Whites River Hut was constructed in 1934-5 as a stockmens’ shelter for the Clarke Brothers, who held the local grazing lease. In 1938 the Kosciusko Alpine Club purchased a part-interest in the hut and upgraded it to serve as a comfortable base for ski touring during the winter months whilst the stock was away.

 Whites River Valley was first grazed in the mid-late 19th century; part of the Murryang (Munyang) squatting run. In 1933 the Clarke Brothers acquired a snow lease of 6,040 acres between Schlink Pass and Guthega Creek, and over the summer of 1934-35 Fred Clarke and Bill Napthali built the main room and verandah of the current hut.

Increasing interest in back-country skiing during the 1930s led to the Kosciusko Alpine Club purchasing interests in Whites River Hut in 1938 and Alpine Hut in 1939. At Whites River the KAC added a bunkroom and provided blankets, sleeping bags, lighting and winter stores. Club members had exclusive rights to use the hut during the winter at a cost of £1 per week. Upgrades during the late 1930s-early 1940s included a stove in the bunkroom and a two-way radio for safety.

By 1950 ski clubs were shifting their focus toward alpine skiing, lodges and ski tows. The few skiers committed to back-country touring became known as ‘the Main Range Rats’. Such a faction within KAC formed the Whites River Club and acquired the KAC interest in Whites River.

The Clarkes retained the grazing lease up to 1950. The lease was terminated in 1953 to facilitate construction of the Guthega Power Scheme, the use of the hut becoming public soon after.

Background

The main range north from Mt Kosciuszko, including the Munyang River was first surveyed by Hugh Labatt in 1843. Munyang (also Muniong, Murryang) is believed to be an Aboriginal word meaning "high snowy tops". Petersen 1957 claims the name White’s River was introduced in a later survey when the two surveyors involved — named White and Finn — gave their names to the main rivers they found flowing into the Snowy.

The area was first grazed in the mid-nineteenth century, part of the Murryang squatting run, which extended along the main range from the Bulls Peaks to Mt Kosciuszko. Stock were brought from Snowy Plain over Brassy Gap into the Burrungubugge valley, then pushed out onto the alpine pastures of the main range from November through to April. Through the 1870s and 1880s owners were changing every 1-3 years, suggesting snow and difficult access hampered grazing. James Spencer, who once held the adjoining Excelsior Run to the south, complained the main range runs were not viable around that time due to snow.

Following the termination of squatting in the 1890s, 6040 acres of the left bank of the Snowy River from Schlink Pass through to Guthega Creek became part of snow lease Block L1. Holders of L1 through the early twentieth century included the Litchfields (possibly, c1910), FP Kirby (1929-30), and Hazeldean Ltd (1930-32). In 1933 snow lease 33.8 over Block L1 was taken up by the Clarke brothers.

Over the summer of 1934-35 Fred Clarke and Bill Napthali built the main room and verandah of the current hut in the grassed basin at the head of the Munyang/Whites River. Ray Adams brought the materials on packhorses. It was furnished with 6 mattresses, several stretchers, an axe and a shovel.

By the 1930s the McPhies held the adjoining lease to the west incorporating Windy Creek, and anecdotal reports suggest they had been running stock on the Rolling Ground for some years previously. George day reported they had a bark-roofed slab hut on one of the natural terraces above Whites River Hut during the 1920s. It was a galley or kitchen hut for stockman camped around it. It was either a ruin by, or became a ruin following, construction of the Clarke’s hut; Moger reported a circle of stones was still evident at the site in 1995.

Ray Adams was a noted stockmen and skier, he appears to have worked with both the McPhies and Clarkes out of Whites River Hut for many years and a number of early references show the hut name as Adam’s. Every summer between 1939 and 1944 Bill Napthali and his nephew Fred Fletcher, brought 4000 sheep up on to the lease via Snowy Plain, spreading them across the Rolling Grounds. In 1935-36, the McPhies undertook fencing along the crest of the Rolling Ground from Consett Stephen Pass to Dicky Cooper Bogong. Napthali experimented with an electric fence powered by dry cell batteries but found it did not have sufficient kick to deter the sheep.

The hut quickly became popular with backcountry Skiers. Gilder reported its presence in the 1935 Australian Ski Yearbook, suggesting it was likely to supplant Tin Hut as a base for ski touring the northern parts of the main range. The 1937 Yearbook included a favourable report on the hut during a 1936 Kiandra to Kosciusko tour by Tom Moppett, Jean Trimble and Oliver Moriarty. This was the first K to k crossing by a woman (Trimble); a photo by Moriarty appears to show the verandah enclosed at this time (also one by C Monk published 1939 but likely dating from 1938). The same party spent a week at Whites the following winter, reporting on ski runs and access routes in the 1938 Yearbook.

During the mid-1930s the Kosciusko Alpine Club began to explore opportunities for building private ski touring huts. It purchased interests in Whites River Hut in 1938 and Alpine Hut in 1939. At Whites River hut, during 1938-39 the KAC added a bunkroom lined with bituminous paper, lined the ceiling and walls of the main room with an imported Swedish wallboard similar to Caneite, added mattresses, Aladdin kerosene lamps for lighting, cupboards for blankets, sleeping bags and stores, cooking gear, crockery and cutlery, and “four paperbacks, all hell-raisers”. Club members had exclusive rights to use the hut during the winter at a cost of £1 per week.

Fred Fletcher was regularly engaged by ski parties to take supplies in for them. Using packhorses or horse-drawn sleds he would come in from Snowy Plain to Alpine Hut and onto Whites via the Brassy Mountains, skiing the supplies in the last part of the way as needed. Generally he would get the supplies in and return home the same day. One tear Ken Breakspear brought an old car chassis down from Sydney that they fitted a sheet of flat iron across the base and adapted into a flat sled, which Fred used for several years.

In January 1940, the Commissioner of the NSW Soil Conservation Service, ES Clayton, and George Petersen undertook a 4 ½ day tour of the main range to assess the environmental impacts of the 1939 bushfires. They rode with packhorses, being accompanied by Ray Adams for a few days before stopping overnight at Whites. They watched a buck jumping contest with the neighbouring stockmen from Mawsons. When Petersen inquired where the bathroom was in the morning, one of the stockmen “turned to the window directly behind us, scraped the frost off the glass, then peering outside and pointing he said, ‘there it is’ . . several yards away from the building, hanging on the limb of a tree was a water can with a chain. One stands beneath it, pulls the chain and has a shower. Snow lay on top of the can, whilst the underneath was draped with icicles; there was snow on the ground . . it was most uninviting . . . ‘that's it . . but I don't use it myself’”.

In 1943 a 7-year snow lease over Block L1 was taken up by the Clarke brothers (Fred, Harold & Wilf), Ray Adams and AO O’Neill (SnLse 43.14).

In 1946 the Kosciusko State Park Trust took the decision to install two-way radio sets connecting Alpine Hut, Whites Hut, Hotel Kosciusko, the Chalet, Seamans Hut and Cooma Radio Station 2XL. The sets were Army units transmitting on 2720 kilocycles, of 5-10w power output. At Alpine and Whites, the sets were powered by 5 volt 525 ampere batteries, charged by a single cylinder petrol generator. The unit sat on a packing case table in each hut. Outside was a 12.5m high aerial mast, 100mm diameter at the base, stepping down to 35mm diameter at the top, braced by 16 guys and having a lightning arrestor. The sets could transmit telegraphy but were only ever used for voice. The entire apparatus was brought in by rangers on packhorses and took about 5 days to install at each hut. The call sign for Whites River hut was VL2HE.

Over the first couple of seasons the radios were not properly maintained and the generators were found to be temperamental, but problems were remedied by the rangers gaining familiarity and making weekly trips in to the huts to maintain the sets. The radios were still operational in 1956 but appear to have been removed by the early 1960s. The radio mast was still partly intact ~100m up the hill in 1995.

Following the end of WW2 interest in skiing renewed and for the 1946 season a number of upgrades were made to the hut. The Canadian stove that was in Tin Hut receiving little use, was sledded over to Whites and installed it in the back room. The aging blankets were also replaced. KAC improvements to the hut now totaled ~£250. Operating costs for that year were £36 against a revenue of £35.

On another occasion during the 1940s the KAC had to undertake repairs and replace several of the mattresses when some summer walkers left the door open and a cow wandered in and became trapped inside.

In 1950 the Clarkes opted out of renewing their grazing lease after 17 years. Ray Adams, HF Mackay and CD Weston took up Block L1 (SnLse 50.85). Between the formation of the Kosciusko State Park and commencement of the Snowy Scheme, the future of grazing on the main range was already in doubt. The Summit Area from Dead Horse Gap to Mt Anderson had already been excluded, as had the upper catchment of the Geehi and Valentine Rivers in a triangle Mt Gungartan – Bulls Peaks – Grey Mare. Block L1 was one of three sandwiched between these two reserves.

Work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme had commenced in 1949, with the Guthega Dam and Power Station being the inaugural project, constructed 1951-55 by Selmer Engineering. The Munyang River Aqueduct running from Disappointment Spur down to the river just below Whites River Hut and then around to the penstock above the power station, was built 1953-56. These works greatly improved recreational access but sounded the death knell for grazing, the lease over Block L1 being terminated in 1953 to isolate the construction zone and catchment from any disturbance. A year later all grazing above 1370m (4500’) elevation was terminated across the Snowy Mountains.

By 1950 ski clubs were shifting their focus toward alpine skiing — speciality downhill ski gear, ski tows and large comfortable lodges accessible by vehicle. The few skiers committed to back-country touring became known as ‘the Main Range Rats’. Such a faction within the KAC formed the Whites River Club and took over the KAC interest in Whites River. Initial membership of the Whites River Club included Ray Adams, Ken Breakspear, Don Richardson, Bruce Haslingden, David Buckland, Lyn Bolton; later joined by Paddy Pallin, Rex Cox, Ted Winter, John Morgan, John Abbotsmith, Judge Coleman, Huia Davies, Cyril King, and SMA hydrologists Don Gawer and Arne Kirkemo (who built Valentine and Cootapatamba huts).

The Whites River Club purchased the remaining food and blankets from the KAC. The large steel cupboard in the woodstore was stocked with provisions paid for on an honours system at twice their original cost; people did not mind. Visitation through the 1950s was less than 100 people per year. Summer visitation was becoming problematic as early as 1950, with Ray Adams and his stockmen finding their hut regularly taken over by bushwalkers.

In winter the hut remained popular with the ‘Rats. Whilst these days it is extremely rare to see Whites buried by snow, on a 1954 K to K tour Paul Reader reported “all we could see of the hut from a distance was the radio mast”. As late as the 1980s it was common for a solid wave of snow to extend off the roof down to the ground at the front of the hut, requiring a tunnel to be excavated to the door.

Around 1956 works commenced on the Schlink Pass Road and powerline; the SMA established a construction camp on the west side of the creek ~1/3 of the way between Whites River Hut and Schlink Pass. It comprised a number of 2.1 x 2.1m prefabricated weatherboard snow huts, situated around a larger kitchen and dining room. By 1962 the works completed and the snow huts were removed. The main block remained for several years, Ted Winter staying in it on a 1963 ski tour, before it was purchased by Ray Adams and moved to his property near Cooma.

At some time around 1963-65, the Whites River Club purchased a three-roomed hut from the SMA for £25. Known as the ‘hydrology hut’ the building comprised two prefab snow huts serving as bunkrooms either side of a central kitchen/common room — a similar layout concept to the hydrology huts of Valentines and Derschkos. It may have been part of the SMA camp, however more likely it dated from c1951-2 and hydrological data collection for planning of Munyang Aqueduct. Ted Winter believed it was originally situated on the flat 200m east of the hut where there was a weather station and snow gauging poles up till the 1980s (near the modern automated weather station). The hydrology hut was relocated to a position 6m to the rear of Whites River Hut and fitted with timber bunks to serve as overflow bunkhouse accommodation. It had a bench but no heating, and was known as ‘the Kelvinator’ or ‘Icebox’ due to its lack of heating.

The improved access saw a dramatic increase in visitation to Whites River during the 1960s. The Club had to abandon the honours system and locked its provisions into the back room, however repeated break-ins saw it remove what was worth keeping an open the whole hut up for public use. In the 1970s some Canberra bushwalkers ‘renovated’ the bunkhouse and installed a wood-fired kitchen range just to the right of the fireplace in the main hut. Very high winter usage pressures through the 1980s made it difficult for caretakers to keep the hut in reasonable condition.

In the winter of 2010 fire escaped from the fireplace into the adjacent caneite wall lining and spread to the ceiling. Quick action by the occupants doused the fire and saved the hut from the obliteration endured by so many huts over the years. NPWS subsequently undertook a major rebuild of the hut 2011-12, at which time the now-derelict SMA bunkhouse was removed from the site.

As foretold by Gilder in 1935, Whites River Hut has served as a major ski touring hut and springboard to tours across the northern half of the main range for over 80 years. Situated within the popular Whites River Corridor, the hut receives heavy use from walkers, cyclists and skiers, particularly groups undertaking their first trips onto the main range or travelling the Australian Alps Walking Track.

 

Winter Snow Depths at Whites River Hut 1954 to 1965

Month/Year: Depth (cm):

August 1954 78.7

August 1955 116.8

September 1956 223.5

August 1957 78 .7

September 1958 101.6

August 1959 78.7

August 1960 157.5

August 1961 111.8

August 1962 83.8

August 1963 99.1

August 1964 274.3

August 1965 76.2

From the Snowy Mountains Authority via Moger 2011

Documentary Sources

Gilder, C: ‘53 Ski Huts of NSW’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1935, p27-28.

Moppett, TW: ‘Kiandra to Kosciusko 1936’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1937, p94-101

Moppett, TW: ‘Whites River’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1938, p64-67

JFM ‘A Keen Snooker Player’: ‘I Go To Whites’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1939, p123-4.

Ward, GRT: ‘KAC Club report’ article Australian Ski Yearbook 1939 p138.

Richardson, D: ‘Main Range Huts’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1946, p58.

Richardson, D: ‘The Problem of the Unattended Hut’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1950, p62-64.

Unamed author: ‘Radio in the NSW Alps’ article Australian Ski Yearbook 1949, p55-56, reprinted from the Proceedings of the Institution of Radio Engineers Australia.

Reader, P: ‘Kiandra to Kosciusko’ article, Australian Ski Yearbook 1955, p94.

Ward GRT: Kosciusko Alpine Club Diamond Jubilee, KAC 1970, p76-77.

Winter, T: ‘Whites River Hut and Bunkhouse’ letter to D Scott, March 1990.

Petersen, G: Snow Revelry journal March 1957, via George Petersen’s Kosciusko article 33, Kosciusko Snow Revellers Club 1993, p100.

Petersen, G: Snow Revelry journal August 1957, via George Petersen’s Kosciusko article 38, Kosciusko Snow Revellers Club 1993, p117.

Petersen, G: Snow Revelry journal September 1957, via George Petersen’s Kosciusko article 39, Kosciusko Snow Revellers Club 1993, p122.

Downing, P: Huts and Homesteads of Kosciuszko National Park, Pauline Downing 2010, p122.

Hueneke, Klaus: Huts of the High Country, ANU Press 1982, p47-48.

Hueneke, Klaus: People of the High Country, Tabletop Press 1994, p246.

Moger, C: Whites River Hut and Whites River Camp – A History, booklet 2011.

KHA records, database and images.

NSW Dept of Land and Property Information: parish maps c1880s-1970 (Guthega), snow lease plans 1931-68.

Some Nearby Points of Interest

The Munyang Aqueduct weirs, running in a loop from the creek just east of Disappointment Spur Hut, to the main intake on the Munyang River just downstream of Whites, past Horse Camp Hut to the Surge Tank above the Guthega power station.

Heavily overgrown remnants of the old SMA jeep track up onto the rolling Ground, heading uphill from 100-150m Southeast of the hut.

Minor disturbance at the site of the SMA camp up the valley.

Amenity

Water – at the creek 20m north of the hut, stone bank constructed 1990s to aid retrieval. High flow, never dry.

Toileting – pit toilet..

Firewood – plentiful.

IN AN EMERGENCY

Nearest Phone Reception Point –??

Nearest Trackhead/Public Road – Guthega Power Station (unstaffed) & Guthega Road ~8km (2hr walk along gravel road)