Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Victorian Mountain Cattlemen - Huts and Heritage

The snowy river hut in the cattle country.

Early 1800s was when the first white man ventured with his cattle into the high mountains of Victoria, where previously no man black or white had tried living. Land belonged to who claimed it first before regulation intervened. The alpine region then began to provide a living for the men who inhabited it with their cattle and later on with their sheep.

In a country not tailor made for cattle and sheep rearing, the mountain cattle pioneers set to work out a way of living. The huts used by these high country cattlemen can still be seen in areas around Mansfield in the Alpine parks.

Some of the huts like the one above are well equipped with a separate kitchen, bunker beds and lofts, easily able to house more than 10 to 15 people at one time.

The Snowy River Hut or the Craig's hut is right at the edge of a cliff surrounded by breath taking views of the valley below. Although no real cattleman can be thought to build a hut in such a vulnerable position, geographically and logistically, this hut suited the movie making sensibilities of the crew which made the movie – 'The Man on Snowy River'.

The hut was strengthened, renovated and opened to public a few years after the movie production ended.

Small areas of land in the alpine park and the state forest are still used by cattlemen for grazing. This remains a much disputed fact in spite of the smallness of the area available for grazing in the parks and other restrictions imposed on these areas.

While the mountain cattlemen resist further regulations and policy to put a stop to grazing in parks on grounds of cultural heritage (the environment changes faced by the park is argued as not being directly responsible by cattle grazing or at least as cattle grazing not being the only or the most important cause, some even argue that the catastrophic bush fires of 2003 were a result of the anti-grazing laws taken by the NSW and ACT governments), the state government however continues to stand firm in its policy against the leased grazing grounds provided in the parks.

Much of the Alpine Park is now a conserved area used mainly for recreational purposes. If conservation is the main focus of the government then tourism is the immediate next.
However protected these forests are from the cattle, they continue to be extremely vulnerable to the bush fires. And with the hot summer predicted for Australia this year, this threat just keeps increasing.

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