A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE RAN SKI CLUB
The history of The R.A.N. Ski Club starts in the early 1950s and is the story of its members. From this short account it will be obvious that the story of the Club, its development over the years, and its continuation today is one of a labour of love of past and present members. It is a Club that thrives on the foresight and conviction of its founding members, and the preparedness of members to become involved, then and now, in either management or through the provision of the labour which is essential to the development and maintenance of its assets. We now own three lodges, one each at Mount Buller, in Perisher Valley and Thredbo Village.
Interest in skiing as a sport for members of the RAN began before World War II with a number of young men serving with the Royal Navy. Winter leave was frequently used to ski in Europe.
Although interest in skiing in Australia developed rapidly in the post War years with the arrival of many European migrants, it was inEuropethat the idea for an R.A.N. Ski Club originated. The pre-commissioning crew of the old aircraft carrier HMAS SYDNEY was in the United Kingdom standing by the new ship. Following an expedition of ship’s company personnel to the Austrian Alps, some young officers were inspired with the idea of forming a Club. They met in the ship’s Gunnery Officer’s cabin in September 1951. Three of them, Guy Griffiths, Phillip Stevenson and Geoff Hood, after reaching the conclusion that a Club was a possibility, developed the idea .
A further meeting at Naval Headquarters in 1952 showed there was sufficient support to get it going.
The R.A.N. Ski Club came into existence officially, with the publication of Commonwealth Navy Order No. 50 on 3 February 1953. This stated that a Ski Club had been formed with the title “Royal Australian Navy Ski Club”.
The aims of the Club , as set out in this CNO, were:
- To gather all those in the Navy who had skied at one time or another, or who were interested in skiing in the future, for their mutual benefit and for the encouragement of skiing as a Naval sport.
- To collect information regarding skiing facilities in the Australian,New Zealandand Japanese areas.
- To assist in the organisation of skiing parties.
- To form a Naval ski team to represent the Service.
Early difficulties with office bearers being absent at sea led to the involvement of members of the Reserves who today continue to provide great support.
Without their own accommodation initially, Club members relied on the goodwill of other clubs with facilities at Mount Buller. The acquisition of austere accommodation occurred in 1956 when the Club was fortunate enough to acquire a partially completed building at Breathtaker Point,MountBuller, for $4,400. Without a cent with which to clinch the deal, but with the certainty that it was on to a good thing, the Committee bought the building. A loan of $2,000 was obtained from the Central Canteens Fund and the balance was made up in the form of debentures from members and Club subscriptions.
The Club then entered a period of consolidation after its first acquisition, with efforts directed at making the hut fit for night time shelter. Working parties in early 1956 constructed stone walls, added a kitchen, changing room and water supply. As membership steadily increased professional assistance was called in to convert the hut into a lodge. New sleeping areas and showers were added and a massive new fireplace and gas lamps gave Breathtaker a character of its own.
The Club had long realised, that although Mount Buller offered a wonderful introduction to skiing for Naval personnel, it was difficult for those serving in the Fleet or in the Sydney Area to make use of Breathtaker. Moreover, many skiers were ‘birdmen’ to whom HMAS ALBATROSS at Nowra, was home. Further, the return of the Naval College to Jervis Bay, the establishment of the Apprentice Training Establishment (HMAS NIRIMBA) at Quakers Hill, and the movement of a large part of Navy Office toCanberra, shifted the focus away from the Victorian snowfields to the Kosciusko National Park.
Following much debate in 1962 over the benefits of locating a new lodge in Thredbo or Perisher, the decision was made easy. The R.A.N. Ski Club was invited to inspect the last remaining sites for allocation for club lodges in Perisher Valley. Guy Griffiths who had done the spade work with the Kosciusko State Park Trust, and Graham Wright who was performing his last action as a Club official before leaving the Active List of the RAN, walked the sites and opted for the one on which our Perisher Valley lodge now stands.
Once again the Club faced the problem of financing the building of a lodge, this time without the option of starting with a modest structure and by dint of ingenuity developing it into a worthwhile asset. The conditions imposed by the NSW Government and the Kosciusko State Park Trust required a building of the highest quality, properly sited, and constructed to withstand the worst weather that Perisher was capable of inflicting.
Guy Griffiths and Geoff Hood were given the tasks of selecting an architect, a builder, and raising the necessary finance. Once again the Central Canteens Committee was prepared to back the opinion of the Ski Club with a gift of $7,000 and a repayable loan of $11,000. The Commonwealth Bank lent $4,000 and $10,000 came from Club Funds. With a contract for $32,000 tremendous enthusiasm, and the support of an understanding wife, Guy Griffiths undertook the project. The Lodge was open for business in time for the 1964 season, the biggest year for snow in Perisher’s history.
With the assets of the Club growing and with their value increasing, it became increasingly difficult to appoint new trustees for the property every time a Club official received a new posting. It was decided to incorporate the Club as a non-profit making company. A Sub-Committee, of which Geoff Hood, Rae Sinclair and Peter Cooper were the members, was formed to draft the memorandum and articles of association. The Minister for Defence, the Hon. Athol Townley, on 21 November 1963, consented to the use, by the RAN Ski Club, of the letters R.A.N. in the title of The R.A.N. Ski Club, subject to the condition that the Club remain under the control of serving members of the RAN.
Club members’ enthusiasm for better conditions has never ceased. In 1973 Perisher added two cabins and a rumpus room. The next major undertaking, which started in 1975 was the extension of Breathtaker by 24 berths. A feature of these tasks was to exploit the self-help attitude of members who cleared sites, did the preliminary work and fitting out. However, it was clear that yet more bunks were needed for Navy skiers. The Club membership was rising each year, and the dropout rate was going down. Skiing was fast becoming the in-thing and sailors were not to be left behind. Jindabyne presented itself as a place for future expansion, with easy access to Thredbo for day skiing, and reasonable access toPerisherValleyand Guthega.
The 1979 Annual General Meeting agreed the need for a small lodge or large house with not less than 12 bunks and capable of expansion to 35. Again, following much hard work to raise sufficient funds, the Club purchased Halgapa Lodge at East Jindabyne for $135,000. It consisted of three self-contained units on a very large block of land with a water frontage to Lake Jindabyne and magnificent mountain views. After ten years this very popular lodge was sold in 1990 and the proceeds invested in a large block of land in the heart of Jindabyne. Difficulties with the local government over zoning regulations had prompted this decision.
In the meantime, Breathtaker Lodge was virtually rebuilt to a guest capacity of 60 beds, and was reopened in 1984 by the Governor of Victoria, Rear Admiral Sir Brian Murray.
In April 2000, after long negotiations, the Club purchased the Army Alpine Lodge at Thredbo Village. The lodge, built in the late 1960s and renovated in the early 1990s, has 35 beds and operates year round. The acquisition of this lodge added long sought after additional accommodation in the NSW snow fields.
Although much of the RAN Ski Club history is associated with the development of facilities for Navy skiers and their families, its prime goal has been promotion of the sport of skiing in the RAN. To this end it has been closely associated with the conduct of Interservice Skiing since its inception in 1966. The competition consisted of alpine events only until 1977 when Cross Country (or Nordic) Skiing was added, the Club providing financial support for the Navy team training. After a trial run in 1979 by Rick McMaster and Des Carney, another major milestone in Navy skiing was achieved in 1980 when an Australian Defence Force team led by Ken Green travelled to Europe to participate in the British Services International Ski Championships.Australiahas been represented many years since, and British Services teams became regular visitors to Australia. Similarly, since 1985, Navy Cross Country skiers have participated in Army-led ski mountaineering exercises in the USA, appropriately called “Cold Comfort” and “High Sierra”, and many Club members have now experienced these adventure training exercises.
In 1991 an Australian Defence Force Cross Country Ski Team, which included Club members Ralph Loeding, Mike McCourt, Mark Purcell and Mal Taylor, contested the British National and British-Army-on-the-Rhine Championships in Germany.
Late in 1992, Ian MacDougall, member, Patron and Chief of Naval Staff, gave approval for the Club to fly the Australian White Ensign at the Club’s lodges. The historic unfurling took place at both Perisher andMountBulleron Saturday 10 July 1993.
Today the Club is strong and mature with over 1700 members. Its facilities provide comfortable low cost accommodation in the snow. The atmosphere is warm, friendly and relaxing, and reflects the first rule of the founding fathers :
“Leave Rank and Rate Outside the Gate.”
Adventure, exhilaration and fun on the top ofAustralia: cementing old friendships and making new ones: these are what our Club is all about ! ! !