Recollections of the early days by an original member
In the late 1940s, a group of bushwalkers decided to try their hand at snow skiing. They joined the Ski Club of Victoria & booked out Wallace’s Hut on the Bogong High Planes for 10 days.
Getting there was in itself an adventure. A train from Melbourne to Albury, followed by a bus to Mt Beauty and then transport to the Falls Creek construction site was required, all before the long hike through heavy snow following the snow poles began. A blizzard added to the difficulties for these adventurous men and women who were relatively new to the sport of cross country skiing. Bob Churcher, Max & Ron Friedman, Tom & Val Cerbasi & Bob Driscal were among this early group of explorers.
Despite the hardships something must have been ignited in this group of would-be skiers. They got together at the Government Aircraft Factory at Fisherman’s Bend (the site of employment for a number of these adventurers) in 1951 with a view to forming a club at Mt Buller.
Founding member Ron Friedman recalled a disastrous trial run in July 1951. “There was a heavy snow fall. We got to Dump Inn at 5.30pm, but it took until 11.30pm to walk to the village through the snow. We decided it was all too hard and maybe not worth the effort”.
Bob Churcher, recalls how he and Don Lewis headed up to Mt Buller for their first trip in Don’s father’s old Dodge. “It was a disaster. The roads were very rough and we were not used to, or very well equipped for snow travel. We had break downs, got bogged etc. Our accommodation was in some rough old huts at the rear of the Ivor Whitaker Lodge at Mt Buller. There was no dry wood for the stove and the place filled with smoke. I can’t remember whether there were electric lights or mattresses etc, but it was fairly hopeless”. The group were inspired later in 1951 when an issue of Home Beautiful magazine featured Mt Buller’s Lodges, encouraging them to believe that it could be done.
And so the process of forming a club began. Twenty four foundation members were required, (“this required a little bit of skulduggery, adding relatives to the list of names” recalled Bob Churcher), a Constitution drawn up & a name decided upon. Many names were trialled including “To thee”, “White Wings” & then “Glissade” was suggested, because they thought that it sounded “snowy & cold”. At a late hour, with the application due in the next day, “Gliss” was decided upon. “For no other reason”, Ron Friedman stated, than “we liked it better than the other suggestions”. Ron Friedman recalls that “they then applied for a site and were told to take a pick of the newly subdivided Breathtaker Spur”. They surveyed the site and initially decided to build next to BMW (at the bottom of Bourke Street) However, after admiring photos of site 32 overlooking Bull Run, it was decided to build there, even though there were no roads to access the block.
Bob Churcher recalls the trip to get to Mt Buller and the site that Gliss was to be built on in the Summer of 1951 was not an easy one;
“The road went up over the black spur to Alexandra. From there to Mansfield had plenty of unsealed stretches and from Mansfield to Mirimbah was even worse. Up the mountain was only a track, with many sections where cars had to be pushed and after rain we would have to use shovels to fill in the ruts in order to get the cars through. BMW was one of the few clubs already built in the Bourke Street area and we organised to stay there, as with luck and hard work, cars could get to the bottom of Bourke Street. From there you just hacked your way through to the site as there was no road. In fact, when we built, everything was carried in on our backs or on an old wooden wheelbarrow that we built on the site, through a narrow track that we cut through the bush.”
“We cut a track from the bottom of Bourke St, past what is now Pension Grimus & Breathtaker Lodges, to carry in the materials. We were also lucky to borrow a clapped out old 3 ton truck, so we could bring up all the building materials in 2 loads.” Ron Friedman stated.” We weren’t silly enough to drive out to the site, but Reindeer and Benmore were also building their lodges that summer, and one of them broke the transmission in their car trying to drive along it”.
Stumps were put in over one weekend in December 1951 whilst they stayed at BMW Lodge. The lodge was built in 10 days over Christmas, whilst members camped on the site. “There were snakes on the site and one went straight into a tent which caused pandemonium. Another was sunning itself on the site where we were about to start building”.
They prefabricated the top and bottom wall panels in Melbourne, which helped in the rapid on-site construction. A feature of the hut was a large metal framed window (6 foot by 4 foot) which remained a feature of the main shared living room until 2012, when it was replaced by a similar double glazed window. The view through it to Little Buller is still as beautiful as ever. Many a Gliss child has had a drink or food handed to them through that old window over the years, as they paused only briefly in their day of skiing adventures.
The Lodge featured:
Heating: slow combustion wood stove (hot water was added in the second year)
Power: from a generator, the last one to bed had to run outside to turn the generator off (or did it just run out of fuel?) and each morning a fire had to be started
Toilet: the original toilet was a hole in the ground, an adventure to get into during a snow storm
Bathroom: comprised of a wash basin and shower. Hot water would have to be carried into the roof cavity and poured into a bushman’s shower up there for it to come out in the shower cubicle.
Water: rainwater was collected in a 1,000 gallon tank, however, the pipe that connected it to the lodge kept freezing. So a second tank was built under the lodge in order to prevent it from freezing and a header tank was placed in the ceiling so that there would be water pressure. A hand pump was used to pump the water into the header tank.
Cooking: a slow combustion stove along with a 4 burner cooker that ran on Shellite.
Drying room: was heated with an open kerosene heater
Bunk rooms: there were 2 bunk rooms where the living room/dining room tables now stand. The bunks were 3 high, 6 to a room and separated from the living room just by a curtain in order to keep them warm.
After having spent many weekends sleeping in cars, staying in unlined huts and old farmhouses to go skiing, the lodge was finally completed, compact and warm and was in use for the first time in the winter of 1952.
Founding member Bob Churcher fondly remembers the trip to Buller in those early days of skiing at Gliss;
“In the early days of Gliss, we were pretty young and foolish. There wasn’t all that much traffic on the roads and getting to Buller was a real race. The police weren’t as active in booking people then. It was only natural that we had to stop at the pub at Alexandra for a refreshing ale after negotiating the Black Spur. As the local police sergeant was drinking with us, it wasn't likely that we were going to be booked for drinking outside licence hours. We would generally leave there pretty late and then try and make up for lost time, as late arrivals on the mountain generally had to park well down. Of course we then had to walk in, sometimes from below White Bridge.
Some fellas would only make it up as far as Dump Inn which was about two thirds of the way up the mountain. There, they would “dump in”, sleeping on the wooden floor with all the other would be skiers on their way up the mountain. I fortunately rarely had to resort to this.
We had wooden skies and lace up leather boots. Three runs on Bull Run was considered a good day back then. Oh yes, did I forget to mention that we had to walk out?
It is interesting that of the group of about 15-16 young men (about two of them were married) who formed the original club, only a handful pulled out over the years, and remarkably, we all managed to work together pretty well. Fifty years plus on from that time we all remained friends and now sixty five years on, those few of us remaining are still friends. Many of our descendants, second and third generations, continuing on as active members.”
In 1965, an extension was built which increased the bed numbers to 22.
Bob Churcher’s son, Ross, recalls the winter of 1965 at Gliss, skiing as a 7 year old & then the years that followed to the present day;
“There were some lovely days; however, my most vivid memories are of wet woollen mittens and frozen fingers, plastic lace up ski boots & bindings that didn’t release. Many was the time I would get back to the lodge feeling cold and miserable and sit in the drying room in tears as my fingertips came slowly and painfully back to life. I remember sleeping in the 3 bed bunk room where, if you were on the top bunk, your nose nearly touched the roof. I can recall watching my father ski down the slope where Christiana now stands today as he returned to our lodge.” As I have since noted with my own children as they have progressed, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. So I gradually improved, got better ski gear and started to love skiing. We only came up 2 or 3 weekends & for a week in the September School holidays each year; however we were addicted and would not have missed out for the world. I have memories of waiting to the last possible moment to get back to the lodge and pack up to go home. I would usually feel quite sad as we left the mountain to return to Melbourne. However that soon would pass as I thought back on the improvements in technique I had made and the thrill of sharing such as exhilarating sport with my family & friends.
In my later teenage years mates from school & then university would come up to Gliss Ski club and universally had a great time. Fortunately on one of those weekends at Gliss, I met my future wife. That was in August 1979 and we have been together ever since, marrying in 1982 and always celebrate our first meeting with dinner at Mt Buller each August.
My 2 girls have skied since 3 years old and it is their favourite sport. Like me, my youngest daughter used to feel very sad every time we had to head home from the mountain. They have introduced their friends and boyfriends to Gliss and the excitement of skiing & boarding. With fellow member’s children they really enjoy sitting by the fire and talking, playing games, building snowmen, having snowball fights out the front of the lodge or skiing on the slopes. They fully intend to take over our membership when we are no longer able to enjoy the thrill of being on skis. However, now in our later 50’s we have no intention of stopping any time soon. Indeed we have now also enjoyed a number of overseas trips to ski with our children – it is an important part of our lives.
We owe my father and his friends a great debt of gratitude for their sense of adventure all those years ago. It has enabled our family & many of our friends to enjoy skiing and stay on the mountain in the most cost effective way possible”.
As time went on separate bathrooms were added and in 2015/2016 the later were fully renovated and double glazed windows installed in many of the rooms. The outside walls were partially reclad in wide profile aluminium sheets that will eventually clad the whole building. The addition of a lovely steel LED lit rendition of the original Gliss logo now identifies the lodge from the North, Standard Lane side.
Currently the Gliss Committee of Management which includes 2’nd and 3’rd generation members, are working towards the next stage of Gliss’s development. It is intended that Gliss with its wonderful history, which runs parallel with the development of Mt Buller as a skiing destination, will continue to be available for many generations yet to come.
The members wish to maintain Gliss, (even through its proposed new development and expansion to 30 beds), as a warm, friendly, member run, affordable lodge for the descendants of those original pioneers and new members, their family and friends and members of the public.