also found these articles about her art. One says she worked in advertising, do you know who for?

    legend Dedicated Member

    I believe it was the MVSC /Collins tow. I remember Jack talking about it and how he made it, based on similar rope tows of the time.
    It's sad to hear of Bett's death, but she had a very good innings - I think she would have been in her 90's and would have seen many changes .
    :thumbs: Thomas WHiteside likes this.
    Thomas WHiteside

    Thomas WHiteside Active Member

    According to the Herald Sun tribute Bett was 89. So a good innings as you say. Do you know how she met Jack? Was it through MVTC by any chance? There's a Betty Lawrence listed as one of the club's 31 foundation members. Could it be her?

    With regards to the tow, do you know how long it was or how it was constructed? I'm assuming it was simply a rope, guided through pulleys based on wooden poles, powered by an old car engine. Does that sound right?

    And what year would it have been built? Early to mid 50s? I.e. not long after Ski Tows Ltd put in the tows at Blue Ribbon, Basin and Higginbotham? ('52, '58 and '58 respectively).

    I've asked before, but do any photos exist? Do you remember seeing photos of the tow at any point or were you just told about it?

    legend Dedicated Member

    Yes, Betty Lawrence was one of the VMTC founding members.
    From memory, the tow was built from wooden poles, rope with pulley system and 'nut crackers' for attaching the skier.
    I'm not sure what powered it.
    and sorry - no photos that I an find at the moment.

    skifree Part of the Furniture Moderator Season Pass Gold

    The power bit is the most important bit! Was it a V8 out of a Zephyr or a straight 4 from a Ferggie?
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