I started skiing in the forties, pre ski lift days. My parents were skiers from Austria, and we came to Australia in 1939 as refugees to escape the Nazi occupation of Austria. Both my mother and father, Anne and Paul Schiller were active outdoor sporting participants. My mother was involved with physical education, and became an instructor with the Victorian Fitness Council as well as general teaching and sports teaching in schools. Both parents became involved with the Youth Hostels Association (YHA) and started their association with Mt Buller in 1945. YHA had their hut affectionately known as "Shivers Shanty" at Horse Hill.


The trip up to Mt Buller was a fun affair. The group met at 6 pm. on a Friday evening in Flinders Street Melbourne, and a furniture van was used for transportation. Great friendships developed and my younger brother and I were introduced to the trip up and skiing from 1948. We often stopped at Mansfield and joined in the local Friday night dance if we were not too late. My memories were of dancing in hobnail boots. We were ready for the walk up in the dark, starting well after midnight, and sometimes arriving as late as 5 am Saturday morning. The Mt Buller road was rather narrow and after going up as far as we could, the van had to be

turned to face downhill. This was done with the aid of security ropes to ensure no slipping, and the potential danger of sliding over the unprotected side of the road. We then walked up long, short cut tracks from White Bridge, Bottom Dump, or if we were lucky, from Dump Inn. We used mining type torches secured to our heads, or sometimes just the moonlight to find our footing. We carried packs on our backs and skis and stocks. There was the possibility of having horses carry luggage up if required. Harold Cummings housed the horses at Dump Inn and he ran a small accommodation hut there as well. He charged 4 pence a pound(4p/lb) uphill and 3p/lb downhill for the service. Because of bravado, few used it, but envied those that did. I also remember rather than going to bed in the wee hours, having a ski by moonlight at Horse Hill on arrival there. My mum, as an experienced skier and teacher, found her niche as a basics ski instructor, teaching elementary uphill walking on skis, kick turns, how to get up after a fall, and basic snow plough leading to basic parallel turns, and of course herringbone type climbs.


We were physically strong and were introduced to steeper slopes quickly. We seemed to use all of Mt Buller. A Norwegian and YHA ski jumper, Ande Songe, maintained a ski jump in the area, with his run up crossing the road and then jumping into the valley of the current Horse Hill Chair. He managed to co-opt many of us to assist preparing his take-off structure. He was very good and provided a spectacular exhibition for us.


When skiing, we walked up slopes, either with skins attached to our skis, or walked up in the foot tracks created by the first skiers of the day, who went down the particular slope. Shorter runs could be walked up on skis, generally zig-zagging with kick turns. Nobody knows about those today. It also meant that we had very few downhill runs in a day.


The first lift at Mt Buller was in 1949 on Bourke St and was a rope tow. Woollen mittens were the fashion, but not very practical for the rope tow. We held on by hand and released at each pulley. Quite fun in the sun, however we do not have the luxury of fine weather every day at Mt Buller. The tow rope was usually wet and the wet rope caused the gloves to matt. Further afield we walked to other potential ski runs, and that was preferable to cold wet gloves. My first professional instruction came from Maurice Selle, who later managed Ivor Whittaker Chalet, and was a Mt Buller identity, yet unusually reclusive. I was also taught by his Assistant Les Ramsay, who had been his star pupil.


In the early fifties, the Nekvapils, Karl and Sasha, introduced a modern Arlberg technique, this was soon to be modified by Max Otter, or as an alternative, the French technique called Allee was introduced, by Ernst and Orel Forras. I enthusiastically converted to the French style.


Meanwhile my father, an engineer was very involved with designing and relocating YHA to Cow Camp, where it currently is located, now as a backpacker lodge. The Forrases soon obtained permits to build Kooroora next door, and I remember at work parties, being asked to provide extra manual aid for the Forrases, to help lift and hold up timber framework, until secured in place. Ernst frequently

came in to socialize next door and to show films of his French ski training. He also gave me very good lessons in skiing. Under his instruction, in 1954 I won the Victorian Junior Slalom championship and came second in the Downhill. The trophy was presented by Sir Len Hutton, a very famous English cricketer and Captain of the English team at that time. His Knighthood came in 1956. However that was the end of my ski fame, because skiing standards suddenly changed. Youngsters, who could devote more time to ski, and with the aid of ski tows, would soon leave me behind. My parents, both academics, felt my education was more important than being a champion, and I am grateful for that because I still love the sport.


I love Mt Buller, and I have introduced my successive families to Mt Buller and skiing. I met my wife Helen at Mt Buller. Besides being a competent skier, she is a watercolour artist and many of her snow paintings adorn lodges on Mt Buller. Ski tows and good instructors changed the sport. Clubs sprang up and commercial operations became the norm. In the early fifties Bull Run had a rope tow to half way. It was too steep to hold on by hand and nut cracker style implements were used to hold on to the rope. They were designed to pass over the pulley without releasing. The frequent problem we found, was that our jackets often tangled with the nut cracker and/or the rope. When we wished to release at the top, it was difficult to hastily detangle, and we would be carried forward to the safety wire, which generally worked to cut the motor. There were some dramas as some had to separate from clothing as they were being pulled into the engine shed. Later the T bar was introduced to Bull Run and the tow extended to down the funnel, into the valley. Mt Buller experiences icy conditions quite often, however the early skis and ski edges did not give sufficient control to ski as we do today. The track up the tow line often became icy, and invariably someone fell going up, then frequently slid down the tow line, collecting the next group with rather catastrophic effects, as several were collected and joined in the slide. It was potentially very dangerous. The T Bars caught on and became wide spread, and where the demand for capacity was not so great, Pomas were introduced. They were good old days for good physical exercise.


In the mid 1950s I introduced skiing to some of our local scout group. In 1957 our Scout Rover Group (13th. Malvern) abandoned the Rovers, to build and establish Spark Ski Club at Mt Buller. There were 9 of us. We named it Spark, after one of our enthusiastic scouts, Peter Spark, who tragically died undergoing a minor operation. I lived in the same street as Peter and we were good mates with our mutual interests. Initially we had thoughts of creating our own budget Ski location, and in the summer of 1956, we cleared a ski run on Mt Torbreck It was 5000 feet high and partially cleared by timbermillers. Bob Sallabank, Ross Henderson and I went there in the winter and found insufficient snow and too much regrowth from our clearing to be useable for skiing. We decided to head off to Buller for a ski, stopped at Sawmill Settlement that night, slept in a worker’s shack, then had a glorious day’s skiing at Mt Buller on a beautiful sunny Sunday. That is when we thought we should make Mt Buller our venue. On returning to the car we had no petrol, a hole in the petrol tank. We pushed the car to Mirimbah, jumping in occasionally if we got some momentum. We plugged the hole with a cork and chewing gum, filled with petrol, only to find we had blocked the inlet petrol pipe. We drained the tank recorked carefully, and headed home in Ross’s very petrol smelling A30 car, with windows open and very cold. In the early hours of Monday morning, we had deposited Bob, and then near Ross’s home, rolled the car on a frosty wooden bridge. A milkman walked carefully past with horse and cart. Thinking there was an alcohol association, he ignored us. Ross and I climbed out the window, walked to Ross’s home and his father obliged at 3 am, to assist right the car, tow it home then deliver me home. But the mood was set to see if we could build a hut. Initial thoughts were for a Nissan Hut, but Bob researched, thought big and convinced us we could build better in timber.


We secured a site that year, started and were able to occupy for the 1958 season.


The group of 9 consisted of Ron Clapham, Ian Gale, John Caspers, Bob Sallabank, Ross and Trevor Henderson, Tom and John Schiller. We also soon permitted Rex McCorkell to join our group. Rex was Australian Building apprentice of the Year, and then Barry Clyne, the handy plumber. Both were very useful additions. The club for its time was quite modern, As employment and other interests dispersed some of the members, carefully chosen replacements would be found, and contributed significantly to Spark’s ongoing operation. They included John Bradbury, Geoff Lampard, Tom Copeland and Laurie Ford. The club provided a friendly social environment and the doors were open for famous parties. A deck that was never built, created a door known as “The Boeing Door” which was used to eject the over indulgent and the late stayers.


Of course, marriages and families soon followed and our 12 bed lodge became inadequate. In 1967, we extended to 20 beds and two bathrooms, male and female, and we created a group of associate memberships. It provided us with a group of favoured regular users as occupants, and helped ensure the facilities were well looked after. Then after many good and prosperous years we decided to extend and upgrade in 1980. It was to be a big change for the 9 members at that time. To assist paying for our change

to a 36 bed lodge with facilities in each of the nine rooms, a modern kitchen, dining and lounge areas, drying room, billiard room and more, we decided to restructure the membership of the club and introduce new full members. That worked well as the new members have brought new enthusiasm, expertise, and manpower to ensure the club provides the comfort appropriate to current times. Of the original members only Ron Clapham and I still ski, however some family connections have endured.


At this time there are Sallabanks, Lampards, Clynes and our Schiller family together with many other families. Ron, other than for 1 year hasbeen Treasurer for the entire existence of the club and he has guided all expenditure for development and improvements. So today the club has thrived, grown and modernized. It now has 42 members, mostly with families, and it provides accommodation for a lot of schools as well. Times have changed. Today with the skis that can carve turns, that have edge control, and with the wonderful lifts that you can sit on and rest between the many runs, even we oldies can continue skiing and enjoying this wonderful sport. I am pleased that my wife Helen, my two sons, Michael and Adrian, their wives, Lisa and Robyn, and my five grandchildren have developed my affection for Mount Buller and skiing. Regarding our own family, they have all been educated to be sports orientated and are generally good at most sports they tackle. Our three families have only managed to ski together occasionally. Other activities

make it difficult to achieve that, however when we do ski together, it is very satisfying. I will ski with them but not challenge them.


Tom Schiller (2013)

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