Crackenback Ski Club
Crackenback Ski Club


Remember me

History - Before KT

Before interview with a young careabout

[An interview with Ian Curlewis at Crackenback Lodge by Steve Andrea and Dave Hyland, in July 2005]
I first started skiing in NSW in 1952. That first year a few uni mates all piled into John Holt’s canvas topped Austin A40 for a few days skiing.  We were so cold getting up to Smiggin Holes, like I couldn’t believe you could get so cold.  We were going to stay in a place called the Red Hut which was just above the Chalet, but we got up there and found it was full of snow.  We had a couple of days skiing at the Chalet, we seemed to be able to find a bed somehow as Red Hut was no good without paying up with the money that we didn’t have.  It was the next year I guess we then started into an organisation, the Ski Tourers Association, both Alec Shand, John Holt and myself who were all  law students had heard that there were a couple of huts that had been built on the Main Range.

Albina had been built, but Kunama we’d heard was in the process of being finished, and this was in 1952/1953. Geoff Hughes was the one I think that told us that if we helped build the huts out on the Main Range we could have our accommodation for the first year free.  Quite a few of us came up to work on the huts. John Nagle, who’s recently retired as a Supreme Court judge,  Leycester Meares [aka.Shagger]   Jim Baldock and a group of others all came up, as it happened to be in the law vacation as at that stage all the courts closed for three weeks. However, Alec and I came up a little bit before the others.  So, we got to Smiggins but we then couldn’t afford to get the oversnow transport which at that stage was a converted sten gun carrier, an army sten gun carrier, it had track wheels on it, it was open and was used to transport people from Smiggins up to the Chalet.  I’d had about two or three days on the snow in the previous year, and so we put the skis on, at that stage we all had skins on our skis, we had downhill skis but you could release the heel and we had very flexible leather boots that could permit you to lift your heel and be able to walk on skis. 

So we skied in from Smiggins to the Chalet which was about 6-7 miles, and then we had another two and a half miles to get from the Chalet out to Kunama Hut on the Range.  To get to Kunama you go up over Charlottes Pass, down to the Snowy River on the western side to a place called Foreman’s Chimney.  It was an old stockmans hut, which had since been burnt down but with only a chimney left and that was a landmark to be able to get out. The river was covered with snow which helped to get across.

In those couple of years, we had these absolutely wonderful years, because having skied in the winter and met a lot of people at that stage from Ski Club Australia skiing at the Chalet. The law vacation seemed to coincide with a lot of the Ski Club of Australia holidays or the week that they had up there.  Whilst helping at Kunama, Alec and I got the idea that we might go and find a couple of girls in the Chalet. So we’d run in at the end of an afternoon, put on our skis, and ski what was mostly downhill from Kunama Hut to the Snowy River. We then climb out the other side and ski down Charlottes Pass to the Chalet.  Once there we’d have a wonderful night, wining and dining after which we’d need somewhere to stay (as more often than not the fillies would escape our advances). There were a couple of big long couches in the reception area of the Chalet which would become our refuge after lights out. The Chalet operated on a generator which was turned off after 10pm which was lights out. 

So Alec and I would disappear behind the couches (which were leant against the wall) out of sight as we couldn’t afford to stay there. We then had to make sure we were out by 7 o’clock in the morning as this is when Elizabeth Sponar came on duty at the reception and she would have not reacted well to a couple of ‘ring-ins’ freeloading behind her couches. So by 7 o’clock we put on our skis and got out of there.

The following summer we went down and did some more building. We built a hut on the bottom of Mount Northcott.  At that stage all our construction and actions were done with approval of the Park Trust. Garfield Barwick was the Chairman of the Park Trust and he was known to a number of our mates.  We’d go out there with the approval of the Park Trust, run bulldozers over to establish these huts, drive in with our 4 wheel drives with provisions for the summer time and we caused the most incredible erosion that anyone could ever imagine.  It cost, I would think approximately a million dollars in the end to halt and rectify what we could of the erosion. In those days none of us realised how tender the country was.

However, despite the pressure being put on the high country, each year more work was done. This was largely driven by the energies of Charlie Anton (the namesake of Antons T-Bar). Geoffrey Hughes, Leon Smith, John Turner and many others. Shortly after  this group formed the genesis of the team that was to drive the expansion in this area of the snowies. These were all incredibly energetic guys who needed slaves to help them realise the construction they were planning. The slaves were us, and for some reason we just seemed to enjoy it and kept on coming back for more.

Over those couple of years we would be up there at Christmas time.  One of the special things that was established during this time was the summer ski race. This was held between Christmas and New Year on the South America Drift. This was aptly named as it looked like a map of South America. The drift gave you a run down the south facing slope of probably a couple of hundred metres. It was a GS style race and was a pretty wild and woolly sort of race. The race was run during this period and to my knowledge it has not been run for many years. These days its not really viable as there is not the access available without significant hiking across the high country as vehicles are no longer allowed access to these areas.

We finished Kunama Hut with voluntary labour and the Tow Hut,with its four bunks. It was built at the bottom of the valley below Mount Northcott (Kunama Hut is pictured in the photo at the top of the stairs in Crackenback Lodge today). Kunama Hut had it’s toilets downstairs in a granite foundation, they were pretty good toilets in those days. However, the toilet seats were freezing among the granite foundations.  JohnNagle,, a senior lawyer, would send us junior lawyers down to warm one up each day for his use. Oh how life has changed !!!!.

As all provisions were carried out to the huts rum was the preferred choice as beer was too heavy.

We had to carry everything out, so we would take plenty of rum and so we became pretty proficient at fixing hot butter rum, whiskey and the spirit drinks.  There were some pretty rough nights out there.

A tow was built close to Kunama at the foot of Mt. Northcott and a tow hut was built with accommodation for four people.  It had in it an engine that been transported in from Seamans Hut with vehicles and each year we would work on that.

The tow was a nutcracker and was as dangerous as hell. You’d have a webbing belt, an army webbing belt round your waist that was attached with a little bit of rope to the nutcracker. You’d hang on to the rope, but then if you put your arm over the rope it would twist and turn and pull you all over the place. I once saw a girl up the top being picked up by her jacket, the rope had twisted around the jacket and she was lifted up off the snow, she was just about to go around the bullwheel so we had to shut down the tow.

From the top of Mount Northcott there was a run called Golden Eagle. This ran run right from the top of Mount Northcott about 800 metres all the way back to the Hut.  I recall seeing Chris Davy (a future Olympian) fly down the run.

However, I guess that it was in those couple of years that a lot of city guys, lawyers, doctors, accountants, mixed up with a lot of guys from the properties around this area, out as far as Bungendore, Bill Davy, a lot of the Goulburn people and from the Monaro. 

A large team of people became members of the Ski Tourers Association. These guys established Illawong and Perisher Hutte in Perisher and the original Roslyn Hut which is where High Noon Lodge is today. This was all the result of the energies of Charlie Anton, he was a most extraordinary guy, it was very much a love/hate relationship.  We worked like crazy for him. He had the vision and he just seemed to be able to get things done.  He was a dedicated guy with the vision to create the infrastructure of what are today the major ski villages of New South Wales. 

Well, in 1956 , we were going up to Kunama once again. Bev wasn’t skiing because she was pregnant.  Anyhow, she hadn’t come and so again Alec and I had gone ahead for a couple of days. We had to a pick up John Holt and a girl called Roslyn Wesche on the way.  Again, we were still pretty short of money so we knew we couldn’t afford to stay the night in the Chalet.  We picked up these two people, and headed off over the top, I remember we got a rope tow up to the top of Charlottes Pass, we got down, crossed the Snowy River at Foreman’s Chimney in the face of a raging blizzard, and by about five, a quarter past five we knew we were not going to get to Kunama, nor were we going to find our way back to the Chalet.  So at that stage there were snow poles on the way out to Kunama but a couple of them had been blown down, and of course this was an incredibly dangerous.. So we came across a little 4 x 4 red hut, you’ve seen those little water measuring huts around the mountains, we found that we were able to get in through the top of that, through a trap door in the top, and that really saved out lives I suppose.  But we got in through the top of that and because of the heat of our bodies inside the walls inside condensed and so there was water running down and so we couldn’t lean against the walls, we had to stand up all night with every bit of clothing we had on.  I even shared a sleeping bag with John Holt!

John and I were lucky as we could open a crack in the door to have a pee outside but poor Ros had to wait all night.  However, we awoke to the most fantastic day next morning. We skied off and had two wonderful days skiing up at Kunama.  The rope tow was going well, the only trouble was that the water had frozen in the water supply we had established to Kunama Hut. We then had to dig a hole down in the snow to find where the dam was that we had put in the original creek, which was simply a 44 gallon drum with a plastic pipe through it.  We dug down in the snow which I suppose must have been about 12 feet deep at this stage, and found water.

A blizzard came in that evening.  There were 13 of us in the hut at the time.

Early the next morning Keith Hordern [ Ian Hordern’s dad] got out to go and spend a penny downstairs in the loo. He was about to get back into his bed when the avalanche hit. That is when Ros Wesche was killed.  The snow came down and covered one corner of the hut and forced her face into the snow and she suffocated.  Keith was lucky, he was thrown out. I was pinned by the chest by a wooden beam. I couldn’t move. If the beam had moved another half inch I was going to be dead along with Roslyn.  I looked around to see what the scene was like. I was concerned that the firesides (heaters) were going to start a fire.  Fortunately they had been thrown out in the snow by the avalanche. There was a tank up in the mezzanine floor that overflowed and flowed straight down into my sleeping quarters onto me and into the sleeping bag.  I looked around and Peter was saying “where’s the fireside, is that out?  Or have we got a fire?”  I looked around and saw smoke, I immediately, thought “fire”, however, it was only my breath against the cold air and it was ok.

The rescuers didn’t want me to move for fear of further movement of the structure. I wasn’t too keen on moving myself. After an hour or so I was cut out, soaking wet, by Ken Breakspear and the Studley brothers. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning.

The current Roslyn Hut is named after Roslyn who was killed in the avalanche.

It was a pretty sombre trip back into the Chalet.  Roslyn was only 23 or 24 when she died. We had to carry her body on a sled and were met at the Chalet by Ros’s father and mother who had already been told of Ros’s death. She was a fabulous girl. 

By 1956 there was a large group of people who had become friends and enjoyed skiing together each year. There were many doctors and lawyers from Sydney who made the trip down each winter. The skiing and partying were both taken very seriously. I recall one story involving Dr Eisenberg, an eye doctor from Sydney. They used to ski with us each year. They used to ski quite often in late spring. One particular year, he and a friend decided that it’d be a good idea to take off for a days nude skiing. Unfortunately for him he didn’t look so clever when he got 3rd degree burns on the bottom of his balls! That’s definitely a ‘serve you right’!!  However, they were also very serious skiers claiming to have skied down between the rocks on Mount Carruthers down to Blue Lake and boy, if you’ve seen that slope, it is quite an extraordinary thing to have done.

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