The Mount Buffalo Chalet was constructed in 1910 in the European tradition of a Mountain Chalet. Smaller lodges were established along the Gorge area. Constructed by the Victorian Government it represented Australia’s first Ski Resort. Perched on Bent’s Lookout, it became known over the years as ‘The Grand Old Dame’ of the Alpine region.
For thousands of years Indigenous people travelled to Mount Buffalo in late Summer to feast upon the massive numbers of Bogong Moths . The added benefit was relief from the heat of the plains.
William Hovell and Hamilton Hume spotted the mountain in 1824, naming it Mount Buffalo based on the view from their then aspect supposedly resembling such an animal. Baron Von Mueller (of Botanical Gardens fame), the Government botanist climbed its peak in 1853 and collected many new species. Visitors were drawn to the peak from the 1850s onwards for the magnificent views available. The mountain had been set aside as a National Park by 1898 for the most part of its area.
Generations of hikers, skiers and families journeyed to the Chalet every year. It has remained largely untouched for nearly a century, other than additional wings and adding a storey or two in the same style of the original building.
1924 saw the management of the Chalet pass from private hands to the Victorian Railways. As with all Railways activities, whatever you chose to do at Mt Buffalo required – a ticket. All porters wore Railway Uniforms. Guests generally caught a coach from the then Porpunkah Railway Station on the Bright branch line to the Chalet. This ceased in 1952, when that line closed. Guests from then on were transported from Wangaratta Railway Station.
A Grand Ballroom was created from the original Dining Room, complete with a stage. Large windows were installed capturing the view. At its peak the venue accommodated over 200 people – the equal of any of the grand city hotels in Melbourne.
Many migrants after World War II enjoyed the Chalet and its facilities as it reminded them of home. This included many Jewish Refugees. The Railways continued its quaint management until 1985. The Victorian Government Tourist Commission then took over the management until 1993 when it was leased to private interests who continued its business activity in accommodation.
Mt Buffalo is considered architecturally, historically and socially significant and is listed on the Victoria Heritage Listings.
In 2008 it was included on the Australian National Heritage List.
The Chalet closed its doors to business in 2007.
Earlier this year in February a group of local North-east Victorian residents banded together to develop a strong proposal to save the historic Chalet.
Here is a report from the ABC on their efforts…
Community rallies to save the heritage-listed Mount Buffalo Chalet
A group of north-east Victorian residents has created a grass roots campaign to help save Australia’s largest timber building.
The doors to the heritage listed, 110-year-old Mount Buffalo Chalet closed a decade ago, and the weatherboard building has been left to battle the harsh alpine elements.
Residents have spent 18 months putting together a major proposal to turn the mothballed building into a world-class tourism destination.
Standing daringly upon a clifftop, the Mount Buffalo Chalet gazes sturdily out across the sweeping Alpine valley below, the building has affectionately earnt the nickname ‘The Grand Old Lady’ from the generations who have visited.
But time has also brought trouble for this ageing lady, after closing down 10 years ago following a disagreement between the then-lessee and the Victorian government.
A community battle
In 2015, a group of residents met with the with Victorian Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water, in a bid to save the fading Chalet.
The meeting prompted the formation of the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group, which has been assigned to work with Parks Victoria to secure a viable future for the Chalet.
The group has worked with 200 contributors and met with hundreds of residents to create a 40-page proposal to turn the Chalet into a world-class tourism destination.
Ideas include repurposing 95 per cent of the building, and developing versatile accommodation at the century-old Chalet from five star, through to budget rooms and school group lodgings.
A new mountain gateway centre, introducing glamping and transport hubs, and moves to work with educational institutes to provide a space for hospitality and outdoor education opportunities have also been floated as ideas.
The groups’ chairwoman and local resident, Janelle Boynton, presented the proposal to before Parks Victoria on Thursday urging it to quickly act and preserve the Chalet before it is too late.
“We’re not asking government for a figure, we’re actually asking government to facilitate and show leadership in enabling this vision,” she said.
“We’ve tied it back to every government policy we can find whether it be about social enterprise, or health, or education, or Indigenous and cultures.
“This mountain actually meets every policy.
“This is how you can achieve it at Buffalo.”
More care wanted
The State Government announced two years ago that no demolition works would go ahead at the Chalet, despite the move being initially flagged.
Instead the revised $5.6 million restoration package for the Chalet and surrounding areas included maintenance works such as restumping the floor, replacing and painting weatherboards, and resetting loose stonework.
A total of $1.5 million was allocated to upgrading The Gorge at Mount Buffalo day visitor area.
There are plans for a spectacular Sky Walk and now a Spa Hotel put by this group recently. This is an iconic location with much history and a great deal of sentiment attached to it by many people. In 2010, the Victorian Government commenced the process of preservation allocating $4.1 million for commencement works.
Here is the Age report…
$4.1 million preservation works to start on Mount Buffalo Chalet
After years of waiting and battling the elements, the most significant preservation works conducted on the Mount Buffalo Chalet since it closed in January 2007 will soon get under way.
Loose stonework at the base of the historic timber building will be re-set, and the building’s ageing water supply line will be replaced, with the work expected to begin soon. Rotten window frames will also be addressed.
But demolition works originally planned for parts of the site, including the accommodation wing known as “Siberia”, have been shelved.
While the works aim to stop deterioration of a timber building that was built above the snowline more than 100 years ago, the building will not be reopened to tourists on completion. The initial aim of the work is to give the building a safe foundation.
Chairman of the local group Community Action for the Chalet (CAC), David Jacobson, said he was “extremely grateful” that the works were about to start. “They are absolutely crucial,” he said.
Asked how important the historic timber chalet on top of Mount Buffalo was to the region, he said: “It’s incredibly important,” he said.
“The Chalet is the jewel in the crown on that mountain, and people relate to it … More than that, it represented relatively inexpensive tourism for locals to visit and to stay.”
Environment Minister Lisa Neville this week also announced the make-up of the Mount Buffalo Destination Advisory Group, which will work with Parks Victoria to examine future tourism options for the chalet.
Starting preservation works on the building represented “a really significant day for this really important part of Victoria’s history”, Ms Neville said.
“This is really about trying to make sure we reverse the deterioration and prevent it continuing to just go backwards.”
The recently appointed chief executive of Parks Victoria, Bradley Fauteux , who inspected the building this week, welcomed the project.
“It’s not in great shape but it’s not past saving, and the work that we’re going to do in the next little while is going to maintain it, so that we can make decisions about what it’s going to be in the long term,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work to do if it’s going to be used in the longer term. So right now we’re keeping it upright, we’re making the front look a heck of a lot better than it does and we’re making sure structurally it’s stable.”
The works are part of a $5.6 million package to be spent at Mount Buffalo, with $4.1 million allocated for the chalet, and $1.5 million allocated for works at the gorge and Mount Buffalo day visitor area. Some of the money, $1.3 million, has already been spent on chalet maintenance.
It will be interesting to see just what use this beautiful location and building are ultimately put to. What do you think?