Murray Valley Ski Club: The Untold Story of a Pioneer Ski Club. 

By Thomas Whiteside. (April 2018)

Photo used with permission from Daniel Sherwin (taken sometime after 2004)1


Before beginning a hiking trip along the Razorback in December 2016, I decided to have a poke around the old brick and concrete rendered building on the eastern side of the spur, diagonally across the road from the better-known Diamantina Hut.

I’d driven past this building for years, but this trip it occurred to me I knew nothing of its purpose or history. Pushing through the long alpine grass towards the small rectangular building, I realized it had seen better days, its windows long boarded up and its concrete foundations slowly crumbling.

Turning the corner, to the north facing side of the building, I found the entrance, with Murray Valley Ski Club emblazoned across the old wooden door. I had never heard of this club and decided I’d try to find out more when I returned to Melbourne.

Returning to Melbourne, I typed the club’s name into Google. I quickly discovered almost nothing had been written about this early club, there was little online beyond that fact the long dormant club had erected the building to serve as a ski lodge in the early 50s. Not content to leave it at that, I decided I needed to uncover more about this long forgotten pioneer ski club.

This article is a summary of what I've uncovered so far. Many assumptions have been made, and the article is also likely to contain numerous errors. This is a living document and I would appreciate any feedback.


Murray Valley Ski Club predates its lodge at Mt. Hotham by several years. Indeed, the 2005 Butler Huts Heritage Survey suggests the club was formed in the late 1940s by a group of ‘keen skiers’ from Cobram, a Victorian town on the Murray River, not far from Yarrawonga, with a current population of about 6000 people. 2

Notice of Inaugural Meeting (Cobram Courier, Friday 13th October 1950)

My research suggests the club was actually formed in 1950 by a group of skiers from both Cobram and Numurkah (a town about 30 km inland from Cobram) However, it appears this first formation proved something of a false start, with the club falling away soon after its inception, only to be reformed several years later.

The club’s inaugural meeting was convened by Mr. Geoff Leverett (from Numurkah) and held on 26th October 1950, not long before the end of the 1950 snow season. 3

How many attended this foundation meeting I do not know. However, at (or not longer after) this inaugural meeting, Mr. Geoff Leverett was elected President, while Mr. Charles Foster (Numurkah) was elected treasurer and Mrs. Elizabeth Collins (Cobram) was elected secretary. 4


Geoff Leverett

My research has lead me to believe Geoff Leverett was one of the main driving forces behind the club’s foundation. Born in 1922, he would have been twenty eight when MVSC was founded. Leverett was qualified as a civil engineer and appears to have come from an upper middle-class family in Essendon (his name appeared routinely in the social pages of the Cobram Courier). 5 He also comes across as something of a sportsman. Leverett served as umpire for the local football league,6 and was also a keen amateur pilot (flying with the Cobram Aero Club). 7,8

Leverett appears to have first taken an interest in skiing in the late 1940s. An article from the Cobram Courier dated 11 June 1948 states Leverett spent the opening weekend of the ski season at Hotham with Mr. John Holland (probably the John Holland of John Holland Construction) and Mr. Frank Bourke (a dairy farmer based in Yalca and also of the Richmond Football Club dynasty). 9

Geoff married Joan Brooks (a Cobram girl employed by the Post Office) in September 1950.10 The young couple appears to have left Cobram in January 1952 and moved to Clare in Northern Queensland to work on the Rubicon River Irrigation Scheme.11 The couple then moved to Hobart in June 1954. 12

Joan and Geoff would go on to have three children, Phillip (1955 – 1992), Janine (1957) and Meegan (1961). Geoff Leverett died in April 1988 and is buried in the Hobart Regional (Kingston) Cemetery. 13 My research suggests Joan is still alive. However, I have not been able to contact her.

The Collins Family

Beyond Geoff Leverett, the other driving forces behind the formation of MVSC appear to have been Jack and ‘Bett’ (Laura Elizabeth) Collins. Jack was a builder based in Cobram, his skills would eventually be utilized in the design and construction of the club’s lodge at Hotham.

Beyond this, Jack and Bett Collins were also founding members of the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club in 1948, and appear to have both remained involved with the VMTC for many years after the founding of MVSC. 14

Bett was also a keen painter and writer with a love for the Victorian Alps. Many years later she would go on to write a children’s picture book, ‘The Snowgum Fairies’, published by Random House in 2002. 15

Jack and Bett went on to have three children, Kristin (now Kristin Duckworth), Michelle, and Randall. All appear to have stayed involved with the club over the years, with Kristin later acting as co-manger of the lodge for many years. 16

The Collins family moved to Brighton in the mid 1970s and then, many years later, to Mt. Evelyn.17 Sadly, Bett died in December 2016, mere weeks before I began my research on Murray Valley Ski Club. 18

Charlie Foster

As stated previously, Charlie Foster served as the club’s first treasurer. Beyond this, in the 2005 Butler Survey, Kristin Duckworth states Foster is one of the main figures she remembers from the early years. 19 However, I have uncovered no more than this about Foster’s involvement or his story.

Foundation Years

During its earliest years, the club appears to have shown little interest in Hotham, instead having its eyes firmly fixed on erecting a lodge at Falls Creek. Indeed, in April 1951 the newly formed club held a ‘picture night’ to raise funds for the lodge, and held hopes of having the lodge erected in time for the 1951 snow season. 20

The club came some way towards achieving its goal, with members laying the foundations for a temporary ‘pre-fab’ lodge at Falls Creek in late June 1951. 21 Beyond maintaining an interest in Falls Creek, the Club also appears to have skied at Mt. Buller, arranging a bus trip (bookings made through Dutneall’s Newsagency) to the mountain in mid July 1951, on the weekend of the Victorian Ski Club Championships. 22 Whether MVSC members actually competed I cannot say.

What happened to the planned ski lodge at Falls Creek I not been able to ascertain, though it appears the lodge never got beyond the foundation stage. I have spoken to alpine historian, David Sisson about this, and David informs me that during its early days, Falls Creek was overseen by the State Electricity Commission (SEC), due to the construction of the Kiewa Hydro Electric Scheme. The Kiewa Scheme was in turn headed by the austere Mr. HHC Williams, who was generally hostile to the development of Falls Creek as a ski resort (as one person apparently put it, ‘he was opposed to all forms of pleasure’). 23

The 2005 Butler Huts Heritage Survey also reports the club abandoned its plans for a lodge as Falls Creek after encountering ‘too much red tape’ from the SEC relating to the Kiewa Project. 24 As such, it appears likely the club was never given permission to finalize their lodge.


During the 1952 ski season it would appear MVSC became temporarily dormant. I base this largely on the fact I have discovered an article from 1954, which describes the club as having only been recently ‘revived’. 25

This period coincides with Geoff Leverett moving interstate. Beyond this, I have discovered Jack Collins suffered severe head injuries in January 1952, after his Matador truck hit a tree stump and ran off the road outside of Berrigan. 26

My assumption is that without the leadership of Leverett and Collins, the club simply ground to a standstill for a brief period of time.

Revival and Shift to Hotham

Murray Valley Ski Club appears to have been revived in late 1952 or 1953 with the club now turning its eyes to Mt. Hotham.

So far I have not been able to pinpoint the date of the Hotham lodge’s construction. Both the 2005 Butler Huts Survey and the building’s folio description (held by the Hotham Resort Management Board) state the lodge was built in 1952.

However, David Sisson’s Australian Mountains website has the lodge being built in 1953. 27 This is also the year tentatively confirmed to me by Kristin Duckworth. 28 Furthermore, the Cobram Courier reports that nine club members travelled up to their new lodge at Hotham in January 1954, to prepare the lodge for the upcoming winter. 29

To further complicate things, I have been very kindly forwarded a photo from Fiona Magnussen’s private collection (provided to her by a grandson of one of the lodge’s builders) that depicts the building during construction, which is dated 1950. However, considering the club was only formed in 1950, I don’t think this date can be correct.

Photo supposedly from 1950 showing construction of MVSC (thank you to Fiona Magnussen and Sharyn Chambers)

Interestingly, the brick chimney has yet to be constructed in this photo (instead a flume simply protrudes from the western wall).

For what it’s worth, I suspect the building was built closer to 1953. When in doubt I think it is helpful to refer to contemporary sources. In this case, the Cobram Courier describes the lodge still being prepared for winter in early 1954 and this would seem strange if the club had in fact been built years earlier

With a building date of 1952 or 53, this would make MVSC approximately the eighth or ninth private ski lodge erected at Mt Hotham (with the Ski Club of East Gippsland’s first Hotham lodge also being built in 1953). 30

Why Hotham?

The move to Hotham appears to have been a largely practical decision. In contrast to the red tape of both the SEC at Falls Creek, and the Forests Commission of Victoria at Mt. Buller, obtaining permission to build at Hotham from the Department of Crown Lands and Survey (know to most as the Lands Department) was relatively achievable. As such, private ski clubs generally began springing up at Hotham from the late 40s onwards (the first private club being the Alpine Club of Victoria in 1948).

It appears MVSC was given a range of options on where to build their ski lodge, including near the Mt. Loch Car Park (where the Heavenly Valley Chair Lift now stands). Ultimately, the club chose to build on the foot of the Razorback, close to the location of the second Diamantina Hut (c. 1941 to 1967).

This location was apparently chosen due to its proximity to the Diamantina spring, which allowed for good water access. The location was also considered relatively sheltered and close to the road. 31 It would also seem this location gave members great access to the popular skiing slopes running off of Mt. Loch.

Finally, it is worth noting it was only possible for MVSC to build where it did because the Country Roads Board had began clearing the Harrietville to Hotham section of the Great Alpine Road just a few years earlier, in June 1949. Before the road was regularly cleared, Hotham visitors would either approach from Omeo, or if coming through Bright and Harrietville, visitors would trek up the Bon Accord Spur, with assistance from Eric Johnson Gravbrot’s snowshoe shod horses (a service which ran until 1952).

Interestingly, I have also been informed that for many years MVSC displayed one of Eric Johnson’s famous horse snowshoes on the lodge wall. This makes sense given the lodge’s location.

Construction and Design

The lodge at Hotham was built in a modest modernist style, typical of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Jack Collins used his expertise as a builder to both design and oversee the construction of the building, often with secondhand materials he managed to source himself. 32

Outside, it is a rectangular brick construction, with a pitched iron roof. The brickwork is rendered with concrete on the exterior, with stonework skirting the foundations on the northern, downhill, face of the building. The brick chimney was also lined with stonework (though this was removed sometime after 2004), 33 and the chimney also contains a modern flume. The building has numerous large glass windows providing natural night and views of both the Great Alpine Road to the south, and the valley to the north.

Interiors of MVSC. Note what appears to be a horse's snow shoe hanging above fireplace (photos from 2004). 

Inside the walls are nicely lined with plaster and wooden paneling, with a small living room, the centerpiece of which is beautiful brick fireplace lined with locally quarried rock.

The lodge also contains an airlock, a wood store, a small open kitchen, a small dining area, one bathroom, and a bunkroom. There is also additional sleeping capacity in the living room, which allowed the lodge to sleep up to eight people comfortably. 34

Beyond this, a small corrugated iron shed was erected slightly downhill from the lodge to house a water pump (powered by a motor mower engine) that pumped water from the Diamantina Spring up to the lodge. This ‘pump house’ can still be found in the bush not far from the main building.

While many of the early private lodges were later refurbished, upgraded or demolished and replaced all together, very little of the building appears to have been altered since its construction in the early 50s (though during the mid 70s the kitchen was revamped, and the chimney was repaired). 35 Additionally, the roof was replaced in the late 60s (but more on that later). As such, the building stands as a kind of time capsule of early alpine modernism. It is not surprising the lodge is considered by so many to have considerable heritage value.

Legal Status

While I had initially assumed MVSC must have obtained a Permissive Occupancy from the Lands Department before the lodge’s construction (the process of obtaining the first private PO is well documented in Don Bennett’s history of the Alpine Club of Victoia, Hotham Horizon), my research suggests this was not in fact the case.

For those not versed in property law, a permissive occupancy (‘PO’) is an arrangement where the landowner (at Hotham the Crown Lands Department) gives an applicant permission to occupy the land, so long as a periodic fee is paid (much like a license). However, unlike a lease, a PO is not on any fixed term basis, and can be terminated at almost anytime, with little to no notice or compensation.

During my research, I have obtained the property’s folio description, held by the Resort Management Board. The folio states that MVSC was not offered a PO by the Department of Lands and Survey until June 1964. This PO was then not finalised until February 1965, whereby MVSC entered into an arrangement to pay a fee of 30 pounds a year. 36

Interestingly, this coincides with the creation of Committee of Management, which was appointed in 1965 to oversee what is now the Hotham resort area. It would seem rational to conclude that during this transition period, the Lands Department was seeking to tie up various loose ends before the new Committee took over.

Perhaps more dramatically, the fact MVSC did not enter into a PO until 1965 also suggests the club was built without any formal permission. However, I suspect the club was given verbal permission, and that the arrangement was not formalized until 1965.

It is also possible the club simply squatted on the area. In fact, it has been suggested to me by a friend of the Collins family that Jack Collins had given him the impression that, ‘in those days… you could build just about anywhere’. 37

Floor plan from the Butler report 2005.

Snow Plough on the Roof

The 2005 Butler Survey contains one amusing anecdote, provided by Jack and Bett’s daughter, Kristin Duckworth. The story goes that one winter (the year is not given), the snow was so bad that the hut was almost totally buried in snow. However, being so close to the road, a snow plough was accidently parked on the roof of the lodge (with the operator thinking he had merely parked on the side of the road.) The weight of the machine naturally caused significant damage to the lodge’s roof, and both the roof and its rafters had to be replaced soon after (presumably at considerable expense). 38

Role as a Public Shelter

Lynette Sheridan’s history of the University Ski Club includes the following story, which suggests the lodge also served as a refugee shelter for skiers coming on and off the mountain. 

‘In August [1964], 10 people due in from Diamantina stayed overnight in the Murray Valley hut because of bitter conditions and zero visibility. They cheered themselves up by drinking gluhwein made from two flagons of claret one member had in his pack and eating the two T-bone steaks another had - mistakenly -- been told to bring.’ 39

This is interesting, as it suggests that despite the building’s status as a private club lodge, the club evidently opened its doors to struggling non-members when it needed to. This does however seem to have been a common arrangement in the early days of Hotham. Indeed, I have been told the obligation to shelter those in danger remains a standard condition of all Hotham leases. Whether this means someone from the club was in that night in August 1964, or whether the door was simply left unlocked, I do not know.

Rope Tow at Diamantina / Razorback

My research also suggests the club built and operated its own portable rope ski tow at the southern end of Razorback (about 200m from MVSC lodge) from the 1950s until it was dismantled in the late 60s or early 70s. 40 The tow was supposedly built by Jack Collins, and was of the ‘nutcracker’ design.

I have not been able to completely confirm the existence of this rope tow, though I have been told there were still some poles relating to it still visible in the area in the early 1970s. 41

If this tow did indeed exist, it has so far been undocumented. Furthermore, if this tow did exist, it would have been one of a handful of tows operating at the time, as well as being one of the earliest to have been built at Hotham. The others of this era being Blue Ribbon in ’52, Higginbotham and Basin in ’58, Jack Hedley’s in ’62, the Basin Poma in ’63, Jack’s Tow in ‘65(?), and the Summit Poma in ’66. 42 Beyond these, two primitive tows also operated by the Wangarrata Ski Club, at the nearby Mt. St. Bernard, with a nutcracker being installed in 1955, and another nursery tow installed in 1958. 43

If you can assist in anyway with my research on this potentially unrecorded early rope tow, please get in contact. Any information or photos would be greatly appreciated.

Nature of the Club Changes

In the 2005 Butler Survey, Kristin Duckworth states that over the years many of the club’s foundation members decided to sell off their shares in the lodge to Jack Collins, who in turn passed the shares over to his three children. From this point on, it appears the club maintained its name but operated less as a ski club, and more as a private family lodge. Nonetheless, Duckworth states the MVSC did continue to have ‘associate members’ on their books that continued to book out the lodge each year. 44

At some point in the late 1970s, the Collins’ children took over the main responsibly for managing the lodge, with daughters Kristin and Michelle acting as ‘co-managers’. During this period, Kristin and Michelle ‘did most of the work’, organising the working bees, repairs, and the bookings system. 45

It also seems MVSC maintained close ties with the Victorian Mountain Tramping Club during this period, with a few VMTC members assisting in the reconstruction of the crumbling rockwork on chimney in the mid 70s (relining it with new slate sourced from Mt. Blowhard). 46


It would also appear that in the mid 70s the club first ran into issues with the Resort Management Board in the 1970s, when the resort raised its annual fees to approx. $500 a year. 46 This was a very steep price for tiny clubs such as MVSC, and members of various ski clubs (MVSC included), saw these fee hikes as a deliberate attempt to drive the smaller clubs out of the resort. 48

When the Butler Survey was published in 2005, MVSC was still officially a private ski club, overseen by the Collins family. By 2006, this was no longer the case.

The building’s property folio states there was a long-winded dispute between MVSC and the Resort Management Board from 1998 onwards, relating to securing a lease over the land (to replace the PO). While the dispute began in ’98, my research suggests the club was still being used by the Collins family c. 2002. 49

Ultimately, the RMB’s position is that after allowing the club a long period of time to apply for lease over the land, a lease application was never provided by the club. As such the land was ‘determined and entered in to’ in 2006 (meaning the land and building is now held by the Mt. Hotham Resort Management Board).

However, I also understand the RMB had something of a penchant for making verbal agreements during this period. As such, I would not be surprised if a dispute arose over the final terms of the agreement.

Beyond this, I also understand that in the mid 2000s, new planning standards were imposed on existing Hotham properties, which required lodges to be connected to reticulated sewerage. Considering MVSC’s relative isolation, I can imagine this was not feasible.

I suspect it was a combination over a disagreement on the terms of the lease offered, and the new onerous planning standards which lead to the club’s failure to apply for the lease.

I have no doubt the dissolution of MVSC was a sad and painful experience for the Collins family, and whatever associate members there still were.

Thank You

This article has been a product of ‘on and off’ research through the year. It would not have been possible without the assistance and encouragment of several key people.

In particular I’d like to thank David Sisson (Australian Mountains), Sharyn Chambers (Victorian High County Huts Association), and my father, Stephen Whiteside (for sparking my interest in Victorian Alpine history).

Beyond this, I’d like to thank Chris Sewell and Fiona Magnussen for their help as well.

Please send any feedback or additional information to thomasjameswhiteside92 at


  2. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p. 824.
  3. Ski Club: Inaugural Meeting’, Cobram Courier, 13th October 1950.
  4. Murray Valley Ski Club Formed’, Cobram Courier, 13th April 1951.
  5. Personal Pars’, Cobram Courier, 14th January 1949.
  6. Tomorrow’s Draw’, Cobram Courier, 14th June 1946.
  7. Pupils Commence Flying Instruction’, Cobram Courier, 19th November 1948.
  8. Aero Display for Yarrawonga’, 21st January 1949.
  9. Personal’, Cobram Courier, 11th June 1948.
  10. Wedding Bells: Cobram Girl Married at Wesley Chapel’, Cobram Courier, 22nd September 1950.
  11. Personal’, Cobram Courier 3rd January 1952.
  12. Personal Paragraphs’, Cobram Courier, 17th June 1954.
  14. Facebook interaction with Kristin Duckworth, 12th October 2017.
  16. Online Interaction with Chris Sewell, 8th January 2017.
  17. Online Interaction with Chris Sewell, 8th January 2017.
  19. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p 824.
  20. Murray Valley Ski Club Formed’, Cobram Courier, 13th April 1951.
  21. Ski Club Builds Lodge’, Cobram Courier, 5th July 1951.
  22. Ski Club Builds Lodge’, Cobram Courier, 5th July 1951.
  23. Email exchange with David Sisson, 7th January 2017.
  24. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p. 824.
  25. Ski Club Revived’, Cobram Courier 28th January 1954.
  26. Truck Hits Stump: Man Suffers Severe Head Injuries’, Cobram Courier, 24th January 1952.
  28. Facebook interaction with Kristin Duckworth, 12th October 2017.
  29. Ski Club Revived’, Cobram Courier 28th January 1954.
  31. Online Interaction with Chris Sewell, 4th January 2017
  32. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p 824.
  33. Photos of MVSC lodge after 2004 show the stones have been removed, possibly for safety reasons.
  34. Online Interaction with Chris Sewell, 2nd January 2017
  35. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 2nd January 2017.
  36. MVSC Folio Description (RMB)
  37. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 4th January 2017.
  38. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p 825.
  39. Lynette Sheridan, ‘University Ski Club 1929 – 1979’, p. 110.
  40. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 4th January 2017.
  41. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 4th January 2017.
  44. Graeme Butler & Associates, Victorian Alpine Huts Heritage Survey 2004 – 2005, p 825.
  45. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 8th January 2017.
  46. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 4th January 2017.
  47. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 2nd January 2017.
  48. Online interaction with Chris Sewell, 2nd January 2017.
  49. Email exchange with Chris Sewell, 11th January 2017.
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