Some chats with mountain people
These stories are taken from Mountain Journal #2, a magazine which is distributed across the mountain and valley towns of south eastern Australia (available as a pdf here).
This year we thought we would focus our stories on people who are actively doing good in and for the mountains. This is just the tip of the iceberg: there are the park rangers, the weather forecasters, the fire tower watchers, the garbos and mechanics and road clearers who keep the resorts open, the snow makers, and all the folks who keep the mountain communities open and thriving. But this is a start.
For many more stories and profiles please check here https://themountainjournal.com/interviews-profiles/
The ski patroller
Peter is a ski patroller at Mt Stirling in North Eastern Victoria.
How did you get involved?
I skied as a kid, my parents taught me, and so I spent a fair bit of time skiing with my family and friends. In 2019 a friend dragged me along to Mt Stirling to volunteer with the ski patrol. I quickly realised it was a great way to ski a lot, and to learn from people who are more skilled than I was.
What is involved in ski patrol?
You are the ambassador for the mountain. You spend a lot of time just talking with people, offering them information, keeping them safe and intervening when things go wrong. Mt Stirling is different to most resorts in that there are no ski lifts or accommodation. It’s a cross country/backcountry mountain, so the way we operate is different to downhill resorts, particularly when searches are required. This becomes a team effort as it’s a big mountain with a lot of trails and rough terrain.
Because of the mountain’s terrain, mostly Alpine Ash and Snow Gum, there are a lot of trails to keep open and so we often get involved in track work, removing fallen trees and making sure the tracks are safe and skiable. We are increasingly more involved in summer activities, such as mountain bike events and these trails also need to be kept clear.
How many patrollers are there?
There are about 5 paid patrollers and 20 active volunteer patrollers on average.
What does an average day on the mountain look like?
It will start with a briefing and a run-down of the intentions forms that we ask people to fill out, so that we have a good sense of where people are or where they are travelling to. This is usually followed by a training session in the morning such as First Aid or equipment use.
Then patrollers will begin moving about on the higher and lower trails throughout the day. I personally like to spend the day on and around the summit, skiing my way up on the skins or, on a good day, I get a lift up on the skidoo. While on the summit I will spend time talking with people, checking conditions, making sure the tracks are in good condition and rendering first aid assistance if required.
We’re the last people off the mountain and so we tend to follow the last group of day trippers down. Generally, we encourage people to leave the summit area by 3pm so they can be back at Telephone Box Junction (TBJ) by 4. Then we will do a check of the car park and look for any stragglers who are not yet accounted for.
We may also drop in on the campers. We know all the good camping spots and will often check with groups as we head off the hill.
Do you have many searches?
In spring, when there is more sunlight, people tend to stay on the mountain later. That can be an issue if we don’t know where they are. However, most people know what they are doing and we have a well-marked trail network, so it’s generally easy to find people if they do get disorientated.
What do you love about patrolling?
The lifelong friends I have made who I love skiing with for pleasure as well as while on patrol.
The many epic days of skiing. These are days where you do lap after lap of Stanley/Dugout Bowl and your legs are so trashed you can barely ski back to TBJ. Regularly patrolling on Mt Stirling means that I have also intimately learned about the mountain. I know all the secret tree runs and where the snow is best.
For me it also led to paid work on the mountain. I know various people who started here as patrollers and went on to work on other mountains. Additionally, my lifelong journey in the mountains has led to my involvement in the Victorian Backcountry Festival, Bush Search and Rescue, and my leadership role in Scouts Australia as the State Leader for Alpine Activities.
What do you love about Mt Stirling?
When the conditions are good it’s the best place to learn backcountry skiing. When you talk to backcountry skiers you realise that so many of them started at Stirling, going on to bigger mountains, but they always talk about their love for the time spent at Stirling.
I love the change that I am seeing as well. Nowadays, it’s not just skiing. Most people on the mountain in winter are not traditional cross-country skiers. More are up in the summit zone, on telemark alpine touring or split boarding gear. It’s a mixed crowd, which means It’s a cool place to go backcountry and meet people who are happy to share tips and experience. During mid-week the mountain is often dominated by school groups and it is great to see the next generation giving it a go in the bowls and runs that the mountain has to offer. I am loving introducing my daughter Charlotte to the mountain at present. It’s also an easy place to camp during the snow season with lots of great spots to put up a tent.
Mt Stirling really is awesome and the place to be there when the snow season is at its peak.
How can people get involved in ski patrol?
They can contact the mountain and then come along to pre-season training. For the first year they will be paired with a more experienced patroller and build up their training and knowledge. After the first year, they will continue to ‘learn on the job’ as every day is different.
Greg is a well known local at Mt Hotham, who takes meticulous care of the cross country trail network.
I was a sickly child. My mother, a nurse, thought that I wouldn’t survive infancy. At an early age I began learning about soil and soil biology, although without real understanding until many years later. My understanding increased when I learned that the nutrition in our food has been declining for over 100 years. Illness plagued my youth and early adult years leading me to seek medical treatment and life in Melbourne.
Once I thought that my health issues were resolved, I jumped at the chance to move to Hotham and clean toilets at Zirky’s. Glorious Hotham sunrises became highlights of my days and skiing became my life outside work. After a couple of seasons, I started managing a Lodge and skiing everyday. As my skiing improved I became involved in the Ski Patrol and the Hotham Nordic Ski School. I really started learning how to ski then. In ‘87 I started going to the northern hemisphere for more and sometimes better snow. I was hooked and not looking further ahead than the next ski season. At the same time, I was frustrated with instructing, on sometimes awful Australian snow. This, and my efforts on the newly constructed Wire Plain trails lead me towards grooming. I found that, as rewarding as instructing was, I could actually do more for all levels of skier by grooming. Sometimes the money was even better. I didn’t know what I’d let myself in for though, as the trails had been roughed in and still needed a lot of work.
In the ‘90’s I got work grooming trails at a major US Cross Country resort and my life returned to back to back winters. Another health issue put an end to northern winters and I got a fire spotting job for a couple of summers before getting full time work at Hotham. I became the Fire Control Officer for Mt Hotham Alpine Resort among many other things. My great regret is that I was never able to make the trails into what I knew that they could be – great to ski on with minimal snow levels. I kept learning about soil, water and climate and ended up spending two summers in Antarctica working for the Australian Antarctic Division as an Aircraft Ground Support Officer. I spent some time grooming runways, refuelling planes and helicopters while supporting scientists and learning.
Once back at Hotham I became sick again and was made redundant then rehired the following week as a casual. I had a big challenge learning about my illness and overcoming it over the next years. Researching my ailments led me to some parallels between human health and soil health.
Bev Lawrence and Aviya Naccarella
Bev and Aviya have been working together at Mt Hotham on the environment program run by the Mount Hotham Alpine Resort Management Board (MHARMB).
Bev: MHARMB is responsible for protecting the environment at Mount Hotham. The environmental team work on projects ranging from pest predator and weed control, revegetation, native fauna monitoring, citizen science, as well as waste and sustainability projects. Some recent highlights include the restoration of an old quarry site on the side of Mt Little Higginbotham, creating additional boulderfield habitat, increasing vegetative cover and food resources for the Mountain Pygmy possum, and the installation of a waste sorting station at Hotham’s waste transfer station, enabling recycling to be more efficiently sorted and contaminates easily removed.
What motivated you to do this work?
Aviya: I became interested in alpine ecology at university, intrigued by the unique adaptations of both the native flora and fauna to the extreme climatic conditions. This passion led to an honours project researching snow gums across Hotham and Falls Creek. This led to me to my work as an environmental officer at Hotham and the opportunity to contribute to conservation projects in the Alps.
Bev: I started doing part time work on alpine grasses with Liz MacPhee at the Tobacco Research Station. The Research Station would eventually become what is now the Victorian Alps Nursery. Liz is a horticultural scientist who was also working on the germination of Australian alpine shrubs. Collecting shrub seeds on Mt Hotham for Liz proved to be the start of an ongoing passion for the incredible variety of plants we have in our Australian Alps. I was fortunate to be offered the opportunity to work full time in summer on the emerging environmental programs on Hotham. Till 2020 I was working full time in winter as a paid ski patroller. After 2020 I was full time on enviro work.
What sustains your enthusiasm for the work?
Aviya: Whether it is planting a shrub to provide food resources for Mountain Pygmy-possums or waking up before dawn to count moths it’s the interactions with our native species that sustains my enthusiasm. I am also passionate about sharing my own enthusiasm for our unique ecology with the public, whether it be through talks, citizen science projects, or simply a conversation on the trails or in the lunchroom with colleagues.
Bev: The variety of work I get involved in. Everything from setting up erosion control on job sites, advising building contractors on best environmental practice, getting injured native animals to proper care, giving enviro talks to school students, the involvement with visiting university researchers, weed control, the planting of the full suite of alpine plants, the sometimes crazy steep, rocky slopes we plant into. A highlight was spending a week in the fire helicopter GPSing willow across the high country, and of course meeting the Pygmy possums when biologists Ian Mansergh then Dean Heinze came to Hotham for monitoring.
What are you most proud of achieving in your work?
Aviya: I am most proud of producing a Flora Guide specific to Mount Hotham Resort. The Guide provides visitors and locals with information on common indigenous plant species and Traditional Owner plant uses shared by the GunaiKurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation. The booklet is available on the Mount Hotham website.
I am also proud to have been part of a collaborative citizen science project with Falls Creek Resort Management Board and La Trobe University – the Alpine Snowpatch Vegetation Monitoring Project. The project aims to collect long-term visual data to monitor snowpatch formation and melt at two individual snowpatches at Mount Hotham and Falls Creek Resorts. If you’re interested in getting involved visit the project page on BioCollect – https://biocollect.ala.org.au/acsa/project/index/975595b3-f675-44da-8117-6727a230044b
Bev: Seeing sites we have planted thrive and grow. It takes time, as alpine plants generally grow slowly, this being part of their strength. Seeing the food waste program continue to grow. The compostable coffee cup and lid project moving towards completion. Having more of our Hotham community becoming aware of doing things better in the waste space. Lots of questions about how they can divert from landfill. Better options.
What do you love most about the work?
Aviya: Having the opportunity to work with alpine flora and fauna and collaborate with other organisations on conservation projects that work towards building resilience of our alpine ecosystems. Working at the Victorian Alps Nursery is also a huge highlight of my role, being able to see a plant through its life cycle from collecting seed to propagating to planting is especially rewarding.
Bev: Seed collection: time to really look around at this amazing workplace. The people I work with and laugh with. Apart from the plants – the animals! The possums of course- what not to love, the lizards, frogs, snakes, birds. I had a Rakali (water rat) swim towards me through a puddle, looked like a little otter. Made me smile despite being totally wet, cold and muddy at the time. The early morning Bogong Moth monitoring – hearing dingoes call as the sun rises – magic!
Mount Hotham flora guide.
Martin has been a member of the National Parks Association of the Australian Capital Territory [NPA (ACT)] for over 32 years.
Upon his return to Canberra in the early 1990’s he struck out into the hills. Martin recalls:
“My first trip was a solo one based on a somewhat sketchy description of the route to Hospital Swamp in Namadgi National Park. My earlier training as a navigator in the RAAF paid dividends when staying on my selected route. But that aside, I was hooked”.
He later joined guided walks with the NPA (ACT) to get familiar with terrain and destinations and then turned to leading walks. Then, in the winter of 1998, he was invited to a meeting to consider undertaking some rehabilitation work in Namadgi National Park.
“A group of 20 or 30 people gathered in a cramped room on a June night to be advised that a commercial pine plantation located in the Gudgenby Valley, central Namadgi, was to be removed and the area rehabilitated to native vegetation. This meeting was the birth of the Gudgenby Bush Regeneration Group (Gudgenby Bushies) and I have been a member since that day. The pines are long gone and the area now more closely resembles an open-woodland common to most valleys in Namadgi. We continue to assist the natural recovery process.
“Little did any of we Gudgenby Bushies know that that things were about to change”.
A long period of joyous and rewarding travels throughout Namadgi and Kosciuszko National Parks came to an abrupt end in January 2003 when the Millennium Drought announced its arrival with weeks of devastating bushfires. The next year or so allowed unobstructed, if not dirty, walking to destinations formally ‘protected’ by 1-metre bush. But the need to help in the recovery process was clear.
Shortly after the fires were extinguished, the NPA was asked by the ACT Parks Service if it would be able to help in recovery works for Namadgi National Park.
“In the meeting between the Parks Service and the NPA I was asked if I would coordinate the NPA’s involvement. My positive response was never in doubt”.
“Nineteen years on, my team of volunteers continues to contribute to bush regeneration both in the reserved areas of the ACT and those in surrounding NSW”.
“This work has been the most rewarding I have done. The love of conservation work shared by the volunteers is boundless, as is their willingness to answer the call for one day a month of hard graft. After years of walking in the mountains, it’s a privilege to give something back.”
“When passion and responsibility are linked, an opening is created for innovation and something gets done … this translates into excitement and results, or put another way – having fun doing something useful.” Harrison Owen.
Wildcare Tasmania is a powerhouse team of volunteers and donors caring for Tasmania’s wild places, wildlife and cultural heritage. They offer inspiring volunteering opportunities in beautiful places, working in close partnership with the Tasmanian government, Councils, and private landowners.
With over 60 groups across the State, the work of Wildcare groups varies but one constant remains – when people take responsibility for what they care about, you get inspiration linked to practical results.
Meet Phoebe Roberts – a climber of mountains, adventurer and lover of all things wild. She recently volunteered with Wildcare for the first time. This is her story:
Injuring my knee at the beginning of 2021 and being forced to slow down has given me time to think about our wild places and the impact we have on them.
I knew there had to be a way I could get involved to help say thank you and put my little bit back into this beautiful state I love to explore.
I had already heard about Wildcare and the great work they do, so after going to the Wildcare Expo in Hobart I decided that I wanted to do my bit and help where I could.
In December, I took part in my first day of track maintenance with the Friends of Mount Field. We worked on the Old Pack Track in Mt Field national park and I met some wonderful people whilst doing it!!
Afterwards, once we had all finished and had said our goodbyes, I ducked up to Pandani Grove for a wander and fell in love with all the scoparia out in full bloom…
I’d have to say, spending time with the wonderful group of volunteers from Friends of Mount Field has certainly given me a whole new appreciation of our tracks. Seeing just how dedicated the whole team were only made me strive to do more!!!
One thing, however, that I have often noticed with volunteer groups in general, is how they often lack younger volunteers and are made up of the older generations. These amazing people have been committed for years upon years and it baffles me that the younger generation just haven’t gotten involved?
So with all this, I am glad to say that I’ve booked in for more this new year with the team at Mount Field and I’m so keen to get involved!
I urge you, if you’ve ever considered helping out but didn’t know how to get started then this is one great way for you to do your bit in our world…
This is a big “THANK YOU” to all the paid staff & volunteers that take time out & help look after our wild places, I know I appreciate it.
Emma Elizabeth Sumner
There is a vast amount of research carried out across the mountains, by students at universities, research institutions, and government bodies. Most of this work is invisible to the ;public, yet it is vital to help us understand threats to the environment and ensure we can plan for an uncertain future. Emma Elizabeth Sumner is studying a PhD at Deakin University and explains some of what research in an alpine environment involves.
How did you come to be doing a PhD on plants in the mountains?
During my undergraduate degree at La Trobe Uni, we had some really great lecturers that held a field trip up in the Mount Hotham area. It was the first time that I’d visited the Australian Alps and I found the landscape really impressive. It was fascinating to see these big expansive mountains and plains with hardly any human infrastructure, and plants and animals making a living in these really extreme conditions. I was hooked! There are also a lot of really interesting research questions you can explore in the mountains because of the steep environmental gradients and high plant diversity.
Tell us about your research. What does it involve/ where is it located? What are you seeking to learn?
My research is focused on how alpine plants respond to heatwaves and drought – climate extremes that are predicted to become more frequent in the Australian alps. While we know Australian alpine plants are incredibly frost hardy, not much is known about their heat tolerance, or how drought might alter high and low temperature tolerance. I focus on a suite of alpine plant species growing across the Bogong High Plains and in Kosciuszko National Park: species like Poa fawcettiae, Grevillea australis, and Ranunculus graniticola to name a few. Much of my research involves imposing drought and heatwave treatments in the field and/or in the glasshouse and then measuring thermal tolerance response. To measure thermal tolerance I expose plant material to a series of extreme temperatures (using a series of freezers and hot water baths) and then I determine which temperature causes irreversible damage. I’m also interested in how plant thermal tolerance changes throughout the year, and along elevational gradients.
What do you love most about your research?
There’s a lot to love about working in the mountains. I’ve enjoyed getting to explore some really remote places that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, especially around Kosciuszko. Spending a lot of time traipsing around the mountains from the very start of spring when the snow is just beginning to melt, right through to winter has also been wonderful because its given me such a great appreciation for the flowering sequence of different species and the variability in climate conditions that plant and animal life have to deal with.
When you think of the future of mountain environments in the context of climate change, what impacts do you think you will see in your lifetime
Climate change will definitely have some serious implications for alpine ecosystems. Most Australian alpine plant species are incredibly tolerant to extreme conditions – they inhabit areas with really unpredictable climate conditions which select for robust traits like high thermal tolerance, for example. However, I think we’ll likely see less frost tolerant, taller and more competitive species expand their ranges up into the higher mountains as strong climate filters like snow cover and frost relax. Ultimately these range expansions will be to the detriment of more specialised and less competitive species that have strong ties with snow and snowmelt patterns.
While climate change is definitely a very important threat to alpine environments, I think the threat of invasive species, particularly weeds like ox-eye daisy and hawk weed and big ungulates like horses and deer are already having a huge impact on the plants and animals in alpine ecosystems and its something we can actually control at the state-level. I’ve seen an incredible amount of damage from horses and deer in the bogs and wetlands near my study sites just in my short time working in the alps, so I can only imagine the scale of damage across the entire landscape. These animals thoroughly trample sphagnum peat moss and vegetation in bogs which takes a long time to recover. This also impacts habitat for animals like the broad tooth rat (which is an unfortunate name for an adorable chubby native rat). These impacts will likely continue to alter the alpine ecosystems we know within our lifetime.
When I went to my doctor a couple of years ago and asked for my first ever prescription for antidepressants , she was really surprised. Especially when I revealed what had brought me to this crisis point. It was love … for snow.
You may wonder how I fell for snow when I tell you I grew up in WA – more famous for its sharks than chalets. But my fairy tales were full of snow. Enchanting me with their sparkly, magical stories of wardrobes that open into Narnia or heroic hobbits braving treacherous alpine peaks.
Fast forward: I grew up, moved to Sydney where I became science reporter for ABC TV’s Catalyst program, and childhood infatuation grew into a full blown passion when I discovered Kunama Namadji (in Ngarigu): also known as Australia’s Snowy Mountains. I had all the symptoms of a crazy crush. Yes, I was that girl; internet stalking Thredbo, boring my colleagues describing its gorgeous crystal crusted peaks, its wombat snow caves, its snow gums twisting in glowing jewel colours beneath ice covered leaf chandeliers. I even dreamed about snow.
Over time, I have come to realise that just as we are primed to fall in love with people, we are primed by our biology to fall in love with places. Why? Because we evolved to love the elements of life that matter most to our survival. The late great biologist / philosopher E O Wilson coined the term Biophilia to describe our innate urge to love certain living things or natural settings. Indigenous Australians understand this deeply, the roots of connection to country reaching back millennia. But we all feel it intuitively, all have special beach-towns or farms or forests we love. That love is there to make us protect our homes, the landscapes on which we depend. I’ve come to call them “heart-places”.
I’m a science reporter. I don’t know why I thought snow would be magically immune to climate change – denial I guess? But in 2018, after a year deep dive researching what was going to happen to snow worldwide and here in Australia, something in me broke. I started to cry, no longer able to ignore the science. If we don’t find the will to rapidly reduce carbon emissions, then our magical snowscape might … melt away.
That’s what propelled me into my doctor’s office. I was suffering a new phenomenon called Climate Grief.
But take heart – in my case, climate grief for snow was the reality face-slap I needed. As I walked out of the doctor’s, a pocket full of antidepressants, my life changed direction.
I’ve spent the last few years on a personal quest; asking wise people how do we live a good and happy life under the weight of this knowledge? It became a book: Beyond Climate Grief: a journey of love, snow, fire and an enchanted beer can. And paradoxically, it filled me with inspiration, laughter and – frankly – hope.
And a mission. I now look constantly for what I can usefully contribute to climate action – and that includes giving talks and educating people about the snow, and the best psychological strategies for transforming climate grief into courage and optimism.
Our mountains are full of people who’ve had the wake-up call I’ve had and are determined to turn this around. The firefighters, the back-country guides, the educators and the rangers all giving back to the mountains, doing what they can to protect the place we all love. I’m so proud of them, so proud also of the businesses going carbon neutral, the resorts switching to renewable power.
My mountain heart-place gives me so much; renewal, soul-food, and fun! I love the thrill of the ice-winds, the wildness of the storms, the sparkle of a back-country day on Ramshead Range with friends.
But that love also asks something of me. It asks that I never turn away in denial, and keep taking whatever action no matter how small to ensure our heart-place survives.
That’s how you get beyond climate grief.
Oh – and I never needed those anti-depressants.
The community builder
What was your path to the mountains?
Most people get into snow via family holidays when they were young. I didn’t see snow until I was 25, which is a painful time to learn and fall down on a snowboard – plus the body takes longer to heal. I managed to inherit a massive group of snowboarding friends through my partner at the time, and most of our holidays involved snowboarding either in Hotham, Falls or Japan. In the early days, my love of the mountains was about doing as many lifts as possible. First and last lift. Fanging it down the mountain as fast as you can. And then enjoying the fun late night ski town life.
Today as I enter my 40s, my relationship with the mountain has really changed. I prefer the quiet, slowness, stillness and solitude of the backcountry. Initially I started splitboarding to fill in the gap between powder days. Now I think of backcountry and splitboarding first, and how lifts fill in the gaps.
I love skinning past gumtrees that have been there for hundreds of years. I think about the history it’s been through. The people and wildlife they’ve seen walk past them or enjoy their shelter. The weather and bushfires it’s had to endure and yet it still stands tall and proud in the mountains.
What do you love about skiing/ backcountry/ the mountain community?
100% the people. Everyone is so supportive, friendly, willing to share their knowledge, time and connections. There is no or little ego. So much patience showing a newbie like me the ropes. I love that the mountains have this magic effort in attracting like minded people to gather and enjoy the mountains together in whatever shape their body is comfortable with.
It doesn’t matter what the sport of choice is: skiing, snowboarding, backcountry, trail running, mountain bike riding. Since moving to Bright last year, everyone I’ve met that has a special connection to the mountains has welcomed me with open arms. I won’t be moving back to the city anytime soon. I have a mountain family here now.
Stoke is high this week as we can see snow up the top of hill from down here in Bright. Bring on winter. I have purchased every season pass possible.
Tell us about your involvement in the Victorian backcountry festival
I participated in the 2019 BC Festival and absolutely felt at home instantly with everyone I met. I want these people and activities in my life all the time. My cup was getting filled.
I am planning to get into event management so when VBCF were looking for festival volunteers in early 2020, I instantly contacted Cam to introduce myself. With Covid at its peak, we knew 2020 festival wasn’t gonna happen so I convinced a bunch of folks who haven’t ridden with me before / worked with me before to lead and run the online VBCF zoom program which turned out to be a success. We had 3 webinars running simultaneously, streaming to Zoom and Facebook Live at the same time, booked 19 volunteer speakers, produced over 12 hours of content, 4 moderators hosting the program, live interactive chatrooms and QandA forums.
Once I proved my ability to run an event, Cam let me take charge of the 2021 festival. Hundreds of hours was put into leading and organising IRL Hotham VBCF. We pushed it into the eleventh hour but eventually had to cancel when Victoria wasn’t opening up travel for Melbourians.
This year we are confident the festival will go ahead. Not only are we going to resurrect the 2021 plans, but we are planning much more. There will be alpine skiing and splitboarding tours, educational and inspiring speakers, a film night, outdoor bar, demo village, competitions, interactive safety workshops, snow camping and much more. So save the date and we hope to see all lovers of the mountains up at Hotham on September 2nd to 5th 2022.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in forest activism?
I come from a social work/youth work background and have long had a passion for working with people. I’d done a lot of hiking and travelling through forests in lutruwita/Tasmania but didn’t know anything about native forest logging. Through my travels I met people who told me stories of spending cold days and nights sitting up in tree-sits and putting their bodies on the line to defend forests under threat from being logged. I was totally in awe by what I heard and it had a big impact on me and I started looking for pathways to do the same back in Victoria.
I ended up at one of the Friends of the Earth Forest Collective meetings and haven’t turned back. That was nearly 5 years ago.
What motivates and inspires you?
A lot of what inspires me are the people involved in the forest movement. The dedication and passion people have blows my mind. It feels like you really belong to something big and special. There’s certainly a lot of heart break and anger as well which is a motivator. When you visit and walk through the forests, and see the animals that live there on a weekly basis these areas become part of you. Seeing them destroyed starts to feel really personal and definitely spurs you on.
It’s the beauty of the forests and the strength of our communities that inspires me the most.
What sort of things are you doing to protect the forests?
There’s not much I wouldn’t do to see our forests protected. I’ve sat in trees, stumbled down steep gullies in the middle of the night looking for wildlife, put up wildlife cameras, and sat on the side of logging roads for hours on end.
Why are the forests of East Gippsland so special?
I fell in love with the forests of East Gippsland – on Gunnaikurnai, Bidewell and Ngarigo/Monero country when I first visited nearly 5 years ago. There are few places in the world you can go to see such a diverse landscape. Coastal forests, warm-temperate rainforests, lush cool-temperate rainforests, giant old trees, wet forest gullies, mountains, valleys … It is truly one of the most incredible places.
After seeing the impacts of the 2019/2020 fires on many of the places I love – it’s pretty heart-breaking knowing many more areas are still up for logging. Rest assured there are many folks still fighting for the protection of these areas – through citizen science, direct action, blockading and more. Since the ‘80s and ‘90s people have dedicated their lives to see these forests protected. Until all native forest logging has stopped in Victoria we’ll keep fighting.
The fire fighters
The Mount Hotham Dinner Plain brigade of the Country Fire Authority (CFA) is a diverse group of mountain lovers who face both the difficulties of fighting fire in a snow covered resort town, plus often month long wildfires in summer.
Captain, Mt Hotham Dinner Plain fire brigade
I joined the Mount Hotham Dinner Plain CFA in 2012. At that time, I was living at Hotham and working in Bright. I was approached by the winter commander Brett Boatman. Like most members of the public I thought I knew what was involved in being a member of the CFA. Of course, it is always more than that. Training and familiarisation with the equipment required to operate in an Alpine environment and the unique risk profile that comes with a ski resort. Looking back, it is hard to remember what my motivation was at the time. As best I can recall, it was a desire to be involved in local community service. How many of life’s endeavors and passions have seemingly humble beginnings?
I suppose the most lasting memories hinge around two subjects. First, the members that I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with over the years and those that have been mentors for me. Most notably the former long serving Captain, Larry Doyle, but there have been many others over the years. Second is the memories that relate to the Fires and campaigns that I have been a part of. The first was soon after I joined in 2013. This was my “baptism of fire” as to what was involved in an Alpine fire campaign, and it is not all squirting water on a fire. There is a considerable amount of logistics and planning involved.
The second campaign was the fires of 2019/2020. Dinner Plain was impacted during that event as was a significant portion of Victoria and indeed the Country. This campaign stretched our resources to the limit as there was not much in the way of support available as there was such a demand on resources statewide. We survived and did not suffer any losses to life or property so I guess all’s well that ends well, although there was at least one day that I would rather not do again! Winter brings with it a far greater population to Hotham and Dinner Plain and this increases our risk profile. Chimney fires are a regular occurrence, as is the occasional house fire. We also respond to motor vehicle accidents in our area.
I have had the privilege of being the Brigade Captain for the last three years and have enjoyed the role. However, at times the administration load can be considerable. For the last four years I have been away from Hotham over the summer season and have returned as needed for major events. I am very lucky to have such a good team that are at Hotham and Dinner Plain that can carry on the necessary functions over the summer period.
My other roles at Hotham have been centered around the Ski Industry. Three years as a Snowsports Instructor followed by eight years as a volunteer for Guest Services. The last two years have been in a paid role with Guest Services. I particularly enjoy the aspect of helping people get the most out of their winter holiday. During these years my wife Rowan and I have managed accommodation for the ski company as well as a private lodge. The people we have met in CFA, as Lodge Managers and through the ski company are what has made the whole experience so special and rewarding.
Why did you sign up? What motivated you to join the CFA?
I grew up in Hertfordshire, just north of London. Originally I came to Mount Hotham in 2009 as a ski instructor and, I had no perception of CFA or how firefighting in rural areas is a volunteer lead organisation. The fire station at Mount Hotham is about 200 m away from my work and I noticed the tracked fire appliance Mount Hotham had and was impressed by the unique bits of equipment they had for firefighting in snowy conditions. Still, I had no idea all the members were volunteers. After a couple of seasons, I realised that a few of my colleagues were members of the brigade and I asked about what it was like. They explained to me about the CFA, how everyone at Hotham was a volunteer and what it was like being a firefighter. I was quite taken aback, at home in the UK I’d seen news footage of the bushfires in Australia, but I hadn’t realised how it was a such a community lead emergency response. After that, I got introduced to the Brigade Operations Officer, he explained the process to becoming qualified and after attending a couple of nights I decided to sign up and volunteer.
What do you enjoy about being involved?
The most enjoyable part of being a CFA member has been learning new skills and feeling like you are giving back to the community. When I first joined, just looking at all the equipment and controls on our firefighting appliances was quite intimidating. However, all our members are really supportive and the training was great and I was able to become proficient at operating our unique firefighting appliances.
However, the best part of joining the fire brigade was something I didn’t foresee, getting the opportunity to meet parts of the community I would probably not have met before and making new friends. The CFA at Hotham is a diverse bunch, with members from different professions, backgrounds, ages and reasons for being on the mountain. This summer I moved to Myrtleford and I started training and turning out to incidents with the Myrtleford brigade. They were really welcoming and it was a great way to quickly meet people in the community.
What are the practical issues that come from fighting fire in a snowy environment?
Firefighting in the alpine regions can be challenging in terms of the elements, terrain, conditions and remoteness. Just staying warm at incidents can be a challenge, you could be fighting a house fire but have water freezing on your helmet. At Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain we are responsible for a wide variety of tourist accommodation, from large concrete apartment blocks to lodges that were built by members over 50 years ago and an airport. During winter, many of these are only accessible over snow. At Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain we’re lucky to have some great specialist equipment such as a new tracked firefighting appliance, skidoos and tracked Can Am support vehicles. All of these allow us to respond in all weather conditions and over complex terrain.
We all love getting out into the wild country. For many of us, our first trips into the big outside are with guides who can lead us through the experience safely and give us the skills we need to head out on our own.
Mattie Gould, Desire Lines Cycling Club
I like riding all types of bikes, on all types of terrain, loaded and unloaded. The Jagungal Wilderness is my favourite place to explore by bicycle.
Last year I took my six year old on his first bike camping trip. It was mostly hike-a-bike. I chose an unknown route I hadn’t reccy-ed first. The weather was pretty terrible and we arrived at camp near dark. We ate lukewarm pesto pasta. It was fantastic.
Less than 18 months ago, I created Desire Lines Cycling Club. Initially I thought the website would become a community fed resource of bikepacking and adventure cycling routes around Australia. Instead, it’s shifted focus to become a place to share stories, a place to celebrate small feats of achievement (some long, some short) and a platform to help good people share the power of cycling, often for the very first time.
Since launching the site, I’ve published over fifty stories from regular mountain visiting cyclists from Australia and New Zealand; interviewed a few homegrown makers and created a community that celebrates inclusivity.
I love seeing contributors growing in confidence, meeting fellow riders through the site and waking up to a fresh adventure delivered to my inbox.
But mostly I enjoy seeing people enjoying the places one reaches by bicycle.
@mattiejgould and Desire Lines is @desirelinescc
Jill, 28, is a wilderness guide based in lutruwita/ Tasmania, and is a member of the Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association (TWGA). While guiding seems like a glamourous job, its hard work, both physically and emotionally. This profile on Jill was written as a collaboration between Jill and Adrien Butler. Thanks to the TWGA for permission to reprint this profile.
Where did you grow up and where you call home now?
I grew up on a farm in Western Creek under the Western Tiers, these days I live
near Nunamara just outside Launceston on a bush block.
What was your first ever memory of adventure?
I very clearly remember climbing Mother Cummings with my family, I think I was four but I may have been a little younger. My mum was carrying my younger sister in one of those huge old fashioned baby backpacks. I remember being in awe of my mum carrying that backpack because my little legs were giving out on me.
When you’re away from Tasmania what scene do you picture when you think of Tasmanian wilderness?
It would probably be a tie between wild west coast with moody skies and tannin-stained frothy oceans, or a Walls of Jerusalem – Scoparia filled gullies, glassy lakes and tarns and epic views/clouded in. Maybe a mix of the two with the southwest mountain ranges!
Tell us about the places you have guided
I started on the Overland Track before branching out to wider expedition trips throughout Tasmania. I also made a few Cameos in the NT on the Larapinta for one season.
What’s an adventure on your wish list?
I’ve been dreaming of a big bike packing trip across a continent, but the continent of choice keeps shifting!
What’s your favourite thing about guiding culture?
A sense of community with a bunch of diverse and wonderful people. Every time you do a trip with a new person it’s like speed dating a friend. Most of the time you come away having made a connection that’s well beyond surface level.
Do you have a memorable guest experience?
I had a cracker guest on the Larapinta who was a yoga teacher in training but also a shaman and fortune teller all wrapped up in a Yorkshire accent. She was so positive and stoked to be there and had plenty of odd analogies along the way. On the last morning we climbed Mt Sonder and she ran us through a bizarre sun salutation on top of the mountain as the sun rose. The cool thing was all the guests went with it, embraced their odd co-walker, and enjoyed the stretch.
What do you hope the Tasmanian guiding industry will keep doing in the future?
I hope the guiding industry will keep its rebellious streak. Where we work makes it almost impossible to just see nature as a commodity, that gives me (and probably others) the confidence to speak up. Whether that’s reminding guests about climate change or talking to company leaders, government etc about dubious actions in our wild places. I hope Tassie guides keep drawing from our wild workplaces and get real windy when necessary.
If you had only one outdoor adventure you could do this year – what would it be?
A long bush walk linking a few big tracks down the southwest. If it can only be one make it as long as possible.
What do you love most about the Tasmanian wilderness?
I love how it’s like stepping back into a time we almost can’t fathom. Aboriginal Australians talk about deep time, and you can feel it. The trees are ancient both in physical existence and evolutionarily. Much of it hasn’t seen more than the odd footprint. When you’re out there and take the time to just observe where you sit, you change how you view the world, you don’t get a choice.
The Tasmanian Wilderness Guides Association is a representative body for people working as guides in the Tasmanian nature-based tourism industry. Its mission is to:
- Have a say in shaping a sustainable tourism industry in Tasmania.
- Advocate on behalf of members in relation to employment, careers and working conditions.
- Help cultivate and celebrate Tasmania’s unique guiding culture.
Dave and Pieta Herring
Pieta and Dave are much loved members of the Australian backcountry community. They have followed their love of snow, skiing and mountains across many continents.
We met through mutual friends in the late 80’s.
We both had grown up near the Snowy Mountains and skied since we were little kids. Dave skied as a youngster at Kiandra, Pieta was in the Perisher Racing Club. When we met, we had both recently returned from stints working in resorts in Colorado.
We started out in business on the waterfront on Pittwater. Bought our first house and had a couple of kids, Georgia and Byron – now in their 20’s.
When a guy walked in and wanted to buy our business in 1995, we took the opportunity to move to Milton on the NSW South Coast, as we both had spent our childhoods holidaying in the area and were keen surfers.
With Dave’s experience in the shipwright business, it wasn’t a hard transition to making handcrafted furniture.
As members of Canberra Alpine Club, we spent a lot of time at Perisher, making sure our kids caught the ski bug just like us. Every few years we would return to North America.
One day we tried Japan, and were hooked on that place. Particularly the daily pow.
Through this period, Dave took on a role as a voli ski patroller and at this time he also got himself some ski touring gear and started venturing into the backcountry. He eventually made the transition from patroller to backcountry guide in 2010. Backcountry skiing was really starting to grow in popularity overseas but was still a very small segment of the industry in Australia. People were also starting to get trained up in avalanche awareness elsewhere, and after Pieta and Dave did their AST1 and 2 in Japan, they saw a need for more Aussies to get educated, particularly before they headed to the northern hemisphere.
Initially using foreign Avalanche Canada instructors, Dave and Pieta are now accredited Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) instructors themselves, and Alpine Access (AAA) is a licenced Avalanche Canada AST provider running courses in NSW and Victoria. AAA now employs a team of Australian instructors who also have their CAA quals, and who guide clients on backcountry ski, snowboard, mountaineering and camping tours. AAA is also an ambassador for Arc’teryx Australia/NZ.
AAA has had a proud association with Mountain Safety Collective since the beginning, and we are really pleased to see how far this organisation has come with a winter backcountry conditions report and avalanche forecast now being put out daily. This makes our job in teaching avalanche skills and backcountry safety that much easier. Dave and Pieta are committed to enabling young people coming up through the backcountry guiding ranks in Australia to have pathways for honing their skills and knowledge, based on world’s best practices.
Spreading the word on safety in the backcountry is a priority, and some of the initiatives we are involved with are backcountry info nights, the annual Arc’teryx Backcountry Weekend, the Victorian Backcountry Festival, and facilitating a CAA professional level one course in Australia.
A company gives back
Bright Brewery was born in 2005 from a passion for well-made beer, a love for the town of Bright, the pristine alpine environment, and the adventurous outdoors lifestyle that the High Country provides.
From day one, the Brewery has been driven by its values, which were instilled by founders Scott Brandon and Fiona Reddaway – to be authentic and sustainable in all that they do, and to embrace active lifestyles, celebrated with great beer.
To this day, these values form the backbone of Bright Brewery.
In 2020, Bright Brewery launched a partnership with Protect Our Winters Australia, collaborating on POW Pale Ale – a beer to help change the world.
A fresh, fruity and easy-drinking pale ale that has become synonymous with the mountains, part-proceeds from every POW Pale Ale sold goes directly to POW to help protect the unique Alpine environment and to help encourage positive action against climate change.
“Our partnership with POW is very important to us,” Brandon said. “We’re committed to doing our bit for the natural environment. We want to look after the mountains so our staff, our local community and visitors can enjoy them. And so our kids can enjoy them into the future, too.”
But the POW collaboration is just one example of how this regional brewery is working to reduce its environmental footprint.
“We are about to add another 177kW of solar to our brewery,” Brandon said. “This is in addition to the 50kW of solar at the venue.”
These solar panels will completely offset the company’s power usage, making it 100% energy self-sufficient.
But being active and sustainable does not only refer to physical activity or environmental sustainability, as Brandon explains.
“We work really hard to be active in our local community, and to help create a sustainable community,” he said.
Bright Brewery has a charter to support local, and it prioritises local events, organisations, individuals, groups, and charities across a huge range of activities. It supports the local trail–running chapter of Trails and Ales, the local Women’s Mountain Biking group, the Alpine Cycling Club, the Autumn Festival, the Myrtleford Bowls Club, and many more.
“But even more importantly than all that, we try to support the community by offering a place for them to gather, for groups to meet, for cyclists to enjoy,” Brandon said. “The Brewery is literally in the heart of Bright and we take that very seriously.”
Header image: Stephen Curtain.