As the fires approached Paupong in 2003, Raymond Wroe took the initiative to save Charlie Rugmans hut by carefully numbering and disassembling the building to remove it from the site. It remained safely stored until Raymond alerted NPWS Ranger Janice Cawthorn that the dismantled hut was stacked away at his Berridale property. The process of rebuilding a unique Snowy River hut commenced. Uwe Petersohn, NPWS carpenter, was given the task of restoring Rugmans on Raymond and Rita Wroes advice and with the help of information gathered during the compilation of a Heritage Action Statement (HAS).
Little is known of Rugmans life as he died childless and had no other family in the district. What little was available has been pieced together during conversations with the Paupong locals, in particular, Rita Wroe and her son Raymond, also Don and Mill Wellsmore, and information from the obituary for Rugman that appeared in the Cooma Express in 1943.
Charlie Rugman was born c1887 in Gloucestershire, England. He travelled to Australia during 1936 at the age of 49 during the Depression, ostensibly to gain some level of independence working on the land in Australia however it is not clear what Rugman did in England before he made the trip to Australia. The only family connection to come to light was the brief visit by his wife from England some time after his arrival in the high country, possibly after the construction of the hut. The hut and land that Rugman owned was surrounded by the harsh and unfamiliar Australian bush and only accessible on horseback and therefore it is not surprising that his wife decided to return to England, never to be seen or heard from again.
Charlie Rugman is remembered as a tall, thin man who always wore a rabbit fur hat with a band, like those worn by most of the older bushmen at the time. He was an indefatigable walker and also a good swimmer. After taking up land of 1,872 acres from the Crown Lease of Banoon, and building the hut, he lived a very simple life in the mountains, surviving through hard work with a modicum of land or capital investment. The locals recall him riding a big black horse, owning a pack horse, having a pet kangaroo and ran stock comprising sheep and cattle. Once a month he would set out to walk the 30 to 40 kilometres to Dalgety, leading his packhorse to gather supplies. As he was largely self-sufficient, his regular shopping list would only comprise a 20 litre drum of kerosene and some meat from the butcher. Only on rare occasions were other supplies added to the list.
Charlie built his hut from vertical Black Cypress Pine (Callitris endlicheri) split log slabs. The Black Cypress Pine is not found on or near the site so Rugman must have cut and seasoned the pine elsewhere. The likely source is from the banks of the Snowy River where it is commonly found, and then transported back to the site of the hut with the aid of his packhorse. The support poles are made of whole white box (Eucalyptus albens) logs which were probably sourced from around the hut site itself. The roof was constructed from corrugated iron. The hut walls were lined with Hessian bags and paper. Not far from the hut he constructed a small stock yard of split log post and rail fences. Nearby, dug into a slight terrace down the slope from the hut, he established an orchard of plum, pear and apple trees and about 200 metres to the north of the hut he grew his vegetable garden. Both orchard and vegetable garden were dug using a garden fork.
With his hut built and the farm producing enough for Charlie to sustain a self-sufficient lifestyle, it was time for him to sit back and reap the benefits of his hard work and it would appear some leisurely pursuits were on his mind. While it still involved some short-term effort, Charlie built another small hut which he called the Summer Shack on his land to the south of the main hut along the banks of the Snowy River. The Summer Shack is also said to have been built of split log Cypress Pine. The shack had no garden or holding yards so his time spent there was probably short, eating what he brought with him, catching fish from the Snowy River, foraging food from the bush and whatever he managed to hunt. At the shack site Charlie had a small canoe that was made from corrugated iron and bush timber. This was used to cross the Snowy River when the water was high. He was afraid that someone, a child perhaps, from one of the adjoining properties would take the boat and drown in the River so he always hid the boat when he was not residing in the shack. An extensive search has been carried out by Raymond Wroe and the study team to locate the shack site but to no avail and believe any remains of the building has been erased over time. Don Wellsmore remembers also searching for the boat but never finding it.
Rugman loved the hills and the lonely freedom of his isolation, though he appreciated his occasional meetings and conversations with neighbours. There are many recorded memories and stories of the Paupong residents association with the intrepid bushman and the most interesting of these stories will be told as we connect with Don Wellsmore on our trip through the Paupong district.
Charlie Rugman was not destined to live a long and fruitful existence in his adopted country. After only seven years in Australia in April 1943 he met a tragic death through drowning. The story of his death and the search that followed is sourced from his obituary which was printed in the Cooma Express on May 3rd 1943.
It was Charlie Rugmans custom to call on Kinross, the home of the McPhie family at Paupong every Monday to collect his mail. He did this as usual on Monday, 5th April 1943. On this day he organised to keep an eye on things while the family travelled to visit their son who was in hospital and also made definite plans to call on the family again on 12th April. When Rugman didnt arrive as planned on 12th April, McPhie became anxious and set out for the hut and Summer Shack to check up on Charlies health. As no sign was found of Rugman at either place, an extensive search of his whereabouts began.
Over several days many of the able-bodied men from the community comprising Ossie Wellsmore, Greg Galley, Lisle Gemsome, Eric Wroe, Paddy Spellman and Ted Rodgers as well as police officers from Jindabyne, Dalgety and Adaminaby, searched the mountains and the Snowy River for any sign of Rugman. During the search the weather was atrocious; snow, rain and wind making conditions most uncomfortable and difficult. Around ten days later on 27th April, Rugmans body was sighted by Paddy Speilman caught on a rock about mid-stream near Hylands Yard, Reedy Creek. It had been washed down the river about nine miles. He had apparently drowned after endeavouring to the cross the swollen Snowy River about six miles upstream from his original crossing where his tracks were found. A group of men was engaged by the Dalgety Police Sergeant to transport the body back to civilisation. It was a long and arduous journey on foot for the men.
Charlie Rugman was buried in Beloka cemetery. His grave has no headstone as there were no known relatives to pay for one. However there is a white painted metal cross with CHARLIE RUGMAN in stencilled letters which was put in by the local Council.
After Charlies death the land reverted back to the Crown and it was not until the lease for Banoon was taken over by Rita and Eric Wroe, circa 1957, that Rugmans Hut was again occupied. The Wroe family continued to lease Rugmans old property from the Lands Department to run sheep on until 1987 when they relinquished the lease.
Compiled by Barbara Seymour
Co-ordinator, Rugmans Hut Trip
Historical extracts gathered from
- Rugmans Hut Heritage Action Statement, January 2007
- CH Rugmans Obituary, Cooma Express dated Monday, 3rd May 1943
- Rugmans Hut - Faithfully Restored, KHA Newsletter, No 137, Spring 2007
Follow these links for more information:
- Current information about Rugman's Hut
- Ted Rogers
- Charles Rugman - Drowned in the Snowy
- The Road to Paupong