Canberra has a long history of outdoors activity. It has had skiing, bushwalking and mountaineering clubs for decades. Women have played a big part in that story. Two women were Charlotte (better known as Charles) Burston nee Lane-Poole, and Dorothy Brown.
Charles was a daughter of forester C.E. Lane-Poole and his wife Ruth. C.E. was acting principal of the Australian Forestry School at Yarralumla while Ruth was an interior decorator - she decorated the governor general's residence.
The family had their first ski holiday in 1931 at the Hotel Kosciusko and young Charles and her sister Mary were hooked on the snow and high places. Ruth complained to them, 'You girls ski for about a month of the year, and you talk about it for the other eleven'.
Charles was an adventurer - she drove a motorbike around early Canberra - and readily embarked on bushwalks in Canberra's mountains. When her father became the inaugural president of the Canberra Alpine Club (CAC), she joined him and others searching for a lodge site on the Brindabellas. Those journeys helped found Mt Franklin Chalet.
Some of these early trips (covered by the press) were tough and Charles's father likened winter ones to 'endurance tests'. A period summer photo on the range shows Charles young and fit in shorts and short-sleeved shirt with backpack and determined look. Charles and her father also led forestry students on walks along the range during the students' studies.
Meanwhile Charles's love of the Snowies was no less intense. Of Austrian-born ski instructor Ernst Skardarasy at the Charlotte Pass Chalet, she said 'We were all mad about him!' She did cross-country ski trips, staying at Foremans Hut on the upper Snowy River with architect Ron Meyer and friends in the mid-1930s.
Charles joined other CAC members at Westbourne Woods in weekend ski-making classes which were led by her father, using Australian timbers. She participated in work parties that hand-cleared the rudimentary ski runs on Mt Franklin; a contemporary report described her as 'wielding the axe' and other women working equally hard.
When it came to skiing, Charles was an eager racer, successfully engaging in the 1938 Club Championships at Franklin. A year later she was at Mt Buller in the Australian Championships, competing in the slalom and downhill.
Charles joined the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force in the Second World War and by now had formed a strong friendship with skier and author Elyne Mitchell. On leave, Charles did ski trips with Elyne into the Kosciuszko back country and one of Elyne's books shows their campsite in tall forest below the Dargals Range.
Later Charles married and lived on a Victorian cattle property, and skiing receded from her life. But in 1995 when I led a Brindabellas bushwalk in honour of her father, Charles - by now in her 80s - was the guest of honour. It was lovely to have her stay at our Ainslie home and to walk with her in those mountains which had meant so much to her all those years ago.
Dorothy Brown was born in 1927. She became a schoolteacher. Dorothy never married and was devoted to siblings, nephews and nieces. Her smile was warm and welcoming.
In Canberra she started cross-country skiing in the late 1950s and bushwalking in 1961. She was a pioneer committee member of the Canberra Bushwalking Club formed that year and attended the 30th reunion in 1991. During the intervening period she had got to know in summer and winter the mountains beyond Canberra.
Dorothy skied and bushwalked to many of the famed back-country huts of Kosciuszko, places like O'Keefes, Brooks, Happys and Boobee. In 1977 she was part of that bold band that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Kiandra to Kosciuszko ski crossing.
She took photographs in beautiful black and white. After I got to know Dorothy in the mid 1990s she kindly gave me several photos, some of which I was privileged to reproduce in my 2018 book Bold Horizon.
Dorothy also gave me a pair of her early outdoors boots. The plan was to donate them to the collection at Mt Franklin Chalet (by then a ski museum) to which I had already donated early skis made by the Cumpston family. Luckily I was delayed in donating Dorothy's boots as the Chalet was destroyed by the 2003 bushfires. In 2018 before leaving Canberra I was pleased to facilitate the donation to Canberra Museum and Gallery.
Dorothy's adventures went well beyond the Brindabellas and the Snowies. In the 1960s she met adventurer Warwick Deacock. Deacock established Ausventure, a company taking the earliest Australian trekkers and climbers to the Himalayas.
Dorothy led the first Australian trek to Everest Base Camp and took photos during the significant Mulkila expedition in 1973. She assisted training expeditions in the New Zealand Alps which included river crossings and crevasse rescues.
Dorothy's passion for the Himalayas included the welfare of the local people and she became a foundation member of the Australia-Nepal Friendship Society in 1982 and helped edit the society's newsletter.
Dorothy trekked with camels in South Australia and travelled beyond Birdsville. She bushwalked in Kakadu, and in Victoria's Grampians.
Dorothy had early joined Canberra's YMCA Ski Club. It later became Brindabella Ski Club and she stayed at Guthega lodge almost every year. She loved that annual pilgrimage to the Snowies. No wonder she was made a life member of the club. Dorothy's relationship with the Snowies only ended with her death this year, aged 92.
Charles and Dorothy, two women who loved high places, and whom I was very lucky to have known.
- Matthew Higgins is a former Canberra historian, and author of Seeing Through Snow.
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