The Condamine Bell

Packing the mails in flood time 1889

Steve and I left Tonimbuk in November 1986, after purchasing the ‘goodwill and license of a High Country riding business. It was the beginning of our big adventure to North East Victoria, into a new community, to settle and operate our tourism business in the Bogong National Park, now known as the Alpine National Park. It was a huge decision for us and our little boys Lin 4 yo and Clay 2 yo, leaving our own families and the communities we had started our early family life in. As a young mum of two adventurous active little boys I was so busy and possibly very naive, but we had plenty of passion and lots of love between us and a big sense of adventure.

In the earlier months of 1986 we began to prepare for our big mountain ‘tree change’, purchasing our plant and equipment, and collecting a mixture of good horses tried and new. When Steve arrived back from a road trip to Queensland with a Toyota full of saddles, bridles and pack saddles, the excitement and anticipation of our future was palpable. As we sifted through the tack I inquired as to why we needed bells and collars? We thought our horsemanship skills were ok, but our education in horsemanship and pack saddling was basically self taught other than the early training by Clive Hodge whom we rode with in the early 1980’s teaching us the ways of the mountains, navigating, finding good camps and the first practice in the art of pack-saddling. The Toyota’s loads were the first time I had ever seen a stockman’s bridal, a traditional extended head bridal that were regarded as a safer alternative to the single ring bridal, or hobbles to allow the stock to feed out at night and keep the horses from traveling too far on their own! Well, in principle anyway.

Steve also picked up three bells with neck straps, one large, one medium and one small, all with different tones and levels of volume, all rang very loudly, especially when the boys discovered them and started running riot around the house. “They are used to keep track of your stock when camping” Steve said. “Won’t the bells scare the horses?” I asked, secretly hoping we could return them with a full refund.”They’ll get used to them” he said “They are called Condamine bells, used traditionally for the bell mare, in the old days to keep track of your horses when you camped” he added. I worried about our decision and how we would manage to camp with 20 horses. We had camped with six before and that was hard enough, but twenty?

Captain was a strong horse, heavy boned, quarter horse type, big chest and a solid rump, a kind eye and a wide head, Grandpa (Frank Viney) used to say a good width between the eyes makes for a smart horse. He was all business, a very fast walker and was our first gift from my dad (Bill Viney) to our riding team. Captain had been a staff horse at Tonimbuk trails but my dad had decided he would be best in the mountains as he had ‘no mouth’ meaning he was hard to stop, probably a lifetime hangover from negligent riders in his youth. Dad had already saved Captain from the sale yards and the doggers, I suspect, but because we were not sure of his reliability as a riding horse we felt he would be well suited as the lead packhorse, calm, strong and reliable with stamina by the bucket load. So after a short introduction to a pack load, his future career path was born. Captain became Bogong Horseback Adventures’ star lead pack horse. He was a dream to lead, tie up and load, he never spooked, bucked or bolted, although he never free travelled either as he was such an independent horse he would go straight home alone or lead the others if the opportunity arose.

One summer, maybe early 1990’s we arrived at the old stock yards opposite Cleve Cole hut on Mount Bogong, we unpacked all five pack loads (we now have seven) and set up our camp under a canopy of twisted snow gums, surrounded by the horses hobbled out, grazing peacefully with the rattle of the chains around their fetlocks. It was a warm and unusually balmy night. After a yummy dinner and some campfire banter we all retired to our welcome beds of either swags or tents.

Some of the feedback in the early days was that the bells on the night horses would keep guests awake, but Steve said he always slept better when he knew the horses were near and not off at a hobbled tramp – homeward bound. Our horse camps previously on that trip, had been further away so the bells were a distant gentle jingle through the trees. My goodness as I lay looking skyward the moon had risen and a glow and radiance had filled the air, I felt like I was the luckiest woman alive, tucked into the swag next to Steve, anticipating some well deserved sleep, and wondering what adventures lay ahead tomorrow.

Around 3 am I was still awake with my mountain man snoring gentle beside me and the BLOODY BELL ding~a~ling~ing it’s ding~a~ling song all night long. I knew exactly what was happening in the yard, Captain was grazing gently until a mare took a lunge at him and the bell clattered as he fled her bared teeth. I could hear the groans of our patient guests every time the alarm rang out! Finally after a long night of grumbling from me, drifting deeply only to be woken again to the noise of the bloody bell, it was time to become pro-active. Camp was finally quiet, so I chose my moment. All the horses were resting peacefully with only the occasional gentle jingle of Captains bell. Desperately needing a couple of hours sleep before light, I squeezed out of my swag and was surprised at the temperature. Seeing Captain close by in the snow gums, I crept over to him ducking under the slip rails. I put my hand on his strong neck, “whoa, boy” I soothed as I slid my hand up to the leather collar to undo the buckle and silence the bell for good. “Whoa, Captain”. BANG with a sudden pull back he was off, the bell on full volume at a hobbled gallop across to the other side of the moonlit yard!

There I was, as the tent zippers unzipped and the grumbling guests poked out their sleepy heads….. a stark naked tour guide, looking rather silly. I had no where to run, nowhere to hide, so I stretched out my tired arms and called out “good morning!”

Mount Bogong

Cold wet day yesterday camped at Cleve Cole hut. Back on my horse and the sun is out, still cold and windy. Beautiful weather of the high country! Currently holding my hat on as we cross Mount Bogong. Lin


True to our origins

Bambi-posterWhen we printed our first colour brochure in the early 90’s, our designer Bambi came up with this concept of our horses traversing the map of the High Plains. The montage suggested a sense of adventure, and our expeditions today continue that tradition of adventure and respecting the heritage and culture of the High Country horse.

High Country Harvest packages

Pork-ChopThe local food and regional wines of North East Victoria will be celebrated this year by the High Country Harvest festival. Spring Spur is offering lunch and trail ride packages, featuring our renowned horses and seasonal tucker from the farmhouse kitchen. Get a group of friends together for a great day out.

Packing school

Load-packsSpring Spur Stables is offering a range of horsemanship and bushmanship clinics over the year including our masterclass in packing. This clinic conducted over 5 days covers the practical skills of using packhorses, bush camping with horses and all about the gear and equipment that you will need to conduct a successful remote area expedition.

On top downunder

Eskdale-groupGet on your high horse here at Bogong Horseback adventures. Our tours over the Mount Bogong massif include the highest licensed riding terrain in Australia. Featuring the open herb fields of the Australian alps, spectacular views, this un-roaded country is ideally suited to packhorse expeditions.

Red Robin

Red-round-yardNamed after a local goldmine tucked away in the nearby mountains, Red is adding his strong Australian Stock Horse bloodlines to the Spring Spur mountain horses, bred and trained here on the stud and in our backyard – the High Country.

Garden Greens Asian style

Wok-on-fireGather an arm full of tree fall sticks, light a quick fire and stir up the fresh picked garden greens, asian sauces and serve to the sound of birdsong.

Garlic from the garden

GarlicGarlic harvested from the rich garden soil at Spring Spur. Sure to add the little extra to the goodies from the farm kitchen

Open the Slip Rails to a Ten Year Park Licence Sep 2012

Way back in the early 1990’s, Steve attended a meeting with Andrew Dwyer, Graeme Stoney, and others, to establish a dialogue between Public Land managers and the emerging adventure tourism industry. It was early days and the ‘Parkies’ bristled at the suggestion that any business based activity might try and make a profit from trading on public land. Things moved slowly and eventually a Commercial Tour Operators licensing system was established. One key demand of the young industry players at those robust meetings was to secure a long enough tenure to be able to invest and grow their business with some security of tenure. The 12 month licenses were eventually extended to three years by the end of the nineties, but the ten year license was always a firm goal of industry.

We must be a stubborn lot because after twenty years and tireless efforts by Steve and Kath Baird, and many people, including some within Parks Victoria, the ten year license is a reality this year.

Bogong Horseback Adventures is proud to have been a voice in this long debate, proud to now hold a ten year license and as a condition, achieved Advanced Eco Accreditation.