Season 2011 marked 150 years of skiing in Australia.
Recreational skiing started in NSW in 1861 with the formation of the Kiandra Snow Shoe Club. This is some 20 years before similar clubs were formed in Europe.
Skiing came to Hotham in the 1920’s with the opening of the Hotham Heights Chalet. But this didn’t mark the beginning of human use of the area.
By the 1850’s miners and cattleman were traversing through Hotham, probably along routes initially learnt from Aboriginal people.
By 1895, John Lawler and his sons, from Snowy Creek near Freeburgh, had started taking cattle to summer graze on Mt Baldy (as Mt Hotham was known). Soon they had built a substantial set of yards located on the site of the current Corral Day Car Park. They also built a number of huts, one adjacent to the yards.
As a young lad living at the nearby Hotham Heights Chalet, Len Spargo recalls visiting this hut to share dinner with the Lawlers. Whilst this hut was burnt in the 1939 fires, it was rebuilt and remained in place until the 1960’s.
By the 1950’s the rights to graze cattle were starting to be withdrawn, but Bernie Lawler, John’s grandson, was allowed to keep some run’s on Mt Loch, albeit with reduced numbers, until his retirement in the 1970’s. Today little remains of the Lawler legacy, except for Cope Hut on the Bogong High Plains built by Bernie’s father Martin in 1929.
The newly completed Cobungra Ditch Walking Trail, has focused attention on mining history and the nearby Brandy Creek Mine, which was in operation from the 1860’s through till the 1920’s.
Less well known are two other mines in the Hotham Village itself.
Near the Hotham summit, less than 100 metres down the slope towards the Loch reservoir, is a shallow hole in the ground. This was once the Baldy mine. It was one of two gold-bearing quartz reefs discovered on Mount Hotham in March 1890 by the Grimsley Brothers from Harrietville. The 25cm wide reef prospected up to one ounce of gold per ton. A shaft was sunk and several tons carted down to Harrietville to get crushed. However, the value of gold dropped to a point where it became uneconomical so the brothers turned their attention to the other reef further south, near the current Hotham sewerage farm.
This mine became known as the Southern Cross. Whilst the brothers themselves soon sold it, mining continued through till the 1930’s. The mine had 2 adits or entrances, with shafts running deep under the present Eiger Ski Club. There was also a battery onsite used to crush rock and extract the gold.