By Neil Roberts
This is a tribute to a unique man, a centenarian and a great Australian. Ted Winter was a “one off” a great all rounder, a born teacher and very sound leader. An energetic bloke who was just as much at home teaching secondary school maths as he was teaching bush and skiing skills. In fact he seemed to spend his entire life above 6000 feet roaming the high plains of NSW meeting their challenges and absorbing their beauty. Tall, angular and tough he was a hard man to keep up with in every way.
He was very intelligent, always “an hour ahead of the posse”. Quietly spoken he had the voice of Walter Brennan of US Western fame. Always a picture of serenity we would joke that he was so laid back that he’d make spaghetti look tense! Ted was a poet, a raconteur and wit who loved a practical joke. He gained fame as an elite athlete representing Australia at the Empire Games. To him fitness means survival. Those around were constantly amazed at his orientation for no matter where, when or under what conditions he found himself in the Alps Ted seemed to know exactly where he was and what was around the corner.
We first met him in Melbourne. He lived on Oliver’s Hill Frankston where a group of physical education teachers and others stood in awe of his trail blazing pioneering ways and his skill at shaping skis. In those days there were no rich teachers we had to make do and making our own skis was a big help. Few had cars and sleeping bags were rare and yet the snowfields of NSW always seemed an exciting possibility. In the field, Ted, like anyone else was not perfect. At times his hearing let him down and at times he was as “blind” as a bat. He could lose patience with stragglers because he always led from in front leaving others in his wake.
Ted first made acquaintance with this buck jumping high country family by pure chance. Ernie, a horse breaker had a farm just below the snowline at Khancoban. They were all more at home on the back of a horse than anywhere and it was late spring in the very early fifties when Ted and a group staggered down the Long Spur and stumbled into the Boardman ranch around 9 o’clock one night. They were cold and hungry and after hot tea some of Elizabeth’s cooking around a log fire a lifetime relationship was formed. Many excursions ensued with the Boardmans’ house the starting point and of course over the years anecdotes, incidents and stories evolved. A few examples;
One night Ted and I drove up to Khancoban from Melbourne in torrential rain. Ted managed to drive off the road at Bringenbrong Station straight into the flood water where we lay on our side to be saved by a single strand of barbed wire fence. We laughed for hours.
Then there was the time when drinking in the pub at Corryong we ran out of money until Ted got a bright idea. He bet the bar that he could walk under a card table on his hands. There was plenty of money in Ernie Boardman’s hat sitting on the bar. Then to the amazement of all Ted simply performed an alligator stand and shuffled under the table on his hands. The locals were both delighted and gobsmacked.
On another occasion we were man hauling [or I was] a loaded sledge into Pretty Plain Hut. The night was black as pitch and Ted had pushed on alone luring me over a 6 foot drop right into the creek. Winter nearly died laughing. It was a thrill a minute.
One crisp spring morning he decided to teach me to ski downhill on touring skis. High above the Grey Mare hut we started, me following Ted at breakneck speed. He was quite comfortable - I was a gibbering mess, legs apart, knees shaking, teeth chattering, completely out of control. We flipped off the snow clad roof of the hut and onto the descending ridge below. By the time I’d hit the bottom to confront Ted’s gaze I’d rolled eight times. Winter’s words were less than consoling as he retorted “now get up and do it again but this time – legs together!
Same trip. I’d crushed a finger lifting rocks outside the hut where Ted had hidden some flour the year before. It [the index finger] looked like a teaspoon it was squashed so badly. The Winter reaction went like this “I’ll have a look at it in a minute. See if you can find a needle and cotton on the mantelpiece”. Sometime later he inserted 8 rough stitches on the split, jammed my hand into a leather glove, poured kerosene onto the glove and told me not to look at it for a week. Of course it healed. Then there was the time he’d collapsed with the pain of appendicitis. Reluctantly he conceded that we should return to Boardmans. It was a long trip down the spur. There are many more stories like the above, most of them repeatable.
There is an interesting book in there somewhere. Ted Winter was a paradox really. In the bush he was primitive. He made do. Any man who would repeatedly brew tea in a black billy with yesterday’s breakfast porridge still stuck to the inside is primitive. Yet in the city he was an eloquent educated sophisticated maths teacher, creative and sensitive, patient and empathetic. There is little doubt those of us who followed him were indeed fortunate. I know he had a huge impact on my life evoking a love of ice and snow and preparing me for Antarctic work. Given the chance Ted would have been a natural in the deep south.
Ted’s work in the Australian Alps will never be forgotten. For years he toured the mountains in all seasons tending the cattlemen’s huts. And it would be impossible to calculate the number of young people he lured to the recreation of skiing and ski touring. I know that he made hundreds of pairs of skis and gave them away to kids eager to learn.
Ted Winter’s massive memory, his generosity, his social skills, his fibre, his spiritual attachment to the Alps and his love of the natural world are surpassed only by his wonderful friendship. He was a selfless man and we would have followed him anywhere!