NFF 2015/MFSRF 2015

April 28th, 2015 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Camping, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Photos, Victorian alps

It is a little while now since I attended the National Folk Festival (NFF – Easter) and The Man From Snowy River Festival (MFSRF), the weekend after. Although I did not play a large role in either, I would like to record a few reflections of them both nonetheless.

I attended them both with Maggie Somerville. It was Maggie’s first National for many years, and her first MFSRF.

With all the build-up for Port Fairy, I had decided to take a very low key approach to both these festivals – simply sit back and let it wash over me, playing small roles now and then. Of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. Once you’ve had a taste of the limelight, it’s not so easy to slip back into the shadows again…

Nevertheless, I had a great time at both, and have no regrets.

The National is always fabulous – so much to see, and so many opportunities to be involved, even if only in a very minor way. It is very different to the country music festivals where bush poetry dominates. There is still a preponderance of rhyming verse, but there is still a fair bit of non-rhymed. (Is there a difference between non-rhymed and free verse? I don’t know.)

The Poets’ Breakfasts were well attended as always, though my feeling is that the audience numbers are a little down on, say, a decade ago. Certainly the merchandise table doesn’t seem to buzz as it once did.

Laurie McDonald, as Spoken Word Coordinator for the festival, has done a great job beefing up the programme for poetry and yarn spinning. There are now regular evening poetry shows as well as the Breakfasts, and the number of feature poets seems to increase every year. Five years ago things were definitely in the doldrums. My only criticism would be that all the shows are largely unthemed, and feel a bit aimless at times. I wonder if it is time to take the next step, and begin to build more ambitious, structured shows, with a clear sense of direction. Of course, this all takes time, and is difficult with a workforce (i.e. the poets) that is effectively volunteer.

The sign at the Stock Camp took my attention – very atmospheric. (Just don’t look too closely at the spelling.)

The Stock Camp copy

Of course, Andrew Pattison’s Troubadour has been replaced by the “Flute and Fiddle”, and is the new venue for the Poets’ Breakfasts. After a couple of years of resenting the change, I am gradually coming to accept the new arrangements.

The Man From Snowy River Festival at Corryong this year began on the Thursday after Easter. As this Thursday and Friday are not public holidays, one can only assume that the majority of those who attend are retired. Maggie and I both had work commitments, so were unable to leave Melbourne until Saturday morning. (Indeed, I was working until 11pm on the Friday night, so it was a bit of a scramble to get away even then.)

Corryong is a wonderful spot, tucked away as it in the Murray Valley in north east Victoria, with timbered hills rising all around. The drive to and from is a large part of the enjoyment of the weekend itself.

I must confess I have always been a little reluctant to attend this festival, as I feel fairly uncomfortable with the notion of perpetuating the myth of the mountain cattleman. I imagine they were heroic enough in their day, but I do feel it is time to remove cattle from the Alps. Mind you, a grizzled old mining surveyor very active in the Victorian Alps in the first half of the 20th century once said to me “There’s nowhere that the cattlemen went on a horse that I didn’t go on foot.” Perhaps that is even more heroic, yet we do not celebrate – we scarcely even remember – the rich heritage of gold mining in the Australian Alps.

Anyway, enough of that.

Corryong was the venue for the Australian Bush Poetry Championships this year. Jan Lewis and her army of volunteers did a great job of organising the festival, as always, and the shows were very well attended.

The format is a little awkward in that the shows are run as competitions, yet are also expected to be entertaining. It is a difficult line to tread. The biggest challenge is filling the dead time between acts, when the judges are writing down their comments. This is where the MC is truly tested. A good MC keeps the show rolling so that you are barely even aware that the judging is taking place. By and large the MCs this weekend did a great job, though you sensed a few times that their material ran out before the show did.

I also find it tough sometimes to listen to so much spoken word without any leavening of music. It doesn’t help that each poem is on a different subject, or telling a different story. There is just so much to take in. My trouble is that a good poem will fire my imagination, and I will find myself half way through the next poem before I remember that I should be paying attention to it, too. Some musical interludes would help to soften the intensity of it all. Having said that, though, it is difficult to imagine how that could be achieved within the current structure.

Here is the Saturday night crowd.

Saturday night copy

The Sunday Poets’ Breakfast was fun, and a great opportunity for Maggie and me to strut our stuff.

Poets' Breakfast 1 copy

Poets' Breakfast 2 copy

We left shortly after lunch on Sunday to face the long drive back to Melbourne and be back in time to be at work on Monday morning.

It was a great weekend.

Lake Mountain

August 17th, 2014 | Snow, Victorian alps

I spent a wonderful day skiing at Lake Mountain yesterday. The beauty of Lake Mountain is that it is such an easy drive from Melbourne. The village centre fills with young families on toboggans, but you only have to move a short distance down the track to leave them behind.

I was joined by my son, Thomas, and his (and my) friend Jamie Blaker. It was my first trip to the snow in two years, and the first time in several years any of us had made the trek to Lake Mountain.

Part of the joy of a day such as this is the drive. It takes you through so much stunning forest scenery, including the little town of Marysville, devastated by the fires of 2009. Jamie is a frequent visitor to Marysville, as his parents own a house there. It was burnt down. Fortunately, a new house now stands in its place. Here is the view from their balcony.

View from Blakers 3 copy

The snow cover was adequate without being exceptional. Likewise the weather – foggy and windy, but essentially fine. Thomas and Jamie are both studying Law, so that formed the basis for most of the day’s conversation.

Here they are strutting their stuff.

Thomas skiing 1 copy

Jamie skiing copy

We stopped for lunch at Lookout Rock, where we have eaten on a number of previous occasions. It’s great to be able to sit down on some snow-free ground, though the freeze starts to sink in if you stay too long.

Lunch 1 copy

There is always so much to photograph. I loved this snow gum.

Snow gum copy

As you can see, the trees are still mostly burnt and dead. The snow gums only regenerate from their bases.

Post-fire re-growth copy

The trunks looked fabulous against the mist.

Forest in mist 1 copy

Here is Thomas (in the red) with Jamie…

Thomas and Jamie 4 copy

…and with me.

Thomas and Stephen 4 copy

The day would not be complete without a photo of a snowman!

Snowman 2 copy

Then it was back down the mountain for a well-earned cup of coffee in Marysville!

So many scenic panoramas opened up before us from the car windows…

Here is just one.

Valley view copy

Other highlights? Two lyrebirds, with tails fully erected, skipped across the road a short distance in front of us on the drive up. The cost – or relative lack thereof – was also something of a highlight. $53 for the car park – yes, a bit of a shock, but it also covers trail fees, and ski hire for the day was only $36, which I though was very reasonable.

It is so utterly peaceful and serene on those Lake Mountain ski trails. I always find the snow country lifts my spirits and inspires me enormously. I’m not talking so much about the hustle and bustle of downhill skiing, but the quietude of the back country.

To be able to experience such joy on a relatively undemanding day trip from Melbourne is a rare treasure indeed.

Marching into Dibbins

August 23rd, 2013 | Poems for children, Victorian alps

Dibbins Hut is one of my favourite places.

Marching Into Dibbins

Our packs are big and heavy, but we’re feeling fit and strong.
We’re marching into Dibbins, and it shouldn’t take too long.
It’s a great yet simple method to escape the city’s throng,
And we’re marching into Dibbins in the great Australian bush.

The Dibbins brought their cattle to the mountains long ago.
They built a hut to shield them from the wind, the rain and snow.
It’s nestled in a valley deep where crystal waters flow,
And we’re marching into Dibbins in the great Australian bush.

The Dibbins now have all passed on. No Dibbins yet remain.
Their hut was old and shabby, but it’s been re-built again.
It stands beside the river on a small and grassy plain,
And we’re marching into Dibbins in the great Australian bush.

Once we’re there, we’ll pitch our tent, our little nylon dome.
We will not brush our teeth tonight. Our hair we will not comb.
Tomorrow when the sun comes up, we’ll pack, and head for home.
We’ll be marching OUT from Dibbins in the great Australian bush.

Living in the city there are times, alas, one finds
That the ugly traffic noise intrudes beyond the window’s blinds,
And, if not in the strictest sense, at least inside our minds,
We’ll be marching into Dibbins in the great Australian bush!

© Stephen Whiteside 13.12.04

You can’t take a tram to Mount Buller

August 23rd, 2013 | Poems for children, Snow, Victorian alps

I thought I’d post this poem before the ski season finishes.

You can’t take a tram to Mount Buller

You can’t take a tram to Mount Buller,
‘Cause trams do not travel that far.
I’m afraid you will just have to hoof it.
Better still, go there by car.

You can fly in a plane to Mount Hotham,
By chopper if you are a star,
But you can’t take a tram to Mount Buller,
‘Cause trams do not travel that far.

The train takes you close to Mount Baw Baw.
A push-bike will build stamina,
But you can’t take a tram to Mount Buller,
‘Cause trams do not travel that far.

There are none on the Summit or Baldy.
Never were, nor ever shall.
You’ll not find a tram-car on Burke Street,
(And Burke Street isn’t a mall).

You can take a tram all ‘round the suburbs,
But don’t be a silly galah.
You can’t take a tram to Mount Buller,
‘Cause trams do not travel that far!

© Stephen Whiteside 03.08.00

When your sleeping bag is cold

August 23rd, 2013 | Poems for children, Victorian alps

If you’ve ever been camping, you will know there is nothing worse than a cold sleeping bag!

When Your Sleeping Bag is Cold

I love to go out hiking in the great Australian bush.
Your backpack can be heavy, and your body you must push.
You’re tired, and aching, too,
And you sleep the whole night through,
But you tend to wake up early when your sleeping bag is cold.

Night-time when you’re hiking is an extra special treat.
You feel so warm and cosy from your head down to your feet.
You hit the deck and crash,
And nights pass in a flash,
But they seem to take forever when your sleeping bag is cold.

Your clothes become your pillow when you’re sleeping far from town.
All the warmth you need’s provided by your bag of down;
But if you’re cold you wear them.
You simply cannot spare them.
You find you have no pillow when your sleeping bag is cold.

There’s a moral to this story, a lesson to this tale,
And if you do not heed it, then your pleasures, they will pale.
You’ll find that going hiking
Is not quite to your liking,
And you stay home in the city…when your sleeping bag is cold.

© Stephen Whiteside 06.12.04

Hotham and Mary’s Slide

August 7th, 2013 | Photos, Poems for adults, Snow, Victorian alps

These photos were all taken at Mount Hotham. It is a very photogenic place, especially on a bright, sunny day in the middle of winter.

My beautiful picture

Here is the road into the Hotham village, coming from Harrietville.

My beautiful picture

Here is one of the access tracks, looking from above. Doesn’t it form a lovely sinuous curve?

Probably the most famous ski run at Mount Hotham is Mary’s Slide. It is steep and dangerous. Fortunately, it is out of the way, and there is no tow to take you back to the top, so it is only attempted by fairly experienced skiers. This is just as well. Not only it is steep, but it is narrow, and it becomes steeper and narrower the lower you go. Eventually it drops off sharply into the icy water of Swindlers Creek.

The “Mary” of “Mary’s Slide” is a real person, Mary James. She was a champion skier, and a regular at Hotham during the early years. I spoke to her briefly once, and eventually wrote a poem about her, and her famous ski run. I will put it at the end of this post.

My beautiful picture

This is the top of Mary’s Slide…

My beautiful picture

…and this is the view looking down.

My beautiful picture

Here is a little bridge that spans Swindlers Creek not far from the bottom of Mary’s Slide.

The Story Of Mary’s Slide

There’s a ski slope near Mount Hotham that is known as Mary’s Slide.
A little off the beaten track, it makes the strong feel weak.
It’s steep and very icy. At its tops its smooth and wide.
Then it narrows to a funnel, and it drops to Swindler’s Creek.

I often used to ski it, and I often used to wonder,
Who on Earth was Mary, and just what was her slide?
Down the left, or down the middle did she make her famous blunder?
(I was sure I would have heard if she’d been injured, or she’d died.)

Did she slide down on her belly? Did she slide down on her back?
Which, her head or feet, was travelling first?
Or did she slide down sideways? Or did she slowly spin?
And what exactly happened at the bottom?

Well, I now know who was Mary. We have spoken on the phone,
And she told me, very sweetly, that she didn’t slide at all!
She often used to ski this slope. (I tell you, I was thrown!)
Not only did she fail to slide, she didn’t even fall!

For in her younger days she’d been a very able skier.
A regular at Hotham, she had skied with skill and pride,
And she told me how, one day, while skiing homewards, in good cheer,
Her confabulating colleague had dreamed up this fabled slide!

Well. If ever any ski-slope spawned a slide, then this was it!
Accuse me, if you like, of opting out of life’s dull grind,
Of not accepting facts. I tell you, I don’t mind a bit!
For I much prefer the version I have pictured in my mind!

© Stephen Whiteside 19.03.90


August 7th, 2013 | Harrietville, Photos, Poems for adults, Victorian alps

I always used to think of the town of Harrietville as nothing more than the last stop-off before the climb to Mount Hotham.

In recent years, though, I have come to appreciate the town for itself. Not only is it exquisitely beautiful, but it has a fascinating history. The surrounding hills are littered with abandoned gold mines – as well as the occasional one that is still working.

It strikes me as odd that we now hail the mountain cattlemen as cultural icons, yet the mining history of the Victorian alps is all but forgotten.

As an old mining surveyor, O. C. Smith, said to me many years ago, “There’s nowhere that the cattlemen went on a horse that I didn’t go on foot!”

I took these photos while strolling around Harrietville one Sunday morning a couple of years ago.

Harrietville 1 copy

Harrietville 2 copy

This is definitely the prettiest house in Harrietville.

Harrietville 11 copy

I love the colours in this photo.

Harietville 6 copy

This is pretty good, too.

Harrietville has a great museum, curated by the legendary Ian Stapleton. It was Ian who founded the children’s adventure camps Mittagundi and Wollangarra. More recently, he has written and published a series of books based on his interviews with high country old-timers and pioneers.

Museum 1 copy

Museum 7 copy

Museum 8 copy

This poem about Mick Dougherty, who drove the coach between Bright and Omeo (and over Mount Hotham) in the 19th century, is based on information taken from Ian Stapleton’s book “Hairy-chested History”.

Mick Dougherty

Mick Dougherty rode the coach from Bright to Omeo.
He laughed and smiled when the sun was warm, he shivered in the snow.
Mick Dougherty rode the coach from Omeo to Bright.
Either way, he stayed at Mt. St. Bernard’s for the night.

At 9am on a Tuesday morn he’d head for Omeo.
At 7am on a Thursday morn back home to Bright he’d go.
In the days when forty shillings a week was all that a man could earn,
It was thirty five shillings to go one way, or sixty shillings return.

Mick Dougherty told a joke as only the Irish can,
And always, if anything seemed to go wrong, it was simply a part of his plan.
With his clear blue eyes, and his fund of yarns, he always took great pains
To maintain his reputation as the driver that entertains!

Mick Dougherty knew that road as well as the back of his hand.
He trained his horses expertly to answer his every command.
He never had an accident, he knew the route so well.
He knew just when to slow right down…and when to race like hell.

Mick looked after the ladies well. Whenever a bend was tight,
He’d crack a joke, or tell a yarn, to keep them feeling right.
He knew a day inside a coach would test endurance powers.
They couldn’t powder their noses, but they could pick lots of flowers.

Mick moved to Mt. Buffalo, to service the new Chalet.
It meant a bright new uniform, and probably more pay.
Alas, he broke his ankle. It left him in great pain,
And Mick Dougherty, coachman, never drove a coach again.

Mick looked after the donkeys. Some said it was a shame
To see him peter out like this, when he’d been at the top of the game,
But Dougherty loved the donkeys. His work he did endorse.
He said he liked them better than he’d ever liked a horse.

Mick died down in Melbourne. He had been to see the Cup.
He’d owned a horse called “Nightgown”. It was easy to pull up.
Mick Dougherty drove the coach. He mastered every trick.
When you drive past Blowhard next, spare a thought for Mick.

© Stephen Whiteside 04.07.07

Mystic Seas

August 6th, 2013 | Photos, Victorian alps

They call them ‘mystic seas’.

Early morning cloud formations in the gullies of the Victorian alps cause the exposed ridge and mountain tops to look like islands arising from the ocean.

My beautiful picture

This photo was taken from the alpine road near Mount Hotham, looking across towards Golden Spur.


August 5th, 2013 | Photos, Snow, Victorian alps

The snow is here once again.

Skiers understand full well the impact of global warming.

My father introduced me to skiing. His first snow trip was Mount Hotham in 1964. It was a bumper year. He told me how, at the end of the season, when the snow melted, cars were found to have been parked on top of other cars. Caused a lot of damage.

So, how much snow do you need before you don’t realise there is another car under you when you park? At least two metres, I would have thought.

These days, you are very happy to get one metre of snow. When I checked the Hotham web-site last week, there was about 30cm of natural snow, and 60 cm of man-made snow. There was no need for snow making in the 60s!

My first year of skiing was Mount Buller in 1968. It was another bumper year. I was in Year 8, and staying in the Scotch College lodge, Koomerang.

A long flight of steps had been dug down through the snow to gain access to the front door. We skied off the back balcony every morning. Shelves dug into the solid wall of compacted snow that greeted you when you opened the lodge door downstairs served as a second fridge.

Here are a few photos I’ve taken up in the snow country over the years.

My beautiful picture

This would have to be the best photo I have ever taken in the snow. I was skiing from Mount Loch across to Spargo’s Hut. I looked up to my left, and could not believe how beautiful the view was. I snapped it quickly. Blue sky. Virgin snow. As close to perfection as I’m every likely to see.

My beautiful picture

Mount Feathertop would have to be Victoria’s most beautiful mountain. (It is also the state’s second highest mountain, after Mount Bogong.) This photo was taken with a telescopic lens from Hotham.

My beautiful picture

The currawongs are your constant companions up in the snow.

Koflers (front view) copy

Mount Buller is also a great place to ski. My favourite place to eat there is Koflers Restaurant, shown here. Don’t forget to try the Chocolate Rip-off Cake or the Apricot Mogul – preferably both!

Koflers:Bluff copy

This photo, with the Bluff in the background, shows just how isolated Koflers is. No wonder the food is not cheap!

The Bluff copy

Here is a great shot of the Bluff!

At Hotham, the surrounding mountains are generally also above the snow-line. At Buller, they are mostly below. It makes for a very different view, but it is also very beautiful.