The High Plains of Victoria, a literary perspective

During my period of convalescence I have had the opportunity to do a lot of reading. One of the authors I have enjoyed is Harry Stephenson, who wrote and published 2 books in the early 1980’s about the Victorian High Country in Australia. Following are my reflections on these books.

The first book titled “Cattleman and Huts of the High Plains, published in 1980, with the second being published two years later entitled “Skiing the High Plains” (1982). The latter book is a compilation of stories from those who pioneered Ski touring and cross country skiing on  the high plains of Victoria.

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Having recently read both as well as having spent many summers and the occasional winter in the high country I immediately felt at home. Many of the locations, the names of cattleman and their huts were very familiar to me and it was a pleasure to revisit these place through Harry’s eyes and text.

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It was his later book “Skiing the High Plains” which I found to be captivating and informative. The book is a compilation of stories from those who pioneered Ski touring and cross country skiing on the high plains of Victoria. Most of the areas mentioned in the book I have visited and it was fascinating to read of those early pioneers and their skiing adventures. The author indicated that skiing was first introduced by the Norwegian Gold miners in the Snowy Mountains of NSW in the 1860’s and I was intrigued to discover that the according to the author the first ski races in the world well held in Kiandra in 1860’s between European and Chinese miners.

The colour photographs at the front of the book taken in the 1970’s and they provide an excellent insight into the high country in winter as well as providing a window into the past and the choices of gear used at that time. They also serve to remind me of the times I spent in such splendid scenery in days gone by. However, perhaps more important are the black and white photographs that take the reader back more than 100 years into the high country in winter.

As I read through the book and recognised many places I had visited I also began to realise that the book contained circumstantial evidence of climate change. reading the text it was evident that there has been a reduction in the depths of snow in in the mountains on the outskirts of Melbourne, as well the winter has become shorter. The writers indicates that in the early 1900’s the winter started in May and finished in November whereas nowadays a good snowfall may not arrive before the end of June and will be gone by mid September.

These two books provide an excellent window into the high country and I wondered why I had not read them earlier. Better late than never is my view. I can recommend them to those looking for a Historical perspective on life in the high country of the Victorian Alps.

For lovers of hiking there is the Australian Alps Walking Track , originally established in the 1970’s the trail is650 km in length and passes through the high country of both Victoria and NSW crossing magnificent alpine meadows before plunging into deep river valleys after which you climb to the next treeless peak. Full details about the Australian Alps walking Track including maps can be found on their web site as well smartphone guides are also available.

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