Mt Baw Baw History
Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort has a rich history dating back to the original Gunai Kurnai inhabitants of the region and from the 1800s when Europeans first arrived.
Baw Baw National Park
Alpine Walking Trail Length
First European Summit
Alpine Heritage Listing
Indigenous people of the Gunai Kurnai occupy the region, visiting Alpine areas occasionally for ceremonies and to collect Bogong moths
Mt Baw Baw ascended for the ﬁrst time by non-indigenous person, Baron Ferdinand Von Mueller.
Gold discovered in surrounding areas and the Yarra Track from Melbourne constructed.
Geodetic & Coastal Survey of Victoria carried out — Summit Cairn constructed on Mt Baw Baw (1564 Metres).
Warburton — Walhalla walking track constructed and tourist era commenced. Huts constructed at Mt Erica, Mt Whitelaw and Yarra Falls. Maintained by the Public Works Department until 1930 then abandoned.
Mt Erica division of the Ski Club of Victoria (later Baw Baw Ski Club) erected a hut and became the first organised body on the Mountain.
Mt Erica Club set up the first tow.
A number of applications were received by the Forest Commission from interested bodies and as a result the Commission improved Neulynes road to the Winch site and constructed a Jeep track from there to the Ski Club hut.
Forest Commission inquiry into the area resulted in the setting up of a Committee of Management under the Forests Act to develop the area.
Country Roads Board reconstructed Neulynes Road from the Gantry to the Winch. The following summer completed an access road to the Village site.
Committee of Management drew up proposals for the development of the Mt Baw Baw area.
Ski Club sites subdived and further clubs commenced.
Franz Reiter founds ski-school on the mountain
Chairlift established as main winter access. T-bar lift installed on Maltese Cross. Platter lift installed to replace Hut Run rope tow.
Poma lift installed on Big Hill, Platter lift installed on Big Hill, Summit T-bar installed, Platter lift installed on Tank Hill, Painted Run Rope Tow replaced with T-bar lift, Alpine Resorts Commission took control of Mt Baw Baw Alpine Resort from the Forestry Commission
Carparks built within walking distance of the village, Village road sealed from bottom station of Chairlift to the Village carparks, Chairlift now used for skiing.
Road sealed from the Gantry through to Chairlift.
Road fully sealed from Tanjil Bren to the Day Carpark
Construction of South Face Road begins.
Reticulated Power is established at Mt Baw Baw (contract between ARC, Austar and TXU).
Alpine Resorts Management Act is passed, establishing a Ministerially appointed Board (ARMB) to oversee the management of the Resort.
Mt Baw Baw Ski Tows sells Lifts to ARMB. Chairlift is removed from Mt Baw Baw
ARMB purchases Alpine Hotel (formerly Watzman Haus).
ARMB upgrades Lift System. Car Parks sealed.
Snowmaking & Ski Bowl Magic Carpet installed.
ARMB constructs Snow Sports / Administration Building. Hut Run Platter extended and upgraded.
ARMB constructs Village Central and establishes family cabins. Construction of Village Square and new Village Entry as part of the Pride of Place project.
South Face Road opens allowing easier access to resort from the east. Resort gate entry moved from the Gantry to new intersection at Neulynes Hill.
Southern Alpine Resort Management board is formed, and takes control of Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain Alpine Resort
Mt Baw Baw becomes the second resort in Australia to own and operate a TechnoAlpine Snow Factory, guaranteeing season long coverage in bowl and beginner areas
SARMB purchases 2 x new magic carpets, on the toboggan park and at the bottom of Big Hill
Mt Baw Baw receives it’s highest ever winter visitation, recording 123,455 visitor days, representing a 77% growth on the 10 year average.
Mt Baw Baw expands it’s environmental and dingo education programs as Bunji joins Rowdy and Warragul
Significant investment in water treatment works commence.
TOPOGRAPHY & GEOGRAPHY
The Baw Baw Plateau is located to the north of the LaTrobe Valley. It is about 20km long, extending from Mt Erica (1524m) at the southern end to Mt Whitelaw (1486m). It consists of some 80 sq km of undulating timbered ridges and open snow plains. On the plateau are eight named peaks, each rising about 100m above the level of the Plateau. In addition to Mt Erica and Mt Whitelaw, the other peaks are Mt Saint Philiack, St Gwinear, Mt Mueller, Tyers, Kernot and Mt Baw Baw (1564m) from which the Plateau derives its name.
The Baw Baw Plateau comprises an ellipticalIy-shaped mass of granodiorite. This was formed by an intrusion of a mass of igneous rock into the surrounding sedimentary rocks. Subsequent erosion has formed the plateau into a dissected peneplain leaving the exposed harder granitic rock. The soils are derived from the granodiorite material and are mainly shallow and gravely on the slopes. In lower-lying and less well—drained areas, extensive bogs or peaty swamps have developed and cover about ten percent of the plateau.
The origin of the name of this Plateau is uncertain. “Baw Baw” is thought to be of aboriginal origin meaning “echo”. However, on an early map of Gippsland the name “Bo Bo” is used. This is said to be an aboriginal word meaning “big” (Waters 1966). The aboriginal people avoided the higher plateau and denser forest areas in favour of the open plains where game was more plentiful, although they did visit the plateau in the summer to hunt and to collect Bogong Moths for food.
Drainage of the plateau to the west is into the Upper Thomson, Western Tanjil, Eastern Tanjil and Western Tyers Rivers, whilst to the north and east, the creek system feeds the Thomson River. The climate is sub-alpine with an average rainfall of about 1300m. Snow lies on the ground above 1200m from July to September and fog is a common hazard on the plateau, even during summer.
Aboriginal people first settled the periphery of the high country perhaps 17,000 years ago, and the higher valleys of the alpine region from perhaps 4,000 years ago. Gippsland linguistically associated tribes — known collectively as the Kurnai. The Braiakauiung people lived in the Thomson and Macalister catchments, and were able to utitise a wide range of environments from the coasts to the mountains (Johnson 1974). The lack of wintertood supplies in the alpine areas probably meant these areas were visited seasonally; the collection of Bogong moths is a well known example (Flood 1980).
By the 1850’s, the Kurnai peoples had been dispossessed of their traditional country; there was conﬂict between Aboriginal people and the colonisers, and massacres occurred (Pepper 1985). Recent research initiatives by Gippsland Aboriginal people have started to reconstruct the Aboriginal history of the post-colonisation period. The scarcity of information makes it impossible to predict the location of sites; further work is required on a regional basis.
In 1855, the surveyor W T Dawson (Waters 1966) recorded the following:
“the Aboriginals (sic) recoil with horror stricken countenances if asked to undertake a journey to some of them (mountains), Mt Baw Baw for instance. Amongst the tribe, which inhabits its immediate neighbourhood, not one has ever had the temerity to ascent beyond a certain point – nor do they recollect on of their own or any other tribe that has ever been up to it — a tradition is extant rather too far when they were attacked by a species of yellow snake which they say is very numerous and exceedingly ferocious and that ail paid the penalty of their rashness by the forfeiture of their lives.”
Relatively little material evidence of Aboriginal life in the alpine region has been discovered. Some examples recorded in the Site Register of the Victoria Archaeological Survey include the greenstone axe quarries near the Howqua River, camp sites near the Snowy River (in NSW near the border) and around Omeo, a burial site and stone artefact scatters near Benambra. There has been no survey work on the Baw Baw Plateau (VAS Site Register) and little in the surrounding region.
The closest research has been that on the upper Yarra Valley, the Howqua River greenstone quarries, and at Benambra. A study of sites in East Gippsland concluded that there are likety to be sites in the foothill and mountain areas, although most known sites are along the coast (Thompson 1985).
This difference may be partially explained by the greater visibility of coastal sites and past research priorities. Thomson refers to investigations of similar land form types in NSW and suggest investigations of similar Iandform types in NSW and suggest two major influences on site location – firstly, most sites are located along the vaileys of targer, permanent streams and secondly, most sites are located on ridge lines, especially flats, saddles and low spurs. These locations provide flat camping areas in relatively dissected terrain; the relationship between terrain and site location increases as the terrain gets steeper. Thomson cautions that such sites are also likety to be valued for present day development.
A survey of the Yarra River by Hilary du Cros located several sites in its forested headwaters with four surface scatters near a creek at Toorongo, and a set of tools – grinding grooves in the ridge line near Fifteen Mile (VAS Site Register). Both groups of sites are at eIevations around 1000 metres. Stone axes are reported to have been found on the spur between Tanjii Bren and Mt Whitelaw, indicating some Aboriginal activity in that area (Waters 1966).
However, these finds have not been recorded by the Victoria Archaeological Survey. Elevated and remote pIaces in the high country of NSW were important for ceremonies; this may also be the case in Victoria, with some areas being associated with the Dreamtime.
The first European exploration of the Baw Baws appears to have been made by the botanist Baron von Mueller, 1860. He named Mt Mueller and Mt Erica. The latter name was transferred to a more prominent peak when the geological map of the district was prepared in 1903 by Mr Baregwanath, the Director of Geological Survey. The Baw Baws formed an effective barrier between the coastal settlements in Gippsland and the inland gold fields such as Matlock, Red Jacket and Reefton. Eventually tracks were cut around and up to the plateau to facilitate commerce and communications and later to serve as tourist tracks.
Early roads ran between Reefton, Aberfeldy and Omeo. The track from Tanjii Bren Ieading to Matlock was constructed during the period 1882 to 1894 (Adams 1980). In 1889, a track was cut from McVieght’s HoteI, on the Upper Yarra, to the head of the Thomson River; connecting at the junction of the Reefton Aberfeldy / Tanjii Bren – Matlock tracks (Adams 1980; MMBW 1975) up to Mt Erica, across the plateau to Mt St Phillack and onto Mt Baw Baw.
By 1892, this track was obscured by vegetation, to be re-cut in 1902. In 1888, the construction of a half a metre wide track from Tanjii Bren up onto Mt Baw Baw commenced. This was completed by 1890, but required re-cutting in 1895 and another track was cut from Moondarra on the eastern side on to Mt Erica, thence atong the Plateau to Mt St Phillack. This was extended across to Mt Baw Baw in 1892. In 1899 a track from McVeigh‘s was out along the Upper Yarra and across to the junction of the Reefton-Aberteldy and Tanjil-Matlock tracks. In 1906, the Director of the GeoIogioaI Survey, Baragwanath, was commissioned by the Public Works Department, at the request of the Walhalla Tourist Association to locate a tourist track southwards along the Baw Baw Plateau to join up with the Moondarra—Baw Baw track at Mt St Phillack. This track provided the first direct access between Warburton and Walhalla and became popular up until the 1939 bush fires. These devastated the Baw Baws, and with the war years, brought to an end this period of use of the track.
EXPLORATION AND SURVEY
The earliest map recording Baw Baw is a sketch plan prepared by Charles Tyers, Commissioner of Crown Lands tor Gippsland in 1844, which shows ‘Baw Baw – very high range often covered with snow‘ (Waters 1966). In 1858 the artist von Guerard apparently travelled to Baw Baw with the explorer, geologist and anthropologist, Atfred Howitt and Nicholas Chevalier (Aitken 1981).
Hewitt later wrote extensively about the Aboriginal peoples of Gippsland, but no record of his trip to Baw Baw has been located. Baron Von Mueller’s expedition to the Baw Baw area in 1860 was one of many throughout Victoria; he recognised the importance of the plateau as the source of many significant Gippstand rivers including the Tyers, Tanjil, La Trobe and Thomson (Johnson 1974)] and named two peaks – Mt Mueller and Mt Erica (the name of the latter was later transferred to its present location 1903, Crawford 1981).
A Geodetic and Coast Survey of Victoria was commenced in 1858, aiming to survey areas more quickly, thus releasing land to meet the increasing demand. The survey was designed by the Government Astronomer, Mr R Ellery. A cairn was constructed at the summit of Mt Baw Baw in 1870 by surveyors AC Allan and W Turton. Later that year Surveyor McGeorge took a number of observations from the cairn (Ellery 1891).
A visiting party in 1872 described the view from the cairn: Far away as the eye can reach, in every direction there are rolling forests – to the North, towards Woodspoint and the Upper Yarra — to the East, over Mount Useful and the wild and almost unknown mountains of Eastern Gippsland — to the South, past Toongabbie and Sale, down the coast of Bass Strait, 100 miles away (Meeson 1872). William Baragwanth, the Director of the Geological Survey, surveyed Baw Baw in 1903, and prepared a geological map (Waters 1966).
By the early 1850’s, much of the land in the Post Phillip District of New South Wales was held under licence as a pastoral holding. The inaccessibility of the alpine areas protected them from grazing for some years; the ‘Baw Baw’ grazing lease was first issued to Thomas Hamilton in 1860 covering an area adjacent to the range (Waters 1966). The remoteness of the plateau meant it was never settled. Grazing leases for cattle were allowed for many years, probably from the later 1900’s, with some wild beasts still present on the plateau today.
The history of Mt Baw Baw as a recreational area began at the turn of the century. Bushwalking is the oldest recreational activity recorded in the region. A large number of tracks constructed during the 1880’s allowed movement across the plateau. These tracks were used both in summer and winter (Adams 1980). With the improvement in access to areas within the Baw Baw region, interest in recreation increased.
Appreciation of Mt Baw Baw as a recreational area stems back to before the formation of the Walhalla Tourist Association. Due to increased tourism in the centre of Walhalla, Mt Baw Baw also attracted interest in the early years of the last century. With the improvement in access to areas within the Baw Baw region, interest in recreation increased. The Moondarah-Baw Baw track was cut in 1889 for holiday makers.
In 1890, a party of men from Walhalla made their way to Mt Baw Baw via Mt Erica to make a thorough study of the Baw Baw region. Due to their explorations, a new track was cut by J Healy to the mountain. Various groups then made expeditions to the mountain using the new track (Adams 1980). The Warburton to WalhaIIa road was a project established by the Walhalla Tourist Association in 1907.
The Association took on the building of huts, stocking them with food, bedding and other equipment. At various points along the road, mile posts were also made by blazing trees and marking them with red paint. The Association could see the possibilities of the track being utilised and so provided these facilities as well as pubiishing a tourist map. In the next few years, parties of walkers folIowed the track to and from WalhaIIa.
By the 1930‘s bushwalking was declining in popularity. It was being replaced by an interest in skiing and associated snow sports. Early in the 1930‘s a Rover Scout Crew from YaIIourn, organised by J.W. McMahon, took an interest in the Baw Baw region for hiking and skiing. Using the Talbot Peak hut on Mt Erica for accommodation, the crew cut several runs.
Under the direction of George Taye, they organised a skiing club. An interest in the region increased the rovers guided parties up to the mountains (Adams 1980). During the Second World War, development of the ski fields halted. Interest was later generated in 1944 when it was reaIised that access to the snow could be improved from Tanjil Bren to the Neuyne Mill Winch Site, three kiiometres from the summit (Adams 1980). (Waters 1966). The Alpine Walking Track, Iargely following the Baw Baw Tourist Track, was established in the mid 1970’s (Johnson).
Organised tourism was first promoted in Victoria during the Grand Centennial Exhibition of 1888, with the Victorian Railways playing an important role in catering for tourists. Mt Buffalo was promoted as the ‘Switzerand‘ of Victoria (Johnson 1974). In 1906, William Baragwanath was commissioned by the Public Works Department to Iay out a tourist track from the junction of the Reefton-Aberfeldy and Tanjil-Matlock tracks.
The track was to go south-easterly along the Baw Baw Plateau to connect with the Moondarra-Baw Baw track at Mt St Philiack to make the Baw Baw Plateau accessible to tourists. The route was promoted as a tourist destination from 1906 and linked with trips to the Lakes and return via Baw Baw ‘by horseback along the new track’ to a proposed hospice (Waters 1966).
By 1907, the route had been tried by a party of eminent walkers including the Governor of Victoria, Minister for Lands and Surveyor-General. The track has been marked, tourist huts buiIt at Yarra Falls, Talbot Peak and Mt Whitelaw, and tourist maps issued. Each hut was a simple structure of spIit pailings with a corrugated iron roof, with two rooms and fireplace and an earthen floor; each was equipped with wire mattresses and cooking utensils and stables and wire fenced paddocks were Iocated nearby (Victorian Department of Lands & Survey 1907). An additionaI hut was built near the Thomson River bridge in the 1930’s (Waters 1966). Walking became very popular in the late 1920’s and the Baw Baw track was weII used by walkers and horse riders.
Walkers followed track markers, using the huts as staging points. RecaIIing the natural beauty of the country that attracted walkers Nicholas (1950) wrote of the hut at the head of Whitelaw Creek: “with its surrounding of ghostly white snow gums Iong since dead… the nearby heath gardens… and the unceasing voices of innumerable small mountain frogs which frequent the high morasses”. While not a description of Baw Baw – which required a side trip from the main track – it evokes the natural environment that then also characterised Baw Baw.
In 1938, the Talbot Peak hut was destroyed in a storm and the others were destroyed in the 1939 bushfires that decimated Iarge areas of forest. Walkers Iost interest in the area; combined with the closure of the WalhaIIa mine and then the railway line in 1942, the fate of the track was sealed. Construction of the Upper Yarra Dam and declaration of the closed catchment policy finally closed part of the route to public access.
The first recorded evidence of cattle in the Baw Baw region was in July 1841. At this time a group of cattle, driven by a Mr Brodribb, Dr Hobson and Dr Baker, and by two aboriginal guides, traveled past Mt Baw Baw while on the way to Port Albert (Adams 1978). Cattle grazing leases were issued for the Baw Baw region in 1860 to Thomas Hamilton (Stephenson 1980).
Grazing leases were pieces of land defined by the Lands Department to be used for grazing. Licences were issued for a fee to people wishing to graze the leases. The leases defined as the Baw Bew area may have covered in excess of 34,803 hectares from Matlock to Mt Gregory to the Thomson River. In 1860, Charlie and Harry Rawson took out a licence allowing them to graze some of the Baw Baw Plateau. The two men had no knowledge of other licence holders and began by mustering any of the stray cattle in the area.
The last lease issued to the Rawsons dates to 1913. Lands Department records suggest Thomas Allen held a grazing licence on the ptateau from 1908 to 1910 and again from 1915 to 1920 (Stephenson 1980). After 1913 some of the Baw Baw lease was taken up by Fred ‘Curly‘ Jans. Later Norman Jans shared and took over the piece of land (Stephenson 1980). The Jans’ leases covered approximately 34,803 hectares stretching north to Matlock, east to Mt Gregory and west to the Thomson River. Hector Stagg took a licence of 24,281 hectares of the Baw Baw lease in 1958 and grazed cattle in the area for twenty years. The Stagg leases stretched north to St Clair, west to Mt Gregory and east to the Thomson River.
In 1962, 2,833 hectares above an elevation of 4000 feet, was reserved as an Alpine Resort. The National Parks Association proposed that the alpine resort become a wilderness area. This proposal was implemented and all lands above 4000 feet were declared a reserve (Stephenson 1980). The east grazing lease was withdrawn in 1975 but a few of Hec Stagg’s cattle remained. The Forestry Commission had not yet been able to remove the cattle from the reserve (Stephenson 1980).
Logging was carried out extensively on the Baw Baw region, up to the limit of the snow gums (Eucalyptus Pauciflora) and concentrated on Eucalyptus Pilularis and mountain ash (E.regnans). Mountain grey gums (E.cypelocarpa) were rarely logged because those of millable age were often warped. Several leases for logging extended up onto Mt. Baw Baw itself. These leases included those of Roche, Kotloshce, Cowrie, Van Dam and Neulyne. The present access road up to Neulyne’s Carpark follows an old logging trail that led to the Neulyne‘s Mill winch site.
Its route was determined by the road construction contractor who chose the easiest route up to the winch site. Logging was responsible for the construction of many small feeder tracks on the Baw Baw Plateau, some of which have now been upgraded to roads. Logging of the Baw Baw region has continued to the present day. The introduction of logging tracks for transportation induced improvements to the road networks. The Forest Commission had investigated logging in the area with planning up to the year 2000 (Williamson, 1982).
Timber was needed for goldmining and for construction of housing. By 1865 an extensive system of tramways existed around Woods Point, and over the next few years, around Walhalla. Substantial timber tramways were established in the Tyers and Thompson Valleys early in the 20th century. The Tyers Valley Tramway opened in 1927, closing in 1949, while the Thomson Valley Tramway started in 1938 and closed in 1950.
Many smaller tramways fed these main lines and both linked with the Walhalla Railway (LRRSA 1974). After the 1939 bushfires timber mills were relocated into townships and an extensive timber salvage operation started (Fraser 1986). Roadways replaced the tramways. Salvage of timber after the 1939 fires became part of the war operations – timber was classified as a munition of war – and both forestry and sawmilling were protected industries.
Miners avoided the Baw Baw Plateau, it being cold, wet, precipitous and, most importantly, lacking in gold. Tracks were cut to enable access to the gold mining areas in the nearby region. In 1877 a track was cut from Reefton (in the Yarra Valley) to connect with the gold diggings at Aberfeldy and Omeo (Mackay 1916). In 1888 a two foot track was cut from the Tanjil diggings along a spur between the Tyers and Tanjil Rivers up to Mt Baw Baw, it was completed in 1890, and re-cut in 1895.
At the same time a track was cut from Moondarra, up the south-east slope of Mt Erica, along the plateau to Mt St Phillack and out to Mt Baw Baw, it was not completed until 1892 and was re-cut in 1902. in 1899 another mining track was cut from Mt Veigh’s Hotel (Yarra River) to the Tanjil-Mattock tracks. This network of mining tracks enabled the later tourist development (Waters 1966).
On the 27th January 1860 E.W. Gladman discovered alluvial gold in the area between Mt Baw Baw and Bull Beef Creek. The gold was found in the stream beds which have their origin on Mt Baw Baw (Adams, 1980). There are no official records of mining on Mt Baw Baw although it is known that a great deal of unregistered, successful mining occurred in the area. In 1876 a mining track was cut over the north western flank of Mt Baw Baw from Reefton to Aberfeldy and Omeo to make the surrounding areas accessible tor prospecting. Mt Baw Baw was seen by most as an obstacle, presenting access problems to the gold fields. By 1920 mining was steadily giving way to another industry – logging (Adams, 1980).
Kangaroos are sometimes seen on the plateau but are not plentiful. Wombats, echidnas, bandicoots, possums, phascogates and other marsupials are present. The rare leadbeater’s possum has been recorded in mountain ash regrowth in the environs of the plateau. The Baw Baw frog philoria frosti is found only on the Baw Baw Plateau although entered a period of decline linked to chytrid fungus and is now critically endangered. Bird life is more noticeabte with such species as flame robin and pied currawong being frequently seen, even in the winter months. Many insects inhabit the plateau including the bogong moth, varieties of beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, and the most common spider is the Wolf Spider.
There is a close association between the vegetatton type and the topography. The characteristic vegetation of the plateau is the subalpine woodland dominated by the snowgum, Euc. pauciflora. This gives a park-like appearance to the area with a ground cover of snow grass. Unlike many alpine areas which are tree-less, snowgums grow to the summits of the mountains. Within the sub-aipine woodlands, tingaringy gum Euc. giaucescens will be found in several localities. This tree is common from the bottom of the old chairlift to the Alpine Village where it is mixed with snowgum and alpine ash, Euc. deiegatensis.
Commonly associated understorey species are Mueller’s bush-pea Puitenea mueileri, alpine mint-bush Prostanthera cuneata, alpine orites Orites tancifoiia, and alpine pepper Drimys xerophila. Snow daisies, trigger plants and the variety of orchids make a spectacular display in the spring and summer. Wet sclerophyllous forest occurs above 1200m in places.
The predominant species is alpine ash, but stands of shining gum Euc. nitens occur, mainly around Mt Erica. There are extensive areas of silver wattle acacia deaibata and smaller areas of hickory wattle acacia fatciformis. Bog vegetation occurs in the flat valleys. These are fragile plant communities which are easily damaged by trampling. There is a transition from the bog community dominated by the hummock-forming bog mess sphagnum cristatum to more heath-like communities. In many areas as the amount of sphagnum decreases there is an increase in the spreading ropenrush calorophus lateriflorus.
Commonly associated heath species include the swamp heaths epacris paludosa and epacris microphyila. A feature of the vegetation is the occurrence of myrtle beech nothofagus cunninghamii throughout the sub-aipine woodland type. It occurs in a number of places in the reserve, often in association with the mountain teatree Leptospermum grandifolium. Another species of interest is plum pine podccarpus lawrencei.
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