High Country & Heritage
Alpine National Park
Covering 646,000 hectares the Alpine National Park is the largest Park in the State of Victoria. Linking with National Parks in NSW and the ACT, this protected area covers almost all of Australia’s Alpine environment. The snowfields are the primary winter attraction, with the warmer months revealing stunning wildflower displays. There is even the 655 km Australian Alps Walking Track stretching from Walhalla to Canberra.
The Alpine National Park is one of the eight parks that make up the Australian Alps national parks. These eight parks are managed co-operatively to ensure that Australia’s mainland alpine and sub-alpine environments are protected in a similar way and that policies and guidelines across State and territory borders are as consistent as possible.
Traditional Aboriginal life in the Alps included an annual migration of some thousands of people from the valleys and foothills up to temporary summer camps just below the treeline. Its focus was the seasonal harvest of cori, or Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa). The moth season was the focus for great gatherings of neighbouring tribes, summoned by messengers within a range of 160 kilometres. It is possible that even tribes from south Gippsland took part. Five or six hundred people in each campsite would hold corroborees lasting six days before feasting began, when songs were exchanged, trade and initiations would take place and betrothals and arguments would be settled.
he Park supports a large diversity of animals including a number of threatened species such as the Smoky Mouse, Broad-toothed Rat, Powerful Owl, Spotted Tree Frog and She-oak Skink.
The rare Mountain Pygmy possum, the worlds only exclusively alpine marsupial and the only marsupial that stores food to last it throughout the winter is also found amongst isolated boulder slopes covered with heathlands. This specialised habitat can only found in a few places within the Victorian and New South Wales Alps.
The Bogong Moth is an interesting insect inhabiting the Bogong and Dargo high plains and peaks between November and April, away from the heat of the inland plains. For thousands of years, Aborigines travelled to the high country in summer to hold ceremonies and feast on the protein rich Bogong Moths. Here they shelter in rock crevices where they provide food for Mountain Pygmy possums and Little Ravens.
The Alpine National Park contains a wide range of natural environments, from the dry river valley of the Snowy River to the alpine summit of Victoria’s highest peak, Mount Bogong.
More than 1100 native plant species are found in the park, many of these have adapted to survive the severe winter climate. Twelve plant species including the Bogong Daisy-bush and Silky Daisy are found nowhere else in the world.
Snow Gums are the most predominant species in the woodlands that stretch over the sheltered upper slopes of the Park while mature Alpine Ash forests are common around most of the river systems west of the Snowy River.
In higher exposed areas where the conditions are too severe for trees to survive, the vegetation consists of extensive heathlands, alpine herbfields and grasslands. mossbeds and snowpatch communities.
European pastoralists from NSW started moving south into the Alps in the 1830s. Grazing began around Omeo in 1836, and runs were taken up in the foothills. Summer grazing soon extended to the higher country, and huts were built there for shelter and storage during stock mustering. You can experience this history by visiting one of the cattleman’s huts dotted along the high plains or the ruins of Wonnangatta Station (home of the pioneer Bryce family for many years) and Cemetery. Wallace’s Hut near Falls Creek, built in 1889, is one of the oldest surviving huts in the area. From the 1850s to around 1900, gold lured many people to and around the Alps. Relics can still be seen in Historic Areas adjacent to the park, and towns like Dargo, Harrietville, Mitta Mitta, Omeo and Bright have strong links to the gold era. The 1939 bushfires in the forests around Melbourne and the boom in house-building after World War II led to a greatly increased demand for timber from the Alps. This resulted in the building of a network of roads which helped open the Alps to visitors.
Blazing the Tracks
Dungeys Track – Dungey’s track takes its name from Detective Dungey who cut this route in his constant quest for cattle duffers in the 1860’s including Bogong Jack.
Eskdale Spur – One of the access spurs onto Mount Bogong from Mountain Creek.
Track 107 – Built by Angus McMillan under contract from the Victorian Government to build gold mining access tracks to link the gold-mining communities of Gipsland and the High Country. Track 107 still has original rock work cut into the side of the contour leading down to the Glen Wills Valley. This track is still used today.
“And we only ride with the flowing tide
as we follow the blazed line back
so we drink the toast of the vanguard host
And “The MEN who blazed the Track!”
From Saddle for a Throne by Will Oglivie
The first recorded journey to the Bogong High Plains by a white man was by John Mitchell in 1843, who crossed the Murray River near Thurgoona and made his approach up the valley of the Kiewa River in the company of friendly aborigines. Jim Brown and Johnny Wells, two skilled bushmen, first cut the track from the High Plains to the northeast along the spur, which leads north from Mt. Fainter towards Tawonga. They also pioneered the route that leads over Mt. Hotham into the Ovens Valley and this early track was much used in the early 1850s by gold miners travelling to the Omeo fields. In those early days Jim Brown and Johnny Wells had the Bogong High Plains to themselves, and they visited every part of it naming most of the prominent features. Mt. Feathertop, The Fainter, The Niggerheads (renamed to The Jiatmathangs in 2009), The Razorback, Blowhard, Bucketty Plain, Rocky Valley, Pretty Valley, The Rocky Knobs and Mt. Jim were all named by the two stockmen. Local cattlemen went on to cut tracks up many of the access spurs to the lush summer pastures.
The Victorian High Country was noted by Hume and Hovell in 1825, and explored by Strezlecki, McMillan and Howitt in the 1840’s. Ferdinand Meuller made by far the most detailed explorations in the 1850’s.
Mueller’s third trip, commenced in November 1854, saw him ascend Mt. Wellington, and thereafter travel along the Mitchell and Dargo Rivers and ascend Mt. Hotham. From there he explored the upper Mitta Mitta, Mueller’s Peak and Mt. Kosciusko, thereafter returning via Buchan, the Snowy River and South Gippsland to Melbourne. Thus by 1855 the whole central part of the Australian Alps had been botanically and geographically explored by this “solitary wanderer in the most perilous and lonely regions’ as he described himself. With little equipment he would set out on horseback, accompanied by only two packhorses.
Having actively promoted the extraction of gold in the rugged vastness of alpine Victoria, the Government found its aims hampered by lack of communications and transport routes. Accordingly it fitted out a track cutting expedition to provide permanent ways for commerce through the wild country, and appointed as leader Angus McMillan in 1861. The expedition cut 220 miles of tracks during its twelve months’ existence, extending from the Wonnangatta to Dargo, over the Snowy Plains to the watershed of the Macalister and Moroka Rivers, and to the Barkly Range at the head of the Goulburn. Further tracks were cut from Dargo to Harrietville, from the Wellington to the Moroka and to the Macalister, and from the Jordan to Mt. Tamboritha. McMillan carried on to cut the last track in the Dargo area alone, a sick and broken man, but determined to carry out his duties. The end came quickly. His packhorse missed its footing and rolled on him. Mortally crushed, he struggled towards Bairnsdale, but died in Gilleo’s pub at Iguana Creek on 18th. May 1865.
Even the high country’s own bushranger played a role in opening the region to European settlement, treading many routes between Gippsland and the Murray as he gave the law the slip. In the course of his profession “Bogong Jack” pioneered numerous routes between Gippsland and the valleys of the northeast. Bogong Jack, whose real name was John Payne, was originally a drover concentrating on the mountain routes between Gippsland and Omeo. In the 1850’s he turned to cattle duffing and later to horse stealing which he found more profitable than droving. The police eventually captured him but, as nothing could be proven, he was set free. He then retired to his hut near Mt. Fainter and soon after this was not seen again. Whether he turned to gold prospecting or whether he was murdered for the fortune he was supposed to have amassed whilst a bushranger, is not known.
The infamous Ned Kelly was also active in the North East ranges, and according to Peter Carey’s novel ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’, Ned Kelly had camped at Bogong Jacks Saddle bellow Mt Fainter.
As early as 1898, organised walks were conducted in the Bogongs. They must have been more like an expedition than a bushwalk. Large organised parties of those times tended to employ packhorses to carry their food, clothing and shelter, and invariably the use of packhorses meant the employment of a packer to manage them. A horse was generally counted sufficient to carry the needs of two walkers, and the packer, often a local cattleman, served as a guide for his party. Maurice Harkins a member of the Melbourne Walking Club and later Director of Tourism in Victoria established the Skyline Tours under Railways management. These lasted from 1935 until World War 2, and were organised each Christmas for periods of a week to 10 days. They were horse riding and walking trips, provisioned and assisted by cattlemen, and were restricted to all-male parties, generally with a maximum of 25 members. The trips were quite extensive. For example, the 1935 Skyline Tour started at Mansfield and journeyed towards Wangaratta via Mt. Cobbler, the King River Hut and Bennie’s homestead. All equipment, food, tents and saddles were provided and the initial charges were eight pound ten shillings for walkers and twelve pound for riders. The consistent theme running through this rich cultural history of the high country is the reliance on packhorse travel. The mode of transport we employ, the tracks and camps we use, and the types of gear we use are all a continuation of the tradition.