THE GARDEN OF THE GODS
A BRIEF HISTORY OF MOUNT BUFFALO NATIONAL PARK
by Daniel Catrice, circa 1999.
Mount Buffalo National Park was established in 1898 when 1,166 ha. of land around Eurobin Falls was temporarily reserved as a national park. Ten years later this area was enlarged by 9,240 ha. and at the same time made a permanent national park. Mount Buffalo is one of Victoria’s oldest and best-loved national parks. It is a geological treasure, rich in plant and animal life, attracting many different types of visitors who have contributed to a
fascinating human history.
Mount Buffalo was first visited by local Aboriginal tribes who gathered each summer to feast on Bogong moths. This small, brown moth migrates each year from breeding grounds in Queensland and New South Wales to the high peaks of the Australian Alps. Roasted, the moths provided a rich, high protein diet. Tribes gathered each year at
corroboree grounds for marriages and initiations, then moved to the high country where the moths clustered in caves and rock crevices. Early settlers remarked upon the emaciated men and women making their way to the mountains, returning months later sleek, shiny and fat.
Mount Buffalo was first sighted by European explorers in 1824. Hume and Hovell crossed the plains to the west of the plateau, giving it the name Mount Buffalo because it resembled a giant sleeping buffalo
Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell passed through the district in 1836. He noted the Buffalo plateau, and unaware that Hume and Hovell had already named the mountain, he called it Mount Aberdeen.
Mitchell’s reports of rich pasture beyond the Murray River initiated a rush by land-hungry graziers. Thomas Buckland arrived in the 1840s to take up the Junction Run near Porepunkah, at the foot of Mount Buffalo.
Buckland appointed a manager, Thomas Goldie, who reputedly cut the first track up to the plateau from the Buckland valley. Goldie’s Track was thereafter used to bring cattle to the plateau each spring. For the next one hundred years over 300 head of cattle grazed the alpine pastures at the foot of the Horn. The last summer grazing licence was issued by the Mount Buffalo Committee of Management in 1956.
Other visitors to the plateau came for vastly different reasons. The painter Nicholas Chevalier visited the district in the 1850s, returning in 1864 to paint Mount Buffalo from One Mile Creek. Ferdinand von Mueller
explored the plateau in the early months of 1853, accompanied by the Superintendent of Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens, John Dallachy. Only days after his appointment as Government Botanist, Mueller set off on horseback to explore the alps and describe its flora:
I ascended Mount Aberdeen and another peak....and examined the rich, almost tropical vegetation that borders the rivers rising in these mountains. It was in this locality that our exertions were rewarded with the discovery of the high, majestic Grevillea Victoriae and other rarities.
During this expedition, Mueller collected several new plants, including the delicate Grevillea, which he named in honour Victoria, and Acacia Dallachiana. This was the first recorded ascent of the Horn, although it is likely that Buckland and Goldie had already visited the plateau.
In 1853 gold was discovered in the Buckland valley at the foot of Mount Buffalo. At the height of the rush over 5,000 miners were on the diggings, including the brothers James and John Manfield. It is likely that miners searched for gold amongst the granite of Mount Buffalo. In 1856, according to W.F. Waters, the Manfields escorted the first parties of miners to the plateau. Although no gold was discovered on Mount Buffalo, miners continued to visit the plateau, tempted by the cooler summer climate, the scenery and the magnificent views.
The Manfield brothers, together with Buffalo Bill Weston and Ted Carlile, pioneered early tourism to Mount Buffalo. Bill Weston built the first permanent building on the plateau in 1879. For several years he had brought tourist parties to the mountain. A group of Melbourne doctors were so impressed that they returned regularly. At Echo Point, Weston built a log cabin which he called
Doctors Hut, providing shelter for the many tourist parties he guided up the rough bush tracks to the Gorge.
Ted Carlile guided visitors to the plateau via Goldie s Track. He built Carlile s Hospice and Hotel near the Monolith, in 1891. Not to be outdone, James constructed the Manfield Chalet near Bent’s Lookout. The Manfield
children also guided tourist parties about the plateau, and one daughter, Alice, became so
competent that she is fondly remembered as Guide Alice.
Enthusiasm for the beauty of the plateau gave rise to a concerted campaign to ensure permanent protection. The Bright Alpine Club and Bright Progress Association were formed in the 1880s. Under the energetic leadership
of Dr. John Wilkinson and William Staker, the Bright Alpine Club actively publicised the values of the plateau and invited influential visitors to witness them at first hand. It produced an Illustrated Guide to the Victorian Alps, and concluded that the best way to experience the plateau was to camp out:
The complete isolation from the world of business, the exhilaration, the wildness and magnificence of the surroundings brings the tourist in close sympathy with nature
The Bright Alpine Club commissioned Weston and his brother, George to cut a more direct route to the plateau from Bright. It was named Staker s Track in honour of William Staker.
In 1888 the Bright Progress Committee requested the reservation of The Horn, The Hump and Eurobin Falls as a public park. This prompted the Lands Department to exclude the area from selection but not to reserve the
land as requested. In 1897 the Bright Alpine Club renewed its efforts to have the plateau protected. Despite opposition by mining interests, an area of 1,166 ha. was reserved as a site for a national park on 4 November
At about this time State Government Geologist, E.J. Dunn made a geological survey of the mountain. Dunn called Mount Buffalo the
garden of the gods and described
feelings of awe at the way nature had shaped the granite boulders on the plateau. On return visits however, he observed the damage done by visitors to these
grand, wonderful, beautiful rocks and recommended the appointment of a Crown land bailiff with power to
mischievous and ignorant acts which may undo the work it has taken aeons to accomplish
Dunn’s observations, together with the Bright Alpine Club s continued promotion of Mount Buffalo, finally attracted government attention. Following a visit by Minister of Lands, J.E. Mackay, the government was persuaded to provide funds for the construction of a road. The new road, which followed Staker’s Track, was officially opened by the Premier in 1908. In the same year, a further 9,240 ha. were added to the national park and the entire area
made a permanent reservation.
By 1910, overnight visitors were accommodated at Manfields Chalet overlooking the Gorge, at Carlile’s Hospice
near the Monolith or at the newly opened government chalet. Manfield and Carlile were soon evicted, which caused a public outcry. The government was forced to compromise and the Manfields were granted two sites on
the other side of the Gorge: one for Bill Manfield near Reed’s Lookout known as the Alpine Lodge; and the second for
Guide Alice known as Manfields Bungalow. Manfields Bungalow was destroyed by fire in 1930, and
the Alpine Lodge was removed in 1935. Carlile was bought out by the Lands Department in 1917, and the Hospice was demolished.
Despite its grand proportions the Chalet offered very basic accommodation. The building was unlined at first, and had no heating. J.F. Wilkinson observed that guests came to meals wearing rugs and overcoats, and would rush their dinner in order to get back to the fire. The Chalet was nevertheless a popular resort. Lake Catani provided a venue for boating and fishing in summer and skating in winter. A golf course opened at
Tuckerbox Corner in 1911.
With the opening of the Chalet, snow sports were pursued seriously. For a time Mount Buffalo was the most accessible ski field in Victoria. Miss Hilda Samsing, lessee of the Chalet from 1919 to 1924, fostered the growth
of skiing by importing hickory skis from Norway. She employed Fred Chalwell to teach guests, and soon skierswere journeying to Mount Buffalo each winter to try the new sport.
In 1924 the lease of the Chalet was transferred to the Victorian Railways Refreshment Service. Harold Clapp, Chairman of Commissioners of the Victorian Railways had spent time in the North American railway services, and saw a comparison between Mount Buffalo and the North American national parks, Banff and Yosemite, where tourist resorts had been built at the end of railway lines. Vowing to make Mount Buffalo t
he finest all-year round playground, Clapp refurbished the Chalet and greatly improved transport to the plateau.
Clapp also promoted Mount Buffalo as a ski- field. The first ski tow in Australia was built at Dingo Dell in 1937. A Cadillac engine drove a drum around which an endless rope was wound. Skiers grasped the rope by a metal
handle and were towed to the top of the slope. Also in 1936 Franz Skardarasy was brought to Mount Buffalo from Austria by the Victorian Railways to run the first ski school in Australia. He introduced skiers to the Arlberg technique which enabled better handling of deep snow than the Telemark technique then practiced.
During this time, a committee of management (appointed in 1918) administered the national park. Like many park management committees it focused on the recreational aspects of management, but stressed that the demands of outdoor recreation should not compromise the park’s natural values:
While endeavouring to cater for the public under winter conditions, in providing buildings, etc., the Committee has not lost touch of its desire of not civilising the plateau and would keep to the spirit of rough grandeur by encouraging the walker and tourist rather than making it a paradise for the motorist and having buildings as far as practical conform to the natural surroundings and not despoiling the landscape.
The stone shelters at The Gorge, The Horn and at Lake Catani are evidence of the Committee’s endeavours to keep the plateau natural.
For many years, naturalists had expressed concerns about the impact of grazing on
Mount Buffalo. In 1942 the Victorian Naturalist asked whether the plateau would be a
Botanical Paradise or Cattle Run?. Hugh Stewart of the Field Naturalists Club argued that t
he droppings of cattle have a cumulative effect on the soil and this is fatal to many indigenous plants which give way to aliens, pests like St. John’s Wort, which formerly were never encountered on the Plateau. Cattlemen were accused of lighting fires to encourage
new growth, and the chalet management complained that cattle were fouling drinking water. In 1956 the Committee of Management was persuaded to exclude cattle from Mount Buffalo.
In 1960 legislation was enacted to allow development leases in national parks despite widespread public opposition. Leases were subsequently granted in Wilson’s Promontory and Mount Buffalo, and while the lease at
Wilson s Promontory was later abandoned, the Mount Buffalo lease resulted in the construction of the Tatra Inn. The Tatra Development was plagued by controversy. A proposal to restore Chinaman’s Dam to create
a recreational lake brought a storm of protest, and in 1972 the Victorian government put a freeze on further development. In 1975 the government terminated the Tatra lease, and paid the developers compensation totalling
In 1980 the park was extended to include most of the foothill country adjoining the plateau. This addition brought the park to its present 31,000 ha. Mount Buffalo’s peaks and plateaus have attracted many different types of visitors. Aboriginal moth hunters, explorers, botanists and painters, cattlemen, bushwalkers and have given Mount Buffalo a rich cultural history. The plateau has been shaped by their presence and they in turn have been enriched and changed by its beauty and grandeur.
Johnson, D. The Alps at the Crossroads: The
Quest for an Alpine National Park (VNPA,
Mount Buffalo National Park, Resource
Collection Files F/C:3/2, Historic Places
Scougall, B. (ed.) Cultural Heritage of the
Australian Alps: Proceedings of the 1991
Symposium (AALC, Canberra, 1992)
Waters, W. The Buffalo Mountains: A Brief
History The Melbourne Walker, 1967.
Webb, D. & B. Adams, The Mount Buffalo
Story, 1898-1998 (MUP, Melbourne, 1998)
For more information call the Parks Victoria Information Centre
on 13 1963 or visit their website at www.parkweb.vic.gov.au