KEN NANKERVIS - RECORD OF INTERVIEW (7/12/2009)
NB. This version of the interview contains minor corrections by Ken Nankervis to clarify details or correct names.
Photo: Graham Scully
RB: Today is the 7th December 2009. This is Rhonda Boxall recording an interview with Ken Nankervis who as a 12 year-old began travelling the stock route with his father up into their snow lease in the Snowy Mountains. The main focus of this interview is on the Cascade/ Dead Horse gap area.
KN: Im Kenneth Nankervis.
RB: And where were you born?
KN: I was born here in Corryong.
RB: And what date was that?
KN: On the 29th of the ninth 1925. Im now 84 years old.
RB: -. Where did you live before you came to Tom Groggin Station?
KN: I lived at home on the home farm at Colac Colac. The family still owns the country on the Nariel Creek out there where they first came when they came to this area. I lived there and went to school from there. I went to Colac Colac Primary School and then the Corryong High Elementary and then I did 12 months in Wangarratta Technical School in 1941
RB: Could you briefly explain the background to the Nankervis family. Where they came from and why they came down to this area?
KN: Well, of course they come from Cornwall in England and they were miners there. They lived a satisfactory life in Cornwall. But they were big families and they came - well most of them - my great grandfathers family came in about the 1850s. I guess the gold attracted them and Henry - Henry the 1st I call him . (They went originally to the gold fields in Victoria]. He then went up to Forbes in NSW to the gold mines there. He married there - he married Grace Stephens .My grandfather was born in Forbes [in 1862] - Henry the 2nd. They stayed up there for several years but then came back to Beechworth, to the north-east Victoria and they lived there for a further [15 years]. Oh, well, they came here to Corryong in 1878 when the land here became available for selection and they came across - there was three in the family - Henry, my grandfather, his brother, Charles and his sister who was later Mrs. Shannon. They selected the permissible amount - which was 200 acres, each, up the Nariel in one block. Thats still in the family name after one hundred and however many years - 30 years or something like that and we. Yes, thats how they come to be here.
And Henry and Charlie both married here. My grandfather, Henry, he married Elizabeth Simpson and they had - I guess they had 6 children - my father and his brother George and another brother Arthur and there were 3 sisters as well as that, at that time.
RB: When did they take over Tom Groggin Station? How did that come about?
KN: They lived on the land and bought additional land as it became available in the Colac Colac / Nariel Creek area and they bought Geehi first in the mountains from the Tyrrell family in 1928. And a couple of years later Tom Groggin - John Pierce from Greg Greg, who owned Tom Groggin - he died and they purchased Tom Groggin from the Pierce estate. That was in 1930.
RB: 1930. How did you come about taking on the snow lease?
KN: The snow leases which we had were already held by the Pierce family and we more or less inherited them when they purchased Tom Groggin. They came with Tom Groggin.
RB: Who was actually at Tom Groggin? Which of the family were at Tom Groggin?
KN: They never -like the men lived there. The women folk never lived there - not for extended periods. Well, Dad - when I was a kid in the early 30s - Dad he was out there most of the time. They employed 4 or 5 men to run the property and to look after the cattle in the summer and all that sort of thing.
RB: Where did the family live, the rest of the family?
KN; At Colac Colac. Yes.
RB: And who was living at Geehi? Was anyone living at Geehi?
KN: No. No Nankervis family member ever lived in Geehi for extended periods. We were there when we were doing cattle work and of course rabbits were a problem in those early days and we had people there trapping rabbits and keeping them down before the myxamatosis.
RB: The Nankervis brothers actually had Tom Groggin Station so could you tell me the names of the 3 brothers.
KN: There was my father Harry, who was the oldest, then there was George and Arthur. The business name was Nankervis Brothers. It was a partnership and they went on until 1938 when Arthur wanted to go on his own which he did and he then bought Bringenbrong from Sassella Brothers. And his family are still there at Bringenbrong.. And George and Harry they went on as Nankervis Bros. until 1952 when George died. He had 2 boys and they wanted out too. So that was a further split in the business partnership and we - my brother and I and my father, Harry - we carried on the business H. Nankervis and Sons, Harry Nankervis and Sons. We did that until Jim and I, my brother and I, decided to split up in 1962 and we then went on our own. And Jim run Tom Groggin for a further 10 years. Wed lost snow leases by then. I think we had the last of the snow leases of the Summit area. They took those leases - they didnt renew those leases from about 1955 or something like that. By 1960 we were virtually out of the snow leases in NSW.
RB: When did you first go up as a child, as a 12 year old - you were telling me the other day - when did you first go up?
KN: In 1937, I was still a schoolboy. Another friend and I and Jim - we were there in the Christmas holidays, what was then Christmas holidays, we were there for 3or 4 weeks - in Tom Groggin and up at Dead Horse which was our summer headquarters. There was 2 men there - Leo Byatt and another fellow called Tex Webber, Jack Webber, from Tumbarumba and they were looking after the cattle in the summer. We spent a week or two up there with them. Enjoyed it immensely, of course, as kids.
RB: Can you tell me the boundaries of the snow lease? Where did it start and finish and how far east it went?
KN: The northern limit of our snow lease was at Lady Northcotes Canyon - just beyond Lake Albina and it came back then across the head of the Snowy River and down onto the Thredbo River down Merritts Ridge. Thats all now Thredbo Village of course. And then wed come up the Thredbo River to Dead Horse Gap and from there we went out the Divide and all that Kosciusko, Rocky Bogong, Dead Horse Hill, Cascade and right out to Packsaddle Flat- about halfway to Tin Mines from Cascades. That was about the limit of our snow leases.
RB: And how far east did you go towards say the Ingebyra area?
KN: To the Divide - the main Divide. Yes, that was our eastern boundary in that area.
RB: Who were your neighbours on those snow leases - the neighbouring leases?
KN: McGuffickes and a bloke called Taylor had the Boggy Plain - at the head of the Thredbo - and various other people we never saw on the summit area.-Im not sure who had that country. But Wallaces and Westons they were Monaro people and they held those leases. But we rarely saw them but we used to see quite a lot of the McGuffickes and Taylor down on the Thredbo - and Pendergasts.
RB: What about Tin Mines - who had the lease there?
KN: I forget who had it those early days? Freebodys were down on the Ingeegoodbee -. And later on Don Mouat, he had the Tin Mines lease and he was there when we were there. Thats about the limit of it - of my knowledge of it.
RB: Explain to me just exactly how it worked up there in the summer time. You took the stock up the route, which Ill ask about in a moment, and then what happened?
KN: We had a fence right out along the Divide from Dead Horse - right out to the head of the Jacobs River. It was over 6 miles of 3 barb [barbed wire] fence - and we had to repair it every year because the snow knocks it down every winter. We had no fence out on the summit area and every few days wed go out and turn the cattle back if they were heading out too far on The Divide. And thats what the guys were there for during the summer - to make sure the cattle stayed, as near as possible on the high leases.
RB: How many people did you actually have working with you up there?
KN: Well, during the summer we always had 2 men working there on the mountain at Dead Horse Gap. And that went on from about November to May during the summer. But in Tom Groggin we had 3 or 4 men working there - fencing and, in those days, blackberries had to be hoed - no sprays in those early days. And they were doing stock work, general farm work on the freehold land in Groggin. There was 3,500 acres of freehold in Tom Groggin and a further 1,500 acres down in Geehi.
RB: Do you know about how many acres the lease covered?
KN: Oh, yes - a bit over 100,000 acres in NSW and they had a further 38,000 acres in Victoria that went back up the Omeo Creek towards Buenbar up there. They had a further lease on the Victorian side. That was where we wintered our cattle on those permissive occupancy leases. See Tom Groggin was 1,700 feet above sea level and of course the mountains were 6 or 7,000 [feet].
RB: Could you tell me about the route you took with the stock up there?
KN: Yes, well in those early days we would ride from Khancoban, used to go into Geehi from Khancoban, down the Geehi Wall, which was quite famous because its so steep, and from there on into Tom Groggin. From Khancoban to Geehi was a days drive with cattle and Geehi to Tom Groggin - it was about 12 to 15 miles - and that took another day - and then to take cattle up onto the summit we would go virtually where the road goes now up to the Leatherbarrel; we used to cross the Leatherbarrel to go to Dead Horse Gap go on up onto what we used to call the Cootapatamba Spur onto Kosciusko - up Lake Cootapatamba area / Mt. Townsend area. There was also Hannels Spur which they put in before we went there. We took cattle up there on - I was part of it - on a couple of occasions. Very steep, very difficult because I think you go up about 5,000 feet in 5 miles.
RB: Ive walked it, I know how steep it is!
KN: Yes, its very steep.
RB: How did the cattle handle it?
KN: Oh, no problem, we used to not let them jog or start to trot because they used to get - their shoulders would let them down. Ive seen cattle that wed have to drop off and leave and they make their own way for the [rest of the way] - couldnt handle the steep grade for that distance.
RB: Why did you take them up Hannels Spur instead of up the usual way?
KN: It was a days drive from Geehi, and it was at least 2 days to go to Groggin and back up onto the Summit that way. It was shorter. And of course, the people who put Hannels Spur in didnt have Tom Groggin. They had leased the Townsend area and took their cattle straight up out of Geehi onto the Abbotts Range, Mt Townsend, Wilkinsons Valley.
RB: What stock did you actually take?.
KN: Well they had a breeding herd - they had a herd of about 500 Hereford cows and we used to brand close to 400 calves a year. There was no market in those early days for weaner cattle - you had to grow your steers out till they were 2 years old. We grew them out in the mountains too. On average we would have had close to 2000 cattle - cows and their calves and yearlings, and all that sort of thing. About 2000 head we used to run.
RB: And did you take them all up into the mountains?
KN: Yes, every summer they virtually all went up. Oh, the cows and calves were only there from about mid-December to end of March, April. But the other cattle were a bit longer.
RB: How did you manage to plan it so that they went at different stages?
KN: Wed muster the River country up in the spring and wed draft the cattle up and take the steers on to Dead Horse Gap, and the dry cows / heifers on to Cascade. And the cows and calves would go on to the Kosciusko / Mt. Townsend area. Well, of course they werent [still] there when we came to muster them, they were mixed up a bit. But that was no big deal. Wed just draft them up and bring the steers home that were for sale, and the dry cows you know..
RB: So youd travel up and down several times during the season?
KN: Oh, yes - wed take a couple of hundred at a time. It was no big deal with the dry cows, the steers and the heifers, but the cows and the calves were a bit of a problem. Theyd stay with their calves and fight with the dogs and all that sort of thing.
RB: Did you have any sheep at all?
RB: Just cattle. Did you have any problems on the way up?
KN: They were bridle tracks and we used to cut the logs off them when the trees fell. The tracks were in pretty good order as a rule. We had good dogs. Thered be 3 or 4 of us as a rule - a couple - 2, 3 or 4 - if we had 2 or 300 head. There were never any real problems. Youd get used to it.
RB: You were telling me the other day that you and your brother took over quite a bit of the responsibility of the leases. Would you like to tell me a bit more about that?
KN: Well of course it was war time and most of the guys we had working there had gone off to the war so there was really only Jim and I, my brother - Jim was 2 years older than me. In 1941 I left school - Id just turned 16. Leo Byatt was with us, like the [head] stockman. Yes, we were there and Dad used to come out at mustering time. We virtually looked after, worked the place - wouldnt say managed it - but I suppose that was what we were doing.
RB: Could you describe a typical day for me?
KN: Well, when we were mustering of course wed (we were forever mustering, to take them up the mountains or mustering to bring them back down again} -youd get up and wed be away by 7.30 in the morning and muster and bring those cattle in and when youd got them all in youd draft them all up and take them various ways. We also, Jim and I, during the winters, wed trap rabbits to give ourselves a bit of pocket money. There wasnt too much wages flying about at that time.
RB: There was quite good money in rabbits?
KN: There was at the time, yes. They were there and we used to trap for 2 or 3 months - not solidly but intermittently. Yes, that was OK. There was always fence work and when the cows [were ready to calve] wed muster them off River country - wed try to get the cows to calve on the freehold land - and then there was always branding and wed brand and had to have some help to do that of course. No calf-throwers in those days, you threw them by hand. Wed have to put the bulls out with the cows. We had about 20 bulls and they were forever fighting with one another over the fences. We were putting bulls back and all that sort of thing.
We were generally looking after the stock and of course come autumn- wed calve generally in September or October - that sort of time. But then come May, June the following year we used to wean those calves. Wed wean them and we used to shepherd the calves - lock them up in the yard overnight and shepherd them through the day. It was a terrific way of getting them used to dogs. Our cattle were easy to handle with dogs and I think it was as a result of the fact that when they were weaners we taught them about going through gates and coming into yards. We had good dogs of course and we shepherded them all the day and locked them up at night for about a week until they got sick of bellowing for their mothers who were away in another paddock.
Yes, that was part of the thing - you know mustering time and branding, weaning. There would always be cattle to come home. Dadd come out to make sure that we got the right ones - steers, - In the very early days they sold the steers but anyway later on - they had the country - and they later fattened their own steers. They actually bred them in the mountains and grew them up out there and then fattened them up on the property at Colac Colac / Nariel - which was a pretty good exercise.
In the very early days they had 2 dairies out here [at Colac Colac]. Shorthorn cows and they used to rear the calves - the dairy farmers that was part of their deal to rear the calves - and theyd take them out into the mountains to grow these steers out. Not the heifers - theyd take the steers out and theyd grow them. Thered be quite a number of them perhaps up to 100 a year - no, that would be too many, it would total about 50 steers every year. Wed grow them out until they were about 2 year old and by the time they were fat at 3 year old they were big cattle. Shorthorns, and dairy Shorthorns. But they were all part of the deal.
We used to drive them of course. Later, Arthur was at Bringenbrong - we used to camp there - which was one of our camps and we had a little paddock at Khancoban - horse paddock we called it - up there. 20 or 30 acres. And wed camp there with the cattle. It would be about 4 days home at least from Groggin to Colac Colac with the cattle.
RB: And how long did it take you from Tom Groggin up to Cascades?
KN: A day. Wed go in a day.
RB: It must have been a pretty good day? They must have been long days.
KN: Yeah, youd have to get away early. Being summer you know wed be on our way at daylight.
RB: When you and your brother and Leo Byatt were up in the area on your own who did the cooking?
KN: I didnt do too much at that stage! But Jim, brother Jim, he was a pretty good cook and old Leo. There wasnt all that much cooking done. We only had potatoes and onions in the summer, tin beef. Our neighbours had sheep on the Boggy Plain - the McGuffickes - and they used to always bring a few killers up and in the summer theyd kill us a sheep. And wed go and get it - it was only 3 or 4 miles up the Plain. Then come autumn wed kill a beast and give them half a beast. It worked pretty good - and it was better than the tinned beef.
RB: I can imagine. So it sounds as through you got on quite well with the McGuffickes?
KN: Oh yes. But there was canned vegetables as well but there was always potatoes and onions and turnips - the sort of things that kept . No green vegies as such, except for what came out of a tin - peas or beans or something like that.
RB: You were quite healthy? Never had any illnesses or ?
KN: Oh no - not from what we ate. It was pretty straightforward - plain - but there was nothing else. So thats what we ate. Of course they made dampers - they always had flour.
RB: Did you take your supplies up from here?
KN: Yes, always from here. In the summer Harry Blewitt from Jindabyne would bring things up and horse food and stock salt. And at that time the road was to the Summit. When I first went there he used to come up to Kosciusko Gap we used to call it - right up at the last gap before - above Cootapatamba.
RB: Rawsons Pass was it?
KN: Oh, I couldnt tell you what they call it. But later - it was about the same distance [for us] - he used to come to the Snowy River Bridge and wed pack from there. We had 12 pack horses and he used to bring horse food, bags of chaff and oats, and salt, and groceries.
RB: How often did that happen?
KN: It only happened once a year. Just after Christmas wed arrange with him - ring him up or [write] - communication wasnt like it is today. And Harryd come up and- Generally 2 days packing but wed do 1 day after the other and that was all right. Ill never forget - and I was amazed - the horses, they used to have a bag of oats or a bag of chaff and of course the old packhorses would go and tear the end out of the bag to get to the chaff. So what they did was they tied - we had led the [first] horse, then tied the next one to its tail - head and tailed about 3 so they didnt start eating the horse feed on the way there.
RB: So they had none left? Did you ever spend Christmas up there in the mountains?
KN: No never, we always came home for Christmas. But old Leo - some of the blokes would spend Christmas there. But I never did, always came home.
RB: What can you tell me about Leo Byatt? Ive heard a lot about his name but-?
KN: Oh, he was a local identity and a very good horseman. I think he grew up, I think he was born in Kiandra during the gold rush there and later came to Tumbarumba and then he was in the army. He was on Gallipoli and he was awarded the Military Cross and a commission. He was Lieutenant Byatt. He got it in the field. He won that and his superior officer got a VC out of this exercise that they were on at Gallipoli. No-one ever talked about it much, but I understand it was something to do with the Lone Pine Ridge thingo. Anyway they went from there to France and he used to - they were there in France - I couldnt tell you where. He told us, he used to tell us the British Army officers had horses and there was always this line of horses behind the lines and these Aussie guys would go and wait until it got dark, go and grab these horses and ride them into the nearest village - could be 10 miles away - and spend the night in the village and get back and just let the horses go.
Anyway he was a bit of a -well I suppose, yes - he never married. I suppose youd have to say he was a fairly wild young fellow but was one of the best stockmen Ive ever seen - stockman and horseman. He knew the mountains like the back of his hand. I think I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve my apprenticeship under him. Thats what I did.
RB: He was very good mentor. The Alpine Way wasnt built obviously when you first started. Were there any roads that you recall or any tracks or stock routes?
KN: No. No - just the stock routes. They put in - the NSW Rivers and Streams people or whatever they call themselves - put an access track into Geehi and it came in -51 or 52. It came to Geehi and they went on to Groggin. They were Roger Bannon and Doug Glen, [they were] local [earthmoving] contractors from Albury - they had the bulldozers. I think they had a rough track into Groggin by Christmas 51 but then they did it up and took the road up to Leatherbarrel. Then it stopped there for 3 or 4 years, nothing happened until the Snowy got ready to work on this side and they then did it up of course.
RB: And what about the trail into Cascades which is now a fire trail, do you remember that?
KN: No, we used to go up the ridge, up the Divide from Dead Horse Gap - to Bobs Ridge and then down Bobs Ridge. No, certainly no track.
RB: More or less the way we - the fire trail goes now down Bobs Ridge?
KN: Sort of yes - sort of -We used to go across - we had a the fence all the way of course - and Roughs Creek you know that goes down parallel to Bobs Ridge - Roughs Creek they call it, down into the Murray, well where it come up onto the Divide we had a gate and we went across up onto Bobs Ridge and down by the ridge to the Cascade.
RB: Your sons [son and nephew] were talking about another track up Cascades Spur - did you ever use that?
KN: Oh yes, thats where we used to take the cattle up and down - the Cascade Spur. And that was the main road to Tin Mine, the main track to Tin Mine. Ingeegoodbee, too. It was really as steep as Hannels Spur. Very steep.
RB: That western side of the mountain is very steep. Where did you usually put out salt for the stock?.
KN: We had designated salt camps. Some of them we had logs, with a hollowed-out log. Especially in the high country wed select a spot where there was a big flat rock and wed put the salt on the rock. We had 2 at Cascade - one down across from the hut and another up at the Dummy Rock - what we used to call the Dummy Rock salt camp - up where the Cascade Creek divides. And then over on Dead Horse Hill we had one and down Dead Horse Creek and Bogong, Cootapatamba, Wilkinsons Valley, we had salt camps in all those places. And we had them down on the River too - up the Serpentine, Buckwong, up ?? Creek - we had salt camps all the way. All the cattle, well everything was looking for salt in that country - no salt up there. Everything gets salt hungry. And the brumbies would come for miles - they used to come and eat the salt wed put out. We used to use loose salt but we could also buy rock salt. Have you seen rock salt? Yeah. It was very hard, it used to last a few weeks - oh well about a week at a time.
RB: It lasted better than the loose salt?
KN: Oh well, loose salt - theyd come and eat it in a day or so - but anyway theyd come and lick away at it.
RB: Whats the purpose of the salt?
KN: Purely, as a point where they would congregate -the cattle would come and congregate. Wed call them - come onnnn! - and theyd come from as far as they could hear you - might be 2-3 miles.
RB: Theyd only come when you put it out and heard you calling?
KN: Oh yes.
RB: We could talk a little about the huts now. Could you describe first of all your main camp at Dead Horse Gap when it was built?
KN: Yes. It was built about 1932. An old bloke called Alf Osmond went from Corryong, he helped them build it and Laurie Turner. Yes, they built Dead Horse. But they later altered it. It was just a single slab hut - galvanised iron hut - and the door faced uphill. Well they turned that around and built a lean-to on the bottom side which they used for storing horse feed, salt and whatever - and saddles and then- Have you seen Dead Horse in those early days?
KN: Ive got a photo or 2 there I can show you.
RB: That would be good.
KN: Well that was Dead Horse and the Nankervis built that and then they built Cascade about 1937-8. 8 I think. Well youve seen the photo of the early Cascade with the bark and all that sort of thing. They built that too. Well then Tom Groggin they didnt do much with it until 10 or 15 years after they went there and we built a log hut there. This was before the road went in. Thats right - Jim and I were there trapping and I looked back from where we were trapping and the smokes going up and we burnt the hut down. It burnt down. This was in about the mid 40s. Anyway we had to pack up and come home. But we got sorted out. We later built this log hut there. And Geehi, there was the old Tyrrell hut was there when they bought it but then in 1952 I think we built the stone hut there. And thats about the limit of the huts - the Nankervis stock huts.
RB: When you first went out to Cascades there obviously wasnt a hut there so how did you sleep?
KN: Tent. They had no horse paddock either. They used to hobble the horses of a night and this was what prompted Dad to build the hut and to build a paddock. He woke up one morning and it had snowed through the night and the old horses were there huddled up you know. It was [not good].
RB: So did they build the horse paddock first before the hut?
KN: I wouldnt know but I would have thought they did. But I wouldnt know. No. The blokes that built the hut did the fences as well. There was a yard there. Hughes had a yard there - a log yard. It would have been an acre and they pulled logs up and they could put cattle in there overnight when they were mustering. It was still there when we were there - like it was built into the horse paddock.
RB: Did you spend much time out at Cascades Hut.
KN: No, no. The only time we really spent there then was a few days when we were mustering - straggler mustering. There was never work, really nothing to do. Like it was only 6 miles from Dead Horse. Cascade Hut was built really for accommodation at mustering time. That was what it was about. Dead Horse was the summer headquarters and it was - oh, it was a good hut. I thought it was a really great little hut. And that bloke - that ranger bloke - I cant ever think of his name- he was the dirtiest man I ever saw. He used to camp out there- it was an absolute disgrace after the road went through. I went up there one day and it was burnt down. I couldnt be sorry you know. I was so disappointed with what theyd done with it. I thought it was better off gone than the way it was. But it was a great pity - it would have been quite something to see now.
And up the back they built the dog kennels. They [dug the bank away] and put some timber across the top and leaves and more dirt on top and the dogs had these little caves we had made. They were very comfortable.
RB: What was special about Dead Horse Hut?
KN: Oh well, it was the summer headquarters.
RB: But what made you feel that it was such a special little hut?
KN: Oh well I felt I was still a part of the mountains there. The mountains were behind you.
RB: Yes, a really good atmosphere.
KN: Yes, I thought it was terrific there. We were right on the Divide there and well out of the trees. You could look down onto Davies Plain or back down onto Thredbo, Brindle Bull and way down the mountain.
RB: Yes, its a very special area isnt it? Im not sure whether we recorded it on here the names of the men who actually built Cascades Hut.
KN: Yes, OK. Well Bob Benson - he would have been the main man - Tom Bennett and Ron McNamara. They were the three who actually built the hut.
RB: So did the Nankervis Brothers actually employ them?
KN: Yes, they were employees at that time.
RB: Could you tell me anything about the actual construction of the hut?
KN: No, not really. But theyd have split the slabs and squared up the posts and put it up and of course the bark roof. Well they brought the bark in on pack horses. Yes, I cant really tell you. That sort of work was still reasonably common. Like a hundred years ago there were slab huts and sheds everywhere but timber got scarce and they knocked off doing it.
RB: Now with our Clubs renovation of the stockmens huts at Tin Mines and Cascades theyve tried to replicate that style of working and style of construction. They actually employed an expert axeman who used the traditional style of cutting so were trying to keep it as faithful as possible.
KN: Thats good.
RB: And I have some appreciation of the work that went into building it and putting those posts in because we had to replace the posts over the last 12 months. So what did you like about being out in the mountains? What was so special about it?
KN: I got to love the mountains. You know- the solitude and just the grandeur of it. I love it - not only the Summit but down on the River - the Indi River. Beautiful river. I knew it especially well above Tom Groggin. Theres some beautiful areas along that River. Theyre untouched today, too, whats more. You know, you could be on your own and become part of it. I love it.
RB: Did you see much wildlife while you were there?
KN: Yes, there were always wallabies and kangaroos, dingoes and wombats and at a certain stage lyrebirds. In the spring when we were mustering - down on the River you could hear the lyrebirds. And sure enough if you were careful you could ride onto them. And some of them had big mounds that they had built up over many, many years I suppose.
RB: Was this lower down or up in the mountains?
KN: No - this was lower down. Up the gullies - particularly up the Serpentine - its a creek that flows into the Murray - above Tom Groggin - and up the Buckwong. They were always in the gullies - open, flat bottom gullies, quite wide not steep - and then thered be ti-tree and scrub and hop scrub and that about - well covered. Yeah, there were plenty of birds, heaps of birds - you know gang-gangs and the smaller birds and cockatoos, black cockatoos. We always saw currawongs. Down in Groggin I think there were thousands of currawongs - I guess theyre still there. I wouldnt know.
RB: Do you think the vegetation up on the snow lease - in the snow lease area - has changed over time?
KN: More scrub. Yes. More scrub and there were a lot of areas there where we could ride through comfortably, comfortably. The understorey its now grown up. To me its a lack of control burning. And we used to burn, in the autumn. When we were mustering we used to burn and it kept - I dont remember lighting a fire that got to be a hot fire but some of them were quite extensive burns -. To light them we used to use wax matches and light a match and drop it as you rode along.
RB: And that kept it under control?
KN: Yes, but the timber-like the 39 fires had just been through there just before I went to work there and it looked a bit like it does today. With all the dead Ash - hot enough to kill the Mountain Ash on the mountain. Well it took 60 years for that timber to grow [to maturity] and of course in 2003 it burnt again. I believe the main problem with the land being scrubbed up is a lack of control burning. Then there are the lightning strikes. You get a lightning strike in the middle of summer and it will burn for weeks out in some of that country and thats been going on from the beginning of time. And the aborigines, they used to burn of course. They burnt to hunt -[for access] - and they used to burn off to go and get some bogong moths.
RB: Is there any evidence that youve seen up in the mountains of aboriginals having been in the area?
KN: I never saw anything that you could definitely say was aboriginal. I dont know that they lived there, but they used to go through up onto the tops in the summer for the bogong moths. I suppose I never knew of any aboriginal groups down here in this area. They would have been here all right. I was born here and there was a big group there. [Along the River there was evidence that the trees had had bark taken from them to make canoes].
RB: Up in the mountains we were talking about fire. Were you ever caught out by a bushfire at all up there?
KN: No. Never got caught out, never got lost. Got a bit mislaid a couple of times! That Cascade / Tin Mine country - very difficult. The Divide - the main Divide you know - goes like that down through there. It is not distinctive - you can cross the Divide without knowing and that caught me out one day. No, never had any trouble in that regard.
RB: Tell me about any visits you had to Tin Mines. Can you describe what it was like when you were there?
KN: Yes, we used to go down to Tin Mine every year when we were straggler mustering and often get cattle almost to Tin Mine - [they would] work down from the Cascade. Old Carter was there when I first went there and I thought he was an old gentleman. He was a nice - good old bloke. Yes, but when I first went there, there were more huts but now there are only 2 huts. Im sure there were 3 or 4 huts. I couldnt tell you where they were precisely. They were there and they were very well built those huts. And the timber - of course they had the pick of the timber in the mountains, didnt they - the mountain ash? Splits beautifully - you would have thought some of those shingles were sawn, they were so fine.
RB: Tell me, did Charlie live out there alone?
KN: Yes, he was always on his own to my knowledge. Freebodys used to have - oh well of course there was always a ruckus between Carter and the Freebodys. The story goes that they shot one of their own horses over on Charlies land and got the police. And theres a story that he went to jail but in recent months a niece - a grand-niece of Charlies from England - have you heard of her?
RB: Yes, Im in contact with her.
KN: Well she could never find any record that Charlie served time in jail. Anyway he did write 2 or 3 books and that sort of thing. And you know, I should have one. If I ever had one I dont know what I did with it but looking back I should have kept them. But he had them there with him at the time.
RB: Did you try any of his cures?
KN: No. But I knew a lady who was out there - was camped there - that did and she came home the next day. I said to a doctor one day, I know a bloke thats got a cure for cancer. Oh, yeah he said is that a fact. He said what is it? I said spirits of salt and bluestone and petroleum jelly or something and he said probably would, but the cure would be worse than the cancer.
Yeah anyway, I rather liked the old guy - the little I knew of him. He always made us welcome. We used to go and sit in his camp and have a cup of tea and have our lunch - which we always had with us of course - have a yarn to him for a while and hed tell us if hed seen cattle about. The McGuffickes, Jim and Bill McGufficke - they had a lease down there - they reckon that Carter would shoot a beast and take a leg off it, you know. I dont know whether they ever had evidence of it though. Plenty of stories go round about these guys.
RB: He was certainly an interesting character. What about the McGuffickes - how did you get on with them?
KN: Oh, good, yes. Old Laurie McGufficke, when they first went out there Laurie looked after their cattle on the mountains and old Donald on the Kosci. But then in later years old Laurie - when I was there we had Laurie there looking after cattle. But then Teddy McGufficke looked after Taylors cattle up the Boggy. And I knew Teddy much better than the others. I think Rachel, his wife has not long died. Anyway Teddy and Noel Pender used to look after Taylors cattle on the Boggy Plain and Jardines cattle. We got to know them very well.
Brother Jim married Joyce McGufficke - Teddys sister. They were Norman McGuffickes family and they lived at Mill Creek just out of Jindabyne. But they owned the top place - up the Moonbah - and thats the way we used to go. Wed go down across the head of the Boggy down into Wombat Gully and down Terrible Mountain, or whatever they call it, onto the Moonbah River and go in down that way to Norman McGuffickes top place.
RB: So Teddys Hut was named after Teddy McGufficke?
KN: Yes - Teddys Hut up the head of the Boggy.
RB: Did it have 4 walls when you knew it?
KN: When I knew it, it was pretty rough - but I dont know, I dont know. Teddy built it there, Teddy and Noel - it was pretty rough.
RB: I think you were telling me the other day that he, Teddy McGufficke, was the one who put fish into the Cascade Creek.
KN: Yes he did. The people down at the hatchery - they got him to take fish up into the Thredbo - they were in cartons, canisters or whatever. Anyway, he took a couple over to the Cascade and put them there. One of the blokes there the other day said he catches a few fish. One of the guys
RB: Yes, Pat.
KN: Yes, thats right - Pat. Would you like a cup of tea?
RB: Yes please - that would be lovely, thank you.
End of session 1:
Start session 2:(Same day)
RB: This is a continuation of the recording with Ken Nankervis about their stock lease in the Snowy Mountains. A question that I havent asked you, Ken, was from what properties did the stock come?
KN: Well, the main stock were born and bred in Groggin, Geehi and Tom Groggin and grown out in the mountains and then brought home to the Colac Colac/Nariel Creek properties to fatten and theyd -[be sent to market from there]. Thats basically what happened. The cows and calves - the cows didnt come home until they had reached their use-by date. 8 years old that would be their last joining. Wed join them at 2 year old and theyd have a calf most years and the last time we would join them they would be 8 years old. By the time they got the calf off them they would be 10 years old, fattened and sent off.
RB: Getting back to Cascades Hut, what changes were made to it over time that you were aware of?
KN: No changes - to my knowledge. No. It was built simply as a camp for when we were mustering there and it was never altered. We made the bunks there that were originally made out of saplings with a chaff bag and some chaff tied around the bottom. We just used to throw our blankets on them. There was a bit of a table. Had a table there and just a normal camp oven and a few billies - and that was the way it was.
RB: They were left there constantly?
KN: They were left there, yes.
RB: And you cooked in the fireplace?
KN: Yes, we cooked over the open fire.
RB: So the meat safe wasnt there?
RB: That was introduced at a later stage?
KN: And there was no toilet there either. I notice theres a toilet there now, - no toilet there then in those days. The water - we used to get the water out of the creek where you get the water now. And we used to have, as I recall, we had a bit of bark set up so that it was back a few feet and youd come and dig a hole under it and we could put a billy under it and it would run over. It was good water.
RB: Yes, still is. Originally, the roof was a bark roof. Do you know when that was changed over to a metal roof?
KN: It was still a bark roof when I was there. Id have been there last in about 1962 and there was still bark there then, but the road came in about that time and the bark would have been transported in then. I think -my understanding is that Dooley Pender, from Jindabyne, who was there looking after cattle for Wallaces - that he put the iron on the roof. Thats my understanding.
RB: And did he stay there?
KN: Yes, he would have been camped there looking after the cattle.
RB: So the lease was continued?
KN: Oh yes, the lease would have still been going at that time but it wouldnt have been much longer as they shut off the whole leases all through the Snowy, Kosciusko State Park.
RB: Yes, I was going to ask you about that. How did you feel about that happening?
KN: Kosciusko State Park?
KN: Well, Ive got reserved feelings about it. And I think this is the same with most parks throughout the entire country. They declare areas parkland but they dont have the resources to manage them. And I think Kosciusko State Park is a classic example. They took freehold land at Geehi from us to let it get back to its natural state - well, 3 or 4 years later the blackberries were over in mass. You could not get into the river for blackberries and theyve since sprayed them out, most of them. And the same in Tom Groggin, on the NSW side of Tom Groggin that they took over, the blackberries in particular which are a real menace of course - they just took over many, many acres of land. Yes, my thoughts are, unless they have got the resources to manage the parks effectively then they ought to have left it with the lessees who were doing a reasonable job, in my opinion, at that time.
RB: How did you feel about the personal impact of the snow leases being taken away?
KN: Oh well, we were - devastated. Yes, and I still cannot see what they have won in that regard. That country is no different to what it has been ever in my memory. They maintain that stock devastated the native pastures and all that - I dont think thats true. I dont think I ever saw the country that we held as leases that that was the case. OK, we had a couple of thousand cattle there over probably 20,000 acres of snow lease - you know, 10 acres to the beast. Thats minimal, stocking rate.
RB: So you still feel the wildflowers bloomed, and -
KN: Yes, there were plenty of wildflowers there in those days. I never forget my mother and she was getting on - well she wasnt getting on in years - but up at Dead Horse she went and picked some everlastings and they hung them up in the rafters and they were there always after. And she loved them of course. Yes, there were heaps of everlastings particularly - yellow and white. There were other flowers - I dont know their names - but yes, there was no shortage.
RB: Talking about that, did many women ever go up to Dead Horse Gap?
KN: My sisters used to come every summer - in the summer vacation - and theyd have friends. There would be a group of perhaps 6 or 8 of them, and theyd come and theyd spend 2 or 3 weeks up there with us. And there was the Girl Guides - I showed you the photo of them up in the Devils Kitchen - that would have been back in about 1941-2. There was a big group of them - might have been 15 or 20 and they were in Groggin and went out over the Cascade and Dead Horse, and over Kosciusko - got a photo of them up on top of Kosciusko.
RB: They were great walkers in those days, werent they - the earlier generation.
KN: Yes. [The Guides rode horses].
RB: The Devils Kitchen. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
KN: No. Its there. Its been there for many, many years of course. Theres not many areas theres another area over on Mt. Townsend similar to that - on the summit of Townsend. No, I dont know of another block of rock sitting up like that though. Its big enough to ride a horse under it of course - several horses at once. But no, I dont know it particularly.
RB: You dont know of any stories associated with it?
KN: No, I dont.
RB: Are there any other special places in the Cascades / Dead Horse area that you are particularly fond of.
KN: No. But I dont think - all round the Divide, the hills - Purgatory, Paradise, Jerusalem, and all that - and up the left-hand, right-hand branch of Cascade - above the Dummy Rock . No nothing that is of particular importance in my mind, no.
RB: What about any hard times that youve had out there that you specifically remember?
KN: Most years when we were mustering there was always snow - well, by the time we were finished. Mustering can go on for months of course by the time we did Kosciusko, Mt. Townsend and that country which was first - end of March. Then wed be tidying up there, straggler mustering and then Dead Horse Camp, Bogong and then it would be April into May before we on the Cascade. And almost invariably wed strike bad weather somewhere - not bad weather - cold, snow, snow weather.
RB: Miserable weather.
KN: Yes, miserable weather riding it all out on a horse.
RB: And how did the horses like it?
KN: Oh, they didnt mind. We rugged our riding horses. Wed have 2 horses at mustering time - 2 horses each - wed use them alternate days. They were always rugged, fed and rugged. But the old packhorses we had about 3 or 4 of them. Theyd grow a bit of hair of course but it didnt seem to worry them. Well at that time of the year it was early days and the snow would only lay for a couple of days and be gone again.
RB: Pretty much the same now. And did you ever have any injuries or illnesses out there that caused problems?
KN: No, I never did but brother Jim fractured his skull chasing brumbies. That was about 1945-6. George Day, the manager from the Charlottes Pass, used to come over and Reg Williams, of R.M. Williams, he came with him. They came over to Dead Horse and had another doctor with them, and Leo Byatt and Brother Jim who was there with Leo for the summer went out onto the Cascade chasing brumbies. They all went their own way. Jim did the same thing and had an accident. The other blokes werent too concerned. But anyway come towards evening they decided they better go and have a look and they found his horse at the gate at Bobs Ridge, saddle all smashed up.
They went on out and he was walking down the Cascade Plain with a fractured skull and an eye hanging out. They got him up on a horse and got him home [to Dead horse] and the doctor who was with them got his eye back in and straightened him up a bit at Dead Horse Hut. They took him on behind one of them over to the Kosi Road and George got in his car and they took him to Cooma Hospital. They sorted him out there and then he went off to Sydney and had his skull sorted out. It was a major operation. You know you could always see the scar down the front of his head but it never seemed to affect him much and he lived till he was eighty - he only died last year -he was 85.
RB: Thats a fair test.
KN: Yes, but that was the only serious accident, and of course that had nothing to do with the work - that was chasing brumbies.
RB: Tell me more about the brumbies in the area.
KN: There was always plenty of brumbies there. Not as many as when they took the cattle away. We used to keep them down. We used to use the horsemeat for dog feed. Wed go out every 2-3 weeks and shoot a brumby - cut it up and take it home and feed the dogs. The dogs love it, of course. There was plenty of horses there on the Cascade but not on Dead Horse Hill at that time but out at Cascade Tin Mine / out through there - right out, Lookout - plenty of horses. But of course after they took the cattle out the horse population exploded. They are currently endeavouring to keep numbers down.
RB: Yes, we met some of them as we were coming in - well, you would have passed them, too. How did you fill in your time when you werent working or were you constantly working?
KN: Well I never spent a full summer at Dead Horse. I was always in Tom Groggin and, before the roads went in, we used to stay for about a month at a time - ride out and stay for a month - well then weekends - we would only have Sunday off - we would always have a bath whether we needed it or not - and a shave - and wed go fishing, shooting, or wed plait whips - plait green hide whips - and all that sort of thing. We were never short of things to do. There were always 2 or 3 of us at least there, but other than that up at] Dead Horse - well there were plenty of fish in the Thredbo - just down the Divide. But they used to go over and it was only a couple of hours ride to Charlottes Pass Chalet which was closed during the winter but there was people there - but oh, no it was a pretty lonely life, but it was OK.
RB: What about at night time?
KN: We used to play cards. Yes. Jim and old Leo Byatt and I wed be there in the winter - it was dark a bit after 5 of course - we had a kerosene lamp and wed have tea and then wed play 500. When Dad was there wed play crib - he was a cribbage fan. We used to play 500 and wed have a book of names and numbers and it went on for weeks. Thats what we used to do of a night - and read - but it was pretty difficult - oh, not difficult but not very handy to read with a kerosene light. In those days it wasnt a pressure lamp - just a wick.
RB: What about music? Was there any sing-songs or -?
KN: No. No. Oh, when the girls were there they used to sing a bit and carry on. No, we never did that.
RB: Did you have many visitors through the area?
KN: Yes. No, no - not a lot. But we used to have visitors and hikers mainly. Yes, we used to have some people ride, would ride through at various times. The Goldsworthys had the lease out at Tin Mines at one stage. They used to come through and Benson, Lindsay Balcombe - they were out there at Tin Mine for a time. Wed see them occasionally. In the summer hikers - well, it was war time of course - but one of the better friends I ever had I met [Alan Stimson] - at that time he was a lecturer at Sydney University, at Sydney Teachers College and he and 3 others - there were 4 of them - he took photographs. Theyre his photographs. He actually put them together for the purpose of putting a book together. Anyway at the time nobody wanted to know anything about them. He actually gave them to me - Ive got hundreds of photos, summer and winter.
RB: Theyre very good photos.
KN: Yes, there were girls - 4 or 5 girls hiking through with their little packs up on their back. Cause there were no roads at that time. Theyd come down from Kosicusko, or from Geehi, Hannels Spur. They had to be pretty fit to do it.
RB: And what about Tom and Elyne Mitchell?
KN: Yes, I knew Mrs. Mitchell. Well, Tom Mitchell I didnt know. He-.He was at the War from 40 till 44 or 5. He was a prisoner-of-war. But Mrs Mitchell, Elyne Mitchell, I got to know her fairly well and I liked her. Very pleasant and we used to discuss the mountains - and the Parks particularly - and she and I were of the same opinion - they should not have declared so much area as Park without the resources to manage it. And she was concerned about the deterioration of the countryside under the Kosciusko State Park. She loved the mountains, of course. Her sister was with her for a while -forgotten her name - she married a British Army officer. They were in Rhodesia but theyd be gone from there many years now.
RB: What, did she used to come out every summer?
KN: Yes, and wed see her in the summer [not every summer] and Mrs Mitchell was managing Towong Hill Station, of course all that time Tom was away. Oh well, when Tom was back, Tom was never very interested in the property. After the road went through that made travel much more convenient and wed come home most weekends unless we were mustering or doing something in particular and that made life a lot easier. Well I was married by then, too, and that was good too. I was able to get home.
RB: Made for good relationships?
KN: Yes - Shirl came out on occasions - she used to come for a week or too at a time and Peter - he was a little bloke. He was born while we was still there. I had the weekends at home with the family.
RB: What about the SMA when they came? How did you feel about them coming to the mountains?
KN: Oh well, when they first came I thought Great! No more packhorses. The roads were there and they certainly opened it up. But having said that, it was the beginning of the end for the cattle in the mountains. Within 10 years the cattle were out - over and out.
RB: Financially, it must have affected the family. Not being able to take the stock up did that financially affect the family.
KN: Well, it was different. We had to adjust our business to the circumstances that we had at the time. We couldnt grow our steers out in the mountains any longer. We still went on in Groggin but by that time the demand for cattle had changed and the weaners - 10 or 12 months old calves - were then acceptable - people wanted to buy them and that was just what we had to do. We didnt have the room to grow them out so we sold them or brought them home to Colac and fattened them on the property there still as we had done. No, it didnt affect us that much. We still bred cattle and fattened them as we had been doing always.
RB: The lifestyle would have been very different.
KN: Well, there wasnt anything like the mustering that went on previously. No. [Originally] it was an excellent setup with Groggin right there at the foot of the mountain and a days drive and you were up on the snow leases. Yes, but no more -gone!
RB: Just to recap on the snow lease I think you told me previously there were 3 distinct sections. Could you explain that again for me please?
KN: Well, the Summit country - was the highest country of course - it was above tree level. It went from Ramshead out to Kosciusko, Townsend, out to Lake Albina and mainly we used that for cows and calves because it was always a bit later coming good - it was December. We wouldnt take them there till December and wed have them out again by end of March. And then the next lot down from Bogong back down Dead Horse - Dead Horse Hill - we used to take our steers there when they were growing out but that was where they spent their time and it was intermediate and then Cascade which was generally on a lower still altitude we used to grow our heifers and aged cows and calves - things we didnt want joined to the bulls. We had cows and calves with bulls over on the Summit and in between we had the steers and then the dry cattle, the dry heifers out on the Cascade. Thats generally how it worked.
RB: Thank you. What are your best memories of the area, of your time up on the snow leases?
KN: I loved the work, I really did. George Day at the Chalet always wanted us to go over and spend some time there. By the time we finished mustering I was sick of the cold and the snow and I never went. And Im sorry to this day that I didnt take the opportunity and Id have learnt to ski. Well, I can ski - only if theres no trees or rocks in the way. Yes, I didnt do that which is a regret I have. But, oh no - I love the mountains - even when we were mustering the scenery and all the horses and the country were still there. And thats my best memories of it. And I love Groggin and the fishing. Its a beautiful spot, it really is. I have very fond memories of the time I spent there.
RB: I think I might have asked this but just to recap - what do you feel was special about the place?
KN: About Groggin?
RB: No, about the snow, about the cattle days Cascades?
KN: Im sorry I didnt catch you.
RB: What was special about the mountains?
KN: Well, to me - the solitude of it and the grandeur and the fact that you are as one with your horse and dogs - very much so because they were very much part of you being there. And the cattle - I loved the cattle and the free roaming that they had. They did it naturally, not locked up and they used to roam of course. Oh no, the scenery and the solitude - and Ive got very fond memories of the friendships I made with the people who were there under similar circumstances and we built up very strong friendships thats lasted a lifetime.
RB: Someone said to me one day that why they liked going out there was because it was like a giant art gallery.
KN: Yes, I guess that does describe it because every time you turn around you get a different view. At Dead Horse Ill never forget - we used to call the head of the Boggy and up the Jacob River, the fog factory. In summer the warm air would come up out of the Snowy Mountains, up the Jacob and come onto the Boggy and the fog would roll down, right down to Dead Horse and down. We used to call that the fog factory.
RB: Are there any other funny memories or humorous times that you can remember from up there?
KN: Just dont recall at the moment. Ill have to think about that. Thered be any amount of humorous incidents. I really want someone to come and talk to me, with me to remind me, you know. This bloke Ken Coulson he was with us there for a number of years. Hes a great bloke and we still talk about the days we had there and the dogs and the horses and the cattle, the rivers and the floods.
RB: Tell me about some of the floods.
KN: Yes, on one occasion we - Ive got a photo of it somewhere - Shirl and -it would be 53 I was married, it would be 54 we were coming home - I think Shirl and I were going to the Melbourne show or something. Ken was with us and we got round to Geehi and a new bridge - it had only been up 12 months - the Snowy had put in - Doug Embery had built it, a suspension bridge. [Doug Embery was also a tractor man, earthmover who put the access into Tin Mines]. Wed come there and thered been such a flood in the River, a tree had caught on this bridge and pulled and broke one cable and it was hanging there on one cable. Anyway, Ken - we had horses at Geehi, and the Snowy were there, too down at the old Commission hut - anyway Ken went across and got a horse and went down and there was a phone at the hut. He was able to ring Dad and he came out and got us. We had a vehicle of course across the River - the only vehicle. We had to transport our stuff, carry it across the bridge. I dont think Ive got the photo here - it'd be in another book. Ive got albums and things-
RB: So, in conclusion is there anything else youd like to tell me? How would you like to sum up your time on the snow lease?
KN: Oh no, I spent 20 years there and I enjoyed it, I thought it was terrific. I think Im grateful to have had the opportunity of living that life as it was when I first went there - as it had been going on for 100-odd years or more. Its certainly very much part of my life and I enjoyed it very much. Beautiful country.
RB: Ken, thank you very much for your time and your reminiscences of the area and your time up there. Thank you very much.
That is the end of the interview.
Corrected 17 April 2010