The story of skiing on the Brindabellas is well known among parts of the community. Many Canberrans will have heard of Mt Franklin Chalet (opened 1938), and the Royal Military College Duntroon Ski Lodge (started 1951).
What is hardly known at all is that there were other ski huts on the range during the late 1940s.
By and large these huts were built by Mt Franklin skiers (members of the Canberra Alpine Club) who wanted to do their own thing and to explore the higher peaks and deeper snow further south from Franklin. Extension of the Mt Franklin Road past Mt Ginini and to Mt Gingera in the 1940s facilitated this activity.
The first hut was built at Stockyard Gap in 1948. The skiers were Peter Spottswood, Geof Hall, Dave Morell, Doug Anderson, John Beaumont and Cliff Kratzing, and they variously knew one another not only through the Canberra Alpine Club but through work connections. They were keen skiers and Peter had come third in the langlauf in the Balmain Cup races at Kiandra in 1947.
The hut was intended as a "half way house" between Franklin and Gingera. Fearing the government would not grant them a lease of the land, the skiers chose a spot just over the border inside NSW, and built their hut there. Materials were transported on Geof's T-Model Ford utility known as "The Hopper". Main timbers came from Bulls Head, while wall-cladding was pine offcuts from a sawmill; the bark was still attached, giving the little hut a rustic look. A slow combustion stove was installed and the hut - or "permanent tent" as Peter called it - was complete.
But the hut saw only little use, as the group either moved, married or otherwise didn't get back to the Gingera snows. The building stood until at least the 1970s but eventually collapsed. In the 1990s pieces of timber and metal were still visible, but the timber was lost in the 2003 bushfires. Today a little of the metal can still be found.
Another group built a hut on Mt Ginini. Known as the Ginini Hut Club, the group officially took out a lease in October 1948. Main members were Gus Angus, John Murray, David Thomas and Jim Gillan.
In addition to wanting access to the snows of Ginini and Gingera, the club was keen to get in before a commercial operator took a site on the range, which would have made for much more expensive skiing on the Brindabellas. This concern about a commercial lodge (possibly owned by a brewery) was widespread among alpine club members.
Some bush timber for the hut was found locally, and sawn timber was transported from Canberra, mainly in Dave Thomas's 1924 Cleveland motor car. Roofing iron (rare in this post-war period) was bought at a government auction in Kingston. A wood stove and bunks were fitted. Friends helped with construction, especially English carpenter Horace Morley who was employed on Canberra's Havelock House. Several members of the group rode motorbikes to Ginini from Canberra.
The Ginini Hut Club members enjoyed the 1949 winter from their little base, driving to Franklin Chalet and skiing from there to the hut. A small ski run was formed on Ginini. The skiers also did tours along the range. But like the Stockyard Gap group, job changes had their impact and there were concerns that the lease might be lost due to government protection of the Cotter water catchment. The Ginini club offloaded the lease in 1951 - to RMC Duntroon which developed the site into its own ski lodge.
The third group of Brindabellas skiers to form a small club was the Gingera Ski Club. Members included Bill Ginn, Doug Hyles, Ron Bell, brothers Dick and Ken Prowse, and Harry White (and later, Eric Dunshea). They took out a lease in April 1947 on Mt Gingera, again for access to the peak's better snow and to forestall commercial interest in the area. Aged surveyor Colonel JTH Goodwin surveyed the block for the young guys, setting a fast pace: "He was prancing around the mountain like he was a rock wallaby," said Ron Bell.
Two impediments soon arose which made hut construction difficult. The first was the road which was very primitive. Secondly, Lindsay Pryor, head of Parks and Gardens, wanted a site on Gingera for his Alpine Botanic Garden (an annexe to the Canberra botanic garden) and in 1951 Pryor was successful in obtaining a section of the mountain which was the very same as that wanted by the skiers.
So, a hut wasn't built, though the skiers did make ski trips on Gingera. Ironically, Pryor's Hut itself, built for the garden annexe in 1952, became a destination for Canberra Alpine Club skiers doing cross-country ski tours to Gingera from Franklin, as part of the hut was open to the public. During the 1960s and 70s, Canberra Alpine Club's Alan Bagnall led an annual trip to Pryor's and Mt Gingera.
Today there are no ski huts on the Brindabellas, just the day shelter at Franklin which tells the story of the alpine club's Mt Franklin Chalet which stood there until the 2003 bushfires. RMC Duntroon's lodge was demolished many years earlier. Pryor's Hut still stands and attracts visitors into these beaut mountains behind Canberra.
- Matthew Higgins is a Canberra author and historian.
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