WISH YOU WERE HERE – THERE ARE MANY COLD PLACES IN AUSTRALIA IN WINTER, and Victoria’s Ballarat is one of them. So it may not be so surprising that this postcard of the local constabulary arresting a snow man is of Ballarat.
This coloured postcard was printed in Germany for the Australian market by W.T.P. The card is numbered 155/107712. The postcard has a divided back.
Off on a tangent – Dating the postcard
Various postcard dating websites give tips about dating cards and the role of German printers. we quote:
Divided Back Era, 1907-1915 ~ The Golden Age
By this period, divided backs were almost universal, except in a few monopolistic governments. Previous to and during this period, a majority of U.S. postcards were printed in Europe, especially in Germany whose printing methods were regarded as the best in the world. However the trying years of this period, the rising import tariffs and the threats of war, caused a swift decline in the cards imported. The advent of WWI caused the supply of postcards from Germany to end. Poorer quality postcards came from English and U.S. publishers. The lowered quality of the printed postcard, recurrent influenza epidemics, and WWI war shortages killed the American postcard hobby. During the war years the telephone replaced the postcard as a fast, reliable means to keep in touch. Thus the political strains of the day brought about the end of the “Golden Age”.
By way of confirmation of the likely date, the State Library of Victoria’s Shirley Jones collection of Victorian postcards has a postcard of a snow scene in the Ballarat Gardens, from the same W.T.P. sequence and dated circa 1907.
One of the first snow clubs and its carnivals
Gold miners at Kiandra in the Snowy Mountains established a ‘snow-shoe club’ and associated races in the 1860s. They were reputedly world pioneers with respect to both. Although philologist Sidney Baker thinks that the Kiandra Snow Shoe Club was founded after a club in Norway. He advises that the first skiing races were conducted in 1862 in NSW and 1863 in Victoria.
Sport or transport?
Activity in the snow in the nineteenth century was largely restricted to those who lived in snow prone areas. It was probably a means of transport rather than a sport. However the beauty of the mountains including the snow were being brought to the general population by photographers such as Nicholas Caire, J W Lindt, J W Beattie and Charles Kerry.
[Charles Kerry] pioneered snow sports at Kiandra and in the winter of 1897 led a party from Jindabyne to the summit of Mt Kosciusko, which led to the opening up of the area for skiing and the naming of a run after him. He was president of the Kosciusko Alpine Club. (Australian dictionary of biography. Vol. 9 1983)
The photographers travelled widely in Australia and also in the region. Their work was sometimes used on postcards and so linked to the emerging tourism industry.
Many factors influenced the popularity of going to the snow
You needed somewhere to stay. In 1891 a hospice was opened at Mount Buffalo. The Mount Buffalo National Park was declared in 1898. In 1909 a hotel was established at Kosciuszko; skiing schools and ski clubs were set up too. In 1910 a small wooden Mount Buffalo Chalet was built. It was intended to be in the style of the great Canadian railway hotels but was in fact initially built on quite a small scale.
Access was difficult until motor vehicles were more widely available. This initially meant that snow trips were exclusive or expensive. The first snow plow was in operation at Mt. Buffalo in 1925.
A 7 day driving tour of the Australian Alps cost 7 times a labourer’s weekly wage (in 1926).
It was not until the 1920s and 30s that skiing became more popular. In 1932, the Australian Ski Federation was established. Some competitive downhill events began in about 1930. But of course in the absence of ski lift, most skiing was cross-country. The first ski lift in Australia opened at Mount Buffalo in 1937.
The brochure advises that:
There is no need to fear the cold at The Chalet. The lounge, music and other general rooms are provided with large fireplaces, in which huge fires are always burning during the Winter months….
All kinds of equipment – snow capes, snow boots, skates, skis, Canadian or Norwegian toboggans, bob sleds and rucksacks – are available for hire.
The toboggan slide formerly known as The Grand Slam but now named The Whizz-bang has been considerably improved. The construction of a ‘taking-off’ platform for expert ski-ers at the top of the slide has made safe this spectacular sport………
It was not however quite as easy for tourists as the brochure suggests. This report from later in the year, The Argus, 13 August 1927 notes:
SNOW AT BUFFALO. ROAD ALMOST IMPASSABLE. TOURISTS FORCED TO WALK. Three Hours to Cover Four Miles.
BRIGHT, Friday.—Snow conditions on Mt. Buffalo and the Alps are completelydisorganising the arrangements of touring parties. The party which left the chalet to-day to return to Melbourne found itself practically stranded in the snow country. There were about 60 guests, and soon after leaving the chalet it was found impossible for the waiting motor-cars, at a point known as Mackinnon’s, to carry out the arranged programme and pick up the tourists. Only light cars attempted to traverse the road, and these were used to convey those members of the party who would otherwise have found it impossible to reach the railhead at Bright. The remainder, who numbered 40, and included 10 women, then set out on foot, making their way between the banks of snow that guided them. Their journey of four miles occupied more than three hours, and they were then picked up by the waiting motor-cars and conveyed to Porepunkah, where the train was delayed, pending the arrival of the snowbound tourists….
….Ski-ing enthusiasts are finding no difficulty in getting about, and describe the sport as the finest yet obtained in this snow country. The members of the Ski Club of Victoria returned to Bright this evening after having spent a week on the Alps, and although there was too much snow to decide the many events intended, the party is enthusiastic with its week’s adventure. Bright is overtaxed with visitors, and a party of 150 from Albury and Corowa is due on Saturday for the week-end.
In both NSW and Victoria, government ran the accommodation for the winter (and summer) visitors. In 1904, the NSW government took over the running of Hotel Kosciuszko and in 1908, the Victorians took over the Mount Buffalo Chalet. Accommodation like that at the Mount Buffalo Chalet was run by the railways and so subject to a regime not unlike that of a train timetable – standard arrival and departure times (by coach and train), group activity, rigid meal times.
According to Wikipedia
When the Mount Buffalo Chalet was run by the Victorian Railways the restaurant was known as an official “Railways Refreshment Room”. Staff worked in railway uniforms, blew whistles and imposed curfews for guests. Railway tickets were issued for equipment and activities such as “Motor to Wangaratta” and “Skis, steel edged with cane stocks and boots 2nd Grade 8/6-“?
Although there was great growth of interest in skiiing and the snowfields after World War 11, in 1949, there were only 200 beds on all Australian snowfields. The 1950s saw big developments in NSW at Thredbo and Perisher. This brochure about Cooma recommends the town as a hub for trips to other areas including the snowfields of Perisher and Thredbo.
Baker, Sidney J 1963. The Ampol book of Australiana: annals and oddities. Currawong Publishing Company, Sydney.
Davidson, Jim & Spearritt, Peter 2000. Holiday business: tourism in Australia since 1870. Miegunyah Press at MUP, Carlton South.
Richardson, John I 1999. A history of Australian travel and tourism. Hospitality Press, Melbourne.
White, Richard 2005. On holidays: a history of getting away in Australia. Pluto Press, North Melbourne.