30 years of Bogong Horseback Adventures

The growing Baird family; Kath, Steve, Alex, Lin, Clay, Lucie and Felix – December 2016
Kath, Steve, Lin and Clay – circa 1988
Steve riding down Eskdale Spur – circa 1996
Family photo on Mount Bogong – December 1989

This is our celebratory thirty year newsletter. They say some don’t read text just look at pictures but thirty years is a long time in the adventure tourism industry, to be honest I will have to start a book to tell the full story; but here goes into our blog- I urge you to be inspired tap into your deepest space in your heart, set aside a little part of your day and read our story, or at least our story so far; perhaps you have already been apart of ‘our story’ and if you haven’t then maybe you could make ‘ours’ apart of yours.

In 1986, Steve and I embarked on a journey with a truckload of horses, two young boys; Lin just four years old and Clay was still in nappies.

We left our award winning home that we had built and where the boys were born in Tonimbuk to a life of adventures, hard work and rented a tiny flat adjacent paddocks in Mountain Creek road, Tawonga, Clive Hanson owned, what was then called Mountain Creek School Camp. He recognised the difficulties we had in running a pack-horse business and trail ride business out of a tiny flat. He then purchased a movable house for us and put it in the middle of the front paddock where it roasted in the heat and froze in the winter frost. We did our best to renovate, building a veranda all around where helpers slept in the summer, and winter time Steve got outside work either at Falls Creek or 4×4 Diamantina desert tours. We built hitching rails and of our plant and equipment were stored in a shed. We ran our trail riding business from there but sometimes I think back and imagine what our guests thought as they arrived. The comedy ‘Foot Rot Flats’ comes to mind.

28th of December 1987 Steve left on packhorse trip and as I was shovelling manure and cleaning up after loading pack horses with Steve and Greg Pownall that morning. I was called to the telephone, it was mum. I’ll never forget her words for as long as I live.

“Kath,” she said, “Dad had a fall off Firefly today, he’s dead Kath, stone dead.”

I remember a sound came out of my guts, a groan, a deep painful groan. It was final, those words. There was no chance I would ever see him again. I didn’t know what to do, the pain is still with me to this day. There were no mobile phones so I rang a friend, Pete Irvine and he came around immediately. We jumped in my car and he drove me to try and catch Steve on the trip before he got into the National Park. I don’t remember much of our conversation through my gasps and shock but what I do remember is he said he would go no further and come home with me.

Having met some good local people, Steve rang my dear friend Leonie Roper who knew the mountains well and she and Greg Pownall continued on, leading the pack trip. Small communities like ours during times of hardships are the reason why we stayed. We buried Dad at 62 years old, on New Years eve, 1987 on their 35th Wedding Anniversary. Mum, Eleanor Viney insisted we stay and continue our dream of building a future with our boys and working in the field of horses and adventure tourism. I ached to go home to Tonimbuk.

One year later grief turned into anxiety. Panic attacks became a regular occurrence but were never acknowledged or talked about back then, for twenty years I suffered and never understood what was happening to me. Here was I, running trail rides, being responsible for so many people to keep them safe and enjoy their experience. The mob of horses we had purchased were terrific but looking back now, I recognise just how full on they were. I think when I saw an ad in the Albury Border Mail for a clinic with Wayne Banney where it read “Have you a problem horse?”

I recognised the need to change our practice and said to Steve “I think we should hire a truck”. That weekend clinic changed my life forever. Grandpa used to say “The day you think you know everything about horses Kath, is the day you never put your foot in a stirrup again”. Grandpa Frank was a light horseman in World War 1 and was a big part of my childhood with horses and had already taught me so much. We had already started a breeding program using an Australian Stock Horse, Inca Gold recognising that to go and look for quality horses to purchase was always a challenge. Traveling with two small children and miles on the road, to turn up to view a horse that was always ‘8yo, easy to shoe catch, saddle and float’ hmm, not necessarily. After the awe inspiring clinic by Wayne Banney, the long reining taught by grandpa went out the window and natural horsemanship was born into the training practices of Bogong horseback Adventures and our breeding program began in earnest.

In 1989, We went to an auction; a burley tobacco shed near Myrtleford was for sale the top end of the Buckland Valley. Burley tobacco was air dried, so the shed was a huge corrugated iron roof with peppermint posts lashed together in levels where the tobacco sat to dry. The building was passed in at auction but I, was determined to get out of the sun, out of the rain, and build some stables like mum and dad had done in Tonimbuk, where I had grown up, where I met Steve and was living and running trail rides for mum and dad in Tonimbuk. So I rang Mr Iaria and sweet talked him over the phone. Steve was working at Falls Creek during the winter to make ends meet, so the project of dismantling this massive building and trucking it home began. It now stands proudly with a new shape to create our stables. Steve’s passion for Australian architecture has inspired him to build traditional iconic buildings, using passive solar design, to design and build a beautiful family home, business, and a safe work environment. It was a bare paddock when we purchased from Clive Hansen. An orchard was planted after the stables, shade trees and a Veggie garden to sustain our family and helpers. Wayne Pendlebury now had a hut to live in and the family home was always ‘home’ to many young travellers, ‘WWOOFers’ who wanted to experience traditional Australian Packing riding horses, learning Natural horsemanship and sleeping out under the Milky Way, with the gentle sounds of hobble chains and grazing horses fattening up on the sweet high country clover. I met a mutual friend here Nereda Rink (her husband and Steve had been south coast surfing mates in their youth) here one Easter, she loved horses and natural horsemanship techniques and wanted to help out. One wild night at the Man From Snowy river Festival we decided to go to America and work at Rock Creek pack station in the Sierras. First time out of the country for me and first time in the States for Nereda, and for me just the thing to attempt with chronic undiagnosed back pain. When we landed back in Australia, we were both changed women. Nereda wanted to work with horses and so came and partnered with us for some years, she would be able to tell you how long, what year the horses were born, what day it was. I relied on her more and more as Steve and I were wearing out. My back was causing me more and more pain. I used to take rides prototyping rear view mirrors that would attach to the saddle, as I led the rides so there would be no need to twist in the saddle; often opting to ‘tail end Charlie’ and mask up with a bandana to filter the dust. After the 2003 bushfires here in the Alps, Nereda returned the coastal home of Apollo Bay to be close to her mum and now a growing mob of grandchildren, and her mum’s Great Grandchildren. Saddling up horses, loading packhorses and riding for days on end was proving to be more and more difficult for us both, I started riding less and less and Nereda missed her family more and more. Our shared commitment to our families and the shared experience of losing ‘our dads’ made the decision to part ways in business; but the bonds of friendship will forever remain.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer mum, Eleanor Viney left her beloved Tonimbuk and her youngest daughter Joanne, my sister, and came to live with Steve and I here at Spring Spur. It was the toughest but most beautiful time in my life, Those last cruel months of struggling with cancer, we laughed we cried but mostly we loved. She died in February 2006, she lays with her ‘one true love’, Bill Viney at Bunyip Cemetery.

The smart thing to do would be to call it a day, sell all our stock and sell the farm. Lin and Clay had been coming home most summers to help us where they could. It was time to decide where they wanted to set their roots.

They chose home.

We have started a kind of family experiment, building Spring Spur Stay and continuing creating a ‘place of friendship and family’ uniquely Australian; although a few western saddles, crosscut pack saddles? and even mules (George and Mildred) are creeping in to the stock and plant. Life evolves around our experiences and passion and although mules were used here in the high country, they are more commonly seen and used in the U.S.A.

Change is healthy and the prodigal sons now proudly call Spring Spur their home. They have built Spring Spur with their father Steve, and a host of awesome travellers that will be remembered and hold gold cards for the rest of their lives, you know who you are if reading this story. There are way too many to mention. Lucie Durant~Baird and Alex Phillips now bring the female balance to our family business, Lucie giving birth to Clay’s son last August, our delightful grandson Félix Earl Baird. The horse lineage continues though the veins of his French and Russian blood; Lucie’s Great Grandfather was the horse breeder for the palace of the Russian Czar, Nicolas the 2nd fleeing Russia just before the Russian Revolution.

The buildings are passive solar design and using mostly recycled timbers we carefully considered the accommodation for our guests, creating beautiful spaces to share or enjoy in isolation, your own private verandah off your spacious modern bedrooms, en-suites and heavenly beds to support you after your adventure riding the mountains.

So, Where are you? What are you doing this Summer? Come and share this uniquely Australian Adventure with us. New Year Eve under the Milky way, snug in your swag, smells of Alpine mint in your nostrils, connect with your deepest part of your self, connect with your equine friend, connect with your family, friends or lover. Leave you troubles in a little bag by the door as you leave your busy lives and take sanctuary in the arms of the Mountains visit Bogong Horseback Adventures and Spring Spur stay, I promise you that the bag you left at the front door won’t seem as heavy when you get home.

with Love and gratitude,

Kath Baird and family.