History of Hotham

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Origins

Hotham came into being as a ski resort in 1925 when Bill Spargo, chief ganger of the crew upgrading the road asked if he could open the new house that was the central base for the crew in winter as a guest house. The same year Feathertop Bungalow also opened and St Bernard Hospice was renovated and reopened. Before 1925, the only ski lodge in Victoria was the Buffalo Chalet. Victoria's 5th ski lodge, the Mt Buller Chalet, opened 1929.

Hotham Heights Chalet unknown date

"Hotham Heights" prospered so much that Spargo was sacked c.1932 and proper guesthouse managers installed. The building was extended so much over the years that by the late 1930's the extensions were bigger than the original stone house.

Pre war skiing came to an end in the Black Friday fires of January 1939 which killed 75 and destroyed mills, mines and towns including half of Omeo. Hotham Heights, the St Bernard Hospice and the Feathertop Bungalow were all lost.

Wartime and Post War

Hotham Heights Chalet as it looked in the 1950's

Hotham Heights was quickly rebuilt for winter 1939, but plans to extend it in 1940 and rebuild the St Bernard Hospice and the Feathertop Bungalow were stopped by the start of World War II in August 1939. All labour was controlled by government for 6 years. The Buller Chalet burnt down in July 1941, but despite high demand, it wasn't replaced due to shortages of labour and materials. Rebuilt Hotham Heights was mostly reserved for Navy, Army and Air Force on leave. As soon as the war was over, clubs started building at Davenport and soon the Alpine Club of Victoria, University Ski Club and Edelweiss had lodges, Lindsay Salmon built Drift Chalet, ANARE built the Cosray Hut, which their staff also used for accommodation and by the late 1940's a modest settlement was strung out along the road.

The first ski tow at Hotham was the Blue Ribbon nutcracker rope tow in 1952. It was built by Ski Tows Limited with most shareholders drawn from the membership of the Alpine Club of Victoria and University S.C. The company never paid a dividend.

Tows at Hotham

Blue Ribbon Rope Tow 1952 - 1972

Higgie Rope Tow (Unsure of date)

Jack Hedley's (rope) tow. 1962 (Swindlers to The Pimples)

Jack's J-Bar 1965

Basin Poma 1964 - 1970 (Relocated to Davenport)

Summit Poma 1968 - 1987

Playground Double Chair 1969 -

Davenport Poma 1971 - 1983

Brockhoff Poma 1973 - 1986

Basin Platter 1974 - 1992 (Relocated to Koala Park)

Sun Run T-Bar 1977 - 1994

Summit T-Bar 1979 - 1994 (Relocated to Aust Drift)

Blue Ribbon Triple Chair 1981 -

Plains of Heaven Platter 1981 - 1983 (Relocated to Dinner Plain)

Big D Quad Chair 1984 -

Heavenly Valley Quad Chair 1987 -

Summit Quad Chair 1988 -

Village Quad Chair 1993 -

Koala Platter 1993 - 1997

Road Runner Quad Chair 1995 -

Australia Drift T-Bar 1995 -

Summit Trainer Platter 1998 -

Gotcha Quad Chair 1997 -

Keogh's Quad Chair 1997 -

Orchard Quad Chair 1997 -

Big D Trainer Rope 1999 -

Another Wikiski list of Hotham tows is at the Australian ski tow directory

Published history of Hotham

Magazines.

Schuss and Ski Horizon. Victorian monthly ski magazines published from 1935 - 1960 and late 40's to mid 50's respectively. Ski Horizon was probably a little better for the years it was published.

Ski Yearbooks.

Lots of long and detailed articles as well as annual reviews of all states (and all resorts from the 50's). Victorian Ski Yearbook to the mid 1930's, Aust & NZ Ski Yearbook until the late 40's and then Australian Ski Yearbook. After the mid 60's, the Aust Ski Yearbook degenerated into an advertising glossy without many interesting articles.

Ski Club Histories.

- Don Bennett. Hotham Horizon: the Alpine Club of Victoria. 1987. Probably the best Hotham club history

- Jenny McLennan. Not below 5000: a history of the Ski Club of East Gippsland. 2001.

- Lynette Sheridan. University Ski Club 1929 - 1979. 1985. Also covers the club's lodges on Donna Buang & Buller

- Snow on St Bernard: 1930 - 1980. Wangaratta Ski Club Jubilee book. 1980.

- Jannis M. Lloyd. Skiing into history: Ski Club of Victoria. 1924 - 1984. 1986. Covers SCV operations throughout Victoria. Controversially claims the achievements of other clubs for the SCV.

Other books.

- Ian Stapleton. Hairy chested history: colourful characters of Hotham & Harrietville. 2003. The history of Hotham and St Bernard areas from the gold rush to just after the war. It has an interesting chapter on Bill Spargo.

- Mick Hull. Mountain memories: 60 years of skiing. 1990. The first half is absolutely riveting, including his report of the Mt Bogong tragedy in 1936 where Hull lost 9 toes to frostbite and Cleve Cole lost his life. After about 1960 the book mostly degenerates into "what I did on my European holidays" reports.

- Fred Ward. The road builders. 1999. Includes fun chapters on snow clearing and running a skiers transport service to Hotham in the 40's and 50's.

- Harry Stephenson. Skiing the high plains: stories of the exploration of Victoria's snowfields. 1982.

- Harry Stephenson Cattlemen & huts of the high plains. 1980. Stephenson's books cover all of the Victorian high country in anecdotal style, incorporating old magazine articles.

- Tor Holth. Cattlemen of the high country. 1980, rev ed, 1983. A more formal work on graziers of the area between Bogong and Hotham.

Ephemera and government reports.

These add 'colour' and detail respectively to histories. Much is not publicly held, although the State Library of Victoria and the State Archives have a few things. Email me for more information.

Of course, the best resource of all is bumping into old timers and scribbling down their recollections of skiing 50 or 60 years ago. (and desperately wishing that you had a tape recorder!)

This bibliography is pretty basic at the moment and it omits a few marginal or unreliable sources. If anyone uses it in a book or thesis, please give me a credit and send me a copy! --© David Sisson 17:06, 25 September 2007 (EST)

Snowfalls at Hotham 1927 - 1979

Biggest ever = 1946, 2nd biggest = 1927, 3rd = 1964, 4th = 1981

1927 Huge! 1928 Very light
1929 Heavy 1930 Very light
1931 Good 1932 Good
1933 Very light 1934 Light
1935 Light 1936 Long & heavy
1937 Light 1938 Light
1939 Very heavy 1940 Light
1941 Good 1942 Heavy & long
1943 Good 1944 Short & light
1945 Short & light 1946 Biggest ever!
1947 Very heavy 1948 Very light
1949 Extreme light 1950 V. light & short
1951 Late, but good 1952 Very good
1953 Very heavy 1954 Light
1955 Generally good 1956 Long & good
1957 Short & light 1958 Short & light
1959 Short & light 1960 Generally good
1961 Light 1962 Light
1963 Light 1964 Very heavy, long
1965 Light 1966 Light
1967 Light 1968 Heavy
1969 Extreme light 1970 Heavy
1971 Generally good 1972 Very good
1973 Extreme light 1974 Good
1975 Very light 1976 Light
1977 Heavy 1978 Generally good
1979 Late & light

There has been a snow gauge at Hotham Heights and the depth has been recorded every day since May 1925! No idea who has the records, but they should be out there somewhere!

Old Maps

Old ski maps


Mount Baldy Gold Mine - Australia's highest Gold Mine

Baldy Mine, looking towards the Summit Chairlift at Mt Hotham. Photo courtesy Andrew Swift
Baldy Mine, looking towards Mt Loch and Mt Feathertop. Photo courtesy Andrew Swift

Less than 100 metres down the slope from Hotham Summit towards the Loch reservoir is a shallow hole in the ground that was once known as the Baldy mine. One of two gold-bearing quartz reefs discovered on Mount Hotham (then known as Mount Baldy) in March 1890 by a party of Harrietville prospectors, the 2ft 6in wide reef prospected up to one ounce of gold per ton. This was pretty good; however the miners had to cart the stone all the way down to Harrietville to get it crushed to extract the gold. A shaft was sunk on the reef and several tons carted off the mountain, however the value of gold dropped to a point where it became uneconomical to cart and the mine was abandoned in preference to another reef which was a mile to the south.