Mount Hotham - Culture and History


The European history of the mountain begins in 1854 when Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller became the first European to explore its slopes. He named it after Governor Hotham. European settlement of the area began soon after when several women set up cabins and shanties to house miners in transit between the Dargo, Omeo and Ovens goldfields. 'Mother' Morwell, for example, established a log cabin near Mount St Bernard (1524 metres) and shanties near Freezeout and Freeburg. Mother Johnson Flat, 7 km from Mount Hotham village, is named after a woman who once ran a wine shanty there. Legend has it that, because the St Bernard hospice, built in 1884, was only 3.5 metres high, the mailman occasionally fell down the chimney while searching through very heavy snowfall for the building. Unfortunately it was burned down by a summer bushfire in 1939.

In 1874 640 hectares around Mount Hotham were set aside for public usage. The Petersen brothers made the first recorded ski crossing of the Victorian alps. The public was encouraged to regard the area as a holiday spot by the decision, in the 1910s, of some public figures - such as then governor, Sir Thomas Gibson-Carmichael, his wife and other prestigious figures - to ski at St Bernard. The Norwegian consul, Hans Fay, and a friend, made the first ski trip across the Razorback from St Bernard to Mount Feathertop in 1912. In the early 1940s Eric Johnson solved the uncertainty which skiers faced trying to lug their gear to Mount Hotham when he began a long-running service carting stores and skiers' packs to Mount Hotham via the Bon Accord Spur on a sled pulled by a horse on snowshoes while the skiers walked. So difficult could the roads be in winter time that no wheeled vehicle is said to have passed through the area until 1883.

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