Mt Donna Buang: the search for the USC Lodge chimney

Bogong

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I posted something about this on the Ideal Alpine Hut thread. There was a lot of interest, so I'll start a new thread dedicated to it.

Background.
A while ago I agreed to write a "short" article: Mt Donna Buang the forgotten ski resort. As I dug around, I found more and more and the article is about 10 times longer than I originally planned.

Mt Donna Buang overlooks the town of Warburton in the Yarra Valley. Only 63 km in a direct line from the centre of Melbourne, it was a popular ski resort from the mid 1920’s until the early 1950's. In it's heyday it attracted up to 6,000 visitors per day and had ski lodges, day shelters, ski hire, a huge ski jump and 6 runs cut through a forest of Myrtle Beech and Woollybutt. For 25 years it was busy every weekend there was snow. However snow cover was erratic and after the war better transport and the development of ski resorts at Hotham, Buller and later Falls Creek and Baw Baw meant it lost out to those resorts and it was largely abandoned by the early 1950's.

Bogong said:
... I was up on Donna Buang with a friend a couple of weeks ago scrub bashing our way to historic sites. I've now found the sites of three ski lodges and four of the six former ski runs. Unfortunately the huge stone ski jump was dozed when they rerouted the road in the 1970's.
frown.gif


Anyway, here is a pic of me inspecting the chimney of the the University Ski Club Lodge, which was moved to Mt Buller in 1950. This one took many hours to find as the search was based on the recollections of an old timer who last visited it 65 years ago.
562658_10200749569283032_1925562749_n.jpg


We can build the wonderful proposed hut shown in TeleXC's post around this chimney.
smile.gif
 
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Bogong

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currawong said:
hi bogong, good to see you again
sidetrack said:
Nice find boggy, directions?
tele-whippet said:
Welcome back Bogong, always good to have you're learned input!
TeleXC said:
Awesome find bogong! I look forward to reading your article about donna when its done, It's such an interesting little mountain. What a nice fire, it would be nice if a new hut was built around it.
Sidey, the old timer told me the chimney of the USC lodge was "near" the ruin of the SCV lodge, which is visible from one of the main walking tracks.

We had no clue what "near" meant as we had already visited another ski lodge site several km away on the other side of the summit. So "near" could mean up to 1 km away. We started the search by heading down to the base of one of the main ski runs and heading towards the SCV Lodge ruin on a compass bearing. We picked up an old overgrown track which made us hopeful, but eventually we emerged behind the SCV Lodge ruin, without finding the USC Lodge chimney. Then we scrub bashed uphill on either side of a slight ridge above SCV Lodge, heading towards the summit, keeping in touch by radio, but again found nothing. By this time we were pretty tired and scratched.

Before abandoning the search we headed down the modern walking track from the toilet block towards the SCV lodge ruin, scanning the forest on either side for something that didn't look natural. About 120 metres from the SCV Lodge, Blair thought he saw a clearing in the forest, I said it wasn't worth investigating, but he headed off anyway and I took a breather. A few minutes later the radio crackled to life with a message in a flat voice "I think you had better head over here". It sounded ominous, it could have been a twisted ankle or snake bite, so I carefully followed his route into the gloom of the rainforest, heading towards the clearing. After about 100 metres, I saw Blair and the chimney below me!

After eating a celebratory sour snake and taking photos, we found our way back to the main track by a slightly easier route. To find it yourself, go to the ruin of the SCV Lodge which is easily visible a few hundred metres west(ish) from the summit on the main walking track to 10 Mile and Mt Victoria. The USC lodge is at the same altitude a bit over 100 metres to the north. But the scrub is a bit thick so head uphill for about 30 metres and then head north off track through thinner scrub, looking below you for the chimney.

We were certainly not the first people to visit the site since it was abandoned in 1950 because we found this rusty plaque attached to the chimney.
1673_10200749573803145_1189306961_n.jpg
 
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Bogong

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Fred76 said:
hi Bogong, is that a Myrtle Beech forest? If so is that quite low down on the mountain relatively, snow wise. Edit maybe acacia melanoxylon
Actually the altitude is over 1,100 metres and it's sufficiently far south that it gets quite heavy snow cover for an extended period in most years.

The trees are Myrtle Beech (Nothofagus cunninghami) with a Woollybutt (E. deligatensis) overstory and the occasional silver wattle (Acacia something or other). There are also lots of knee high, mother shield ferns.

Sorry there are no Blackwood (A. melanoxylon) at all around there, but there are plenty down the mountain around Warburton.

Another shot of the vegetation around the 80 year old chimney, look closely for the rusty little plaque.

64712_10200749570483062_197110653_n.jpg
 
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obrien

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So where were the other four old lodges located?
You said one was on the other side of the summit and these two were quiet close together. Was it a dispersed or a village feel?

I look forward to reading the article when it is complete.
 

Charlie

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Hi Bogong, I too have missed your informative posts
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GS

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Good find. I was up there yesterday, next time I'll have to look for the chimney. Interesting that the concrete flue blocks at the top chimney are the same as what was used in my first house in the valley below. House was about same vintage, obviously popular construction method around that era.
 

Bogong

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obrien, when places like Hotham started out the lodges were widely dispersed, just like they were on Donna. By the 1950's the area between them began to be filled up at Hotham, but Donna had been abandoned by then, so this infill by newer buildings never happened. So no, there was never a proper "village feel" at Donna.

The first proper ski lodge (as opposed to forestry huts used for accommodation) was built in 1930 by the Melbourne Walking Club several km away from this site, about 200 metres west of where the lower car parks are today.
 
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Bogong

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A few photos of skiing at Donna in the 1930's.
Donnaskiers1932Argus.jpg

Photo in The Argus newspaper. 20 June 1932. These crowds were not unusual in June. In July and August, things were even more crowded.

c1935ski.jpg

There was a lot of resentment from skiers towards sight seeing 'tourists' and snow players jumping fences and spilling on to the ski runs.

Capture.png
 
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Majikthise

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Bogong said:
The trees are Myrtle Beech (Northofagus cunninghami) with a Woollybutt (E. deligatensis) overstory and the occasional silver wattle (Acacia something or other). There are also lots of knee high, mother shield ferns.

they'll probably be Acacia dealbata
 
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GS

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Great photos Bogong, thanks for posting.

Very under utilised park IMO, particularly now the Aqueduct Trail is open. Could easily add another walking trail using disused firetrails from the Don Road end of Aqueduct Trail up to Ben Cairn and then across to Mt Donna Buang summit to meet the Warburton/Mt Victoria track. Would make a great circuit...with 1000+m of ascent and same descent.
 

Bogong

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Until a few decades ago there used to be a walking track descending from near the hang gliders launch site and hitting the Yarra River around Millgrove. It's still marked on VicMap / Spatial Vision publications, but they are notorious for never doing field surveys for their maps and I'm assured that it's now jungle by a friend who tried to find it. (Although GS may know if it's still passable?) But combined with the Martyr Road track, it would have make a nice circuit from Warburton.

In January some friends and I walked up the Martyr Road track from the golf course, over Mt Victoria to the summit, then walked down the overgrown Cement Creek track (getting lost a couple of times) to the Acheron Way, along the sealed road for a few km to the Aqueduct trail and then back to the cars. That day was a bit of an epic, way too long to be a sensible day walk circuit, even if the "Powers That Be", ever decide to reopen the wonderful Cement Creek Track.

There is an interesting website on the history of the aqueduct over the years: http://oshannassyaqueduct.weebly.com/index.html
 
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TeleXC

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That was a great read bogong. I think it's great that Donna Buangs getting attention as it looks like it has a rich history in Victorias skiing culture along with Buffalo. what a shame the other runs weren't maintained, they'd be a fun occasional downhill ski close to Melbourne. I'm amazed how many people are skiing there, imagine if it continued to grow until today, could have some snowmaking equipment and small lifts.
 

Bogong

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I wouldn't say Donna's heyday as a serious ski resort has got any attention at all really. No other ski historian knew much about it and it was universally dismissed as a minor snow play destination where once, "a few dozen skiers" used to go.

It was only when I started researching it from original sources that I found out that before the war it had many thousands of visitors every weekend, as well as over a dozen ski related buildings. It was much bigger and more important than Mt Buffalo.

If I am disciplined, I should be able to finish off my research at the Public Records Office and various libraries within a few months and hopefully the "short article" (which has turned into a book) will be less than 20,000 words.

I've offered a cut down 2,000 word version to a few magazines and been knocked back, so I will probably put the whole monster thing on a free web site later this year.

But please ask questions, it helps me get an idea of what people might want to know about Donna Buang: the forgotten ski resort.
 
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The Plowking

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teckel said:
They're all herringboning up hill. Were there no lifts in 1932?
Hey, no snowboards!
biggrin.gif
wink.gif

Looks like they recently had a fire through that area?
Oh, and make some room in your box.
So what exactly IS your problem with snowboards? Serious question.
smile.gif

Single post in this thread will do.
 
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TeleXC

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Bogong said:
I wouldn't say Donna's heyday as a serious ski resort has got any attention at all really.
Sorry, I wrote that post wrong, I was meaning its great it's getting attention on this forum. One thing that amazes me about Donna is that it had that history considering what it is today
 
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Bogong

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Weerab, most Victorian skiers of the 30's, 40's and even 50's had experience at Donna, it's just that people like Hull don't give much detail.

For the article (or is it now a book?) I'm looking for anecdotes by skiers who knew the mountain well, as well as info on things like the ski hire, shelter huts, travel experiences, staying in the lodges, that sort of thing.

Anyway. Here is a "hybrid" map showing the old road and former walking tracks in pink overlaid on a modern map with the summit road built in the mid 70's shown in a faded red and modern walking tracks in dark grey. I have marked the rough locations of the four known ski runs in green. Locations of three ski lodges are also shown, but so far I don't know where the shelter huts and amenities were.

In Donna's heyday, the road was closed above 10 mile and skiers used to walk up the track (now overgrown) to the six ski runs. The base of most ski runs was around the 1180 metre contour and went up to the top at 1250 metres.

DonnacompositeplushanddrawnCROPPED.png
 
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chriscross

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Good work, Bogong, fascinating stuff. I trust you have (or have seen) a copy of 'University Ski Club 1929-1979' by Lynette Sheridan, which has an interesting but short chapter on Donna Buang, including some great photos of their hut, the crowded runs, the building of the jump and even a proto tele turn from 1929.
 

Bogong

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Yes Chris, The club histories of the University Ski Club, Ski Club of Vic and Melb Walking Club were amongst the first sources I consulted. Each of them gives a good overview of the club's operations and varying amounts of information on the overall ski resort.

However I've uncovered passing references to at least one other club lodge, as well as some sort of hut with overnight accommodation belonging to a bureaucracy, but I have no idea as to who owned these places or where they were on the mountain.

So if anyone has even the faintest glimmer of a rumour about them, please let me know, as I just need a guess at an owner to start research.
smile.gif
 
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tsl

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was there ever any maps of the ski runs produced? it would be really interesting to see.
 

TeleXC

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It would also interesting to know if they ever had cross country skiing up there and if there were some purpose built trails for it
 

Bogong

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tsl said:
was there ever any maps of the ski runs produced? it would be really interesting to see.
I've checked through most copies of the monthly Victorian ski magazines of the day, Schuss and Ski Horizon. But some (about 10%) have been stolen from the state library, so I can't be sure there isn't a map of the ski runs in them. Likewise one of Stuart Brookes first ever maps (c.1950) was of Donna, but that has also "disappeared" from the state library.
frown.gif
That's the reason for the hybrid map above. If I can't find a map made between 1930 and 1950, I'll have to assemble one myself.
 
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Bogong

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TeleXC said:
It would also interesting to know if they ever had cross country skiing up there and if there were some purpose built trails for it
TeleXC, after about 1952, skiers just stopped visiting Donna and things were left to the "family snow play" demographic. When they built the new summit road in the mid 70's, just as XC skiing was getting popular, it appears that ALL skiing was banned on Donna.

Generally the mountain is too steep for XC skiing and the only suitable track would be the Melbourne Water road that goes to the west of the summit. The original road had a gentler grade than the modern road, so it would have been suitable for XC skiing too. I've scrub bashed along the whole length of it and found nothing except an extraordinary number of 40 year old booze bottles, steel beer cans and 100 metres of more modern looking power cable.

I've never heard of any purpose built XC trails on Donna, although obviously, I'd like to hear if there were some.
 
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VSG

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And this?

http://bpadula.tripod.com/donnabuang/id10.html

By the late 1930s, serious skiers abandoned Donna Buang in favor of Mount Buller but the mountain remained a favorite winter day trip from Melbourne. For thousands, it was their first sight of snow.

The Black Friday 1939 bushfires destroyed most of the Ski Club Huts - the buildings which remained were shifted to Mt Baw Baw and Mt Buller. By the mid-1940s, there was no further large-scale organized skiing at Donna Buang, and the two ski runs became toboggan runs.
 
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Bogong

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VSG said:
Yeah, having every copy of The Argus on line is a real blessing to people writing history. But because it's the only Melbourne daily paper that is fully scanned and searchable online, does tend to give a more conservative view on things like policy and politics. But as I mostly write on mountain related subjects, that's not an issue for my stuff.

Still it would be nice to have other Melbourne dailys like The Herald, The Age, The Sun, et. al. on line too.
 
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Bogong

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VSG, six ski runs were cleared and had summer grooming to level them and clear them of rocks and stumps. I have identified four that are still partly clear of trees.

Three headed south or south east from the summit, generally in the direction of the 10 Mile Turntable. Parts of all of them are still used as toboggan runs, although a massive steel staircase has been built down the middle of The Main Run, preventing anyone skiing on it today.

A fourth run headed north east from the summit and the modern walking track still follows it.

But despite looking at aerial photos and half a dozen visits (with a lot of painful scrub bashing), I am yet to find the two remaining ski runs. Does anyone have a skiing grandfather who still has a sharp mind who might remember something?

Here's the hybrid map again to help visualise where the runs were:

DonnacompositeplushanddrawnCROPPED.png
 
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Bogong

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"A" could well be the site of the University Ski Club lodge and it's still standing chimney. We certainly didn't see anything else around there and we were looking.

But now you mention it, "B" (and the yellow arrow nearest to it) do look interesting and I haven't been within 100 metres of there. I will try to have a perve at that location next time I visit Donna.

Thanks!
 

Bogong

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VSG said:
And this?

http://bpadula.tripod.com/donnabuang/id10.html
By the late 1930s, serious skiers abandoned Donna Buang in favor of Mount Buller but the mountain remained a favorite winter day trip from Melbourne. For thousands, it was their first sight of snow.

The Black Friday 1939 bushfires destroyed most of the Ski Club Huts - the buildings which remained were shifted to Mt Baw Baw and Mt Buller. By the mid-1940s, there was no further large-scale organized skiing at Donna Buang, and the two ski runs became toboggan runs.
That website has some nice photos, but possibly a few inaccuracies. As I said, there were at least six ski runs, not two. Only the cabin belonging to the Melbourne Walking Club was destroyed in the 1939 fires, but it was insured and rebuilt in the summer of 1940 - 41.

Donna was quite popular during the war as the St Bernard Hospice and Feathertop Bungalow had burnt down in 1939 and the 90 bed Buller Chalet was destroyed in 1942, so there was a huge shortage of ski accommodation and places like Hotham Heights and Buffalo were often booked out for servicemen on leave. In any case, with petrol rationing and restrictions on long distance train travel, most people couldn't get to the remaining ski lodges at Hotham and Buffalo, even if they could get a booking. After the war, 1946 had the highest snow falls in history, and Donna was very popular. 1947 was reasonably busy too, it was only in 1948 that the proliferation of ski lodges at Hotham and Buller plus the first lodge at Falls, started to draw people away from Donna, but then the decline was very rapid.

I've accounted for the fate of the three club lodges that I know about (one moved to Buller, two left on site but not used much). However if there is even a shred of evidence that another lodge or public shelter went to Baw Baw, I would be thrilled to hear about it!
 
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Bogong said:
tsl said:
was there ever any maps of the ski runs produced? it would be really interesting to see.
I've checked through most copies of the monthly Victorian ski magazines of the day, Schuss and Ski Horizon. But some (about 10%) have been stolen from the state library, so I can't be sure there isn't a map of the ski runs in them. Likewise one of Stuart Brookes first ever maps (c.1950) was of Donna, but that has also "disappeared" from the state library.
frown.gif
That's the reason for the hybrid map above. If I can't find a map made between 1930 and 1950, I'll have to assemble one myself.

You're over your pm limit... if you want someone to take a look at the mapping side of things and reconciling the different data sets to build up a reasonably accurate picture of what went on, let me know...
 
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Bogong

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Thanks Red. I have cleared a few messages so there is some room there now.

Basically the pinky-purple is data from a c.1963 government map overlaid on a 1990's government map with a size change to accommodate the change from imperial to metric scale.

But I still hope to find an original map of the mountain from the 1930's or 40's and I can put that over a more modern background map to show the old and new summit roads as well as the location of the original ski runs, ski hire, day shelters, lodges and other buildings.

Much of the mountain actually has a slightly NZ feel, in places it is dominated by beech and other rainforest species with very few eucalypts.
 

William

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Bogong, make an application to have the aerial photography from that district extracted from the archive. Sometimes the cost can get prohibitive. Benefit is though that there are runs going back to the late 30's and you're area of interest is pretty close to Melbourne so there is a reasonable chance of some runs in your area around the time the ski runs would have still been in operation, should stand out quite well.

Check here for the run index http://www.ga.gov.au/flight-diagrams/FlightDiagram.flightDiagrams?SJ5506
 
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