Se­cret project cel­e­brates 70th year

Mt Hotham Falls Creek - - FRONT PAGE -

HIS­TO­RI­ANS and fam­i­lies of some of Falls Creek’s pi­o­neers will cel­e­brate the 70th an­niver­sary of the first lodge at the re­sort on open­ing week­end.

Sky­line Lodge was scav­enged from derelict high coun­try huts and built in se­cret at night and week­ends by hy­dro­elec­tric­ity staff to avoid their boss’s scru­tiny.

John Meyer, the son of Kiewa Hy­dro-Elec­tric Scheme chief sur­veyor Ray Meyer, said it was a hum­ble be­gin­ning to what is now a vi­brant Euro­pean-style ski vil­lage that at­tracts thou­sands of snow en­thu­si­asts each win­ter sea­son.

“An in­trepid num­ber of like­minded State Elec­tric­ity Com­mis­sion had a com­mon in­ter­est that re­volved around the ski­ing po­ten­tial of the snow-cov­ered high plains that in­cluded what is now the 450-hectare re­sort of Falls Creek,” he said.

“The six SEC em­ploy­ees Toni St Elmo, Ray Meyer, Jack Minogue, Lloyd Dunn, Adrian Ruf­fe­nacht and Dave Gibson to­gether with their fam­i­lies banded to­gether to se­cretly build a ‘hut’ that was the first ski lodge at Falls Creek.

“Us­ing a road built in 1930s to gain ac­cess to Falls Creek the hut project was a bold move and was car­ried out in se­cret ow­ing to ear­lier ef­forts by other skiers be­ing stymied by H.H.C. Williams – the en­gi­neer in charge of the Hy­dro Scheme.

“Another sig­nif­i­cant event in the erec­tion of the first ski lodge at Falls Creek was a trip to the Lands Of­fice in Mel- bourne by Ray Meyer in 1946 (the same year the name of the re­sort was of­fi­cially changed from Horse­shoe Creek to Falls Creek).

“It proved to be a mas­ter­stroke, he came away with a 99-year lease on three acres that was ideally suited for a hut de­signed by Lloyd Dunn.”

Falls Creek mu­seum cu­ra­tor Karen Smythe said Sky­line was lo­cated be­tween pole 1 and Pole 2 of what is now the In­ter­na­tional Poma.

“If you were to look up from the road, the ground flat­tens out a lit­tle and the lodge was just on the edge of the bushes and trees there,” she said.

“At the time of con­struc­tion, it was hid­den be­hind lots of trees and the skiers would hike up the gully and onto the Sum­mit.”

Mr Meyer said hy­dro scheme de­sign en­gi­neer Adrian Ruf­fe­nacht sug­gested where the group should build ow­ing to easy ac­cess to a spring and much of the build­ing ma­te­rial re­quired was scav­enged from derelict huts on the high plains.

“Ow­ing to the need for the work on the lodge be kept as se­cret as pos­si­ble, be­cause Williams was not par­tic­u­larly sup­port­ive, they toiled away in the evenings and week­ends know­ing very few SEC staff would be about,” he said.

“Another sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of this re­mark­able feat was the de­ci­sion to re­name the hut.

“Dur­ing the build­ing pe­riod the group had met at Echidna Rock ( now known as Ea­gle Rock) where Skippy St Elmo an­nounced ‘This is my favourite sky­line’.

“Adrian Ruf­fe­nacht, agreed, say­ing it would be an ap­pro­pri­ate name for their club.

“But Toni St Elmo sug­gested it was a time when the name Hut should be dropped and re­placed with Lodge and it be­came ‘Sky­line Ski Club Lodge’ the first ski lodge at Falls Creek.”

PI­O­NEERS: Sky­line Lodge, the first built at Falls Creek, was a se­cret project among hy­dro elec­tric work­ers 70 years ago this year.

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