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Childhood memories

I don't know what the Mountaineering Club had done before the war, but it had a renaissance after the war, when it had been prominent in the development of rock climbing in Victoria, and in opening up South West Tasmania, which until then had been almost inaccessible. Many of the people from this period were still with the Club, and carried a heroic aura.

Among them was Prof Tom Cherry (probably in his late 50s), who was notorious for his eccentric ways and lack of concern for conventional standards of behaviour. He never washed on trips, and wore a cloak consisting of an old woollen blanket fastened with safety pins. He was very fit, and entertaining company. On one occasion he is reputed to have arrived in Walhalla was a party of students, after a weeks walk.

He rang the mine manager, introduced himself as Professor Thomas Cherry from Melbourne University, with a party of students, and asked if it would be possible for them to visit the mine the following day. The Manager agreed, and arranged to send a vehicle around to collect the party. When the scruffy party arrived at the mine, and were introduced to the Manager, one of the officials asked some of the students "Is he really a professor?"

On another occasion we were camped in a mountain hut on the upper Jamieson River. There were a number of wooden sleeping benches, and at bedtime the students either got into their sleeping bags in their day clothes, or undressed discreetly in the shadows, but Tom proceeded to undress in front of the fire, in full view of the mixed party.

I could not find a bench to sleep on, so the first night I slept on the table (after clearing away the remnants of everybody's dinner) but it was hard and uncomfortable, so the following night I decided to put up my tent outside. It was an extremely cold night and even after I put on every piece of clothing I had I was still shivering. In the early hours I lit a candle to see if it would warm the tent at all, and was startled to see that the tent was completely lined with sparkling ice crystals.

I got up as soon as it was light, and went into the hut to light a fire. After the fire had been going for awhile, and the hut seemed reasonably warm, someone put down a canvas water bucket and not long afterwards found that a layer of ice had formed on the top of the water. We were leaving for home that day so we had to pack up, but my tent was still covered with a thick layer of ice. I borrowed a nail brush and scrubbed it, but there was still a lot of ice to add to my load.

A number of members of the Mountaineering Club, including Phillip Law and Bill Bewsher, had been active in the early days of ANARE, the Australian National Antarctic research expedition, which established a permanent base at Mawson on the Antarctic continent. Bill was an easy-going primary school teacher and led many walks in the 50s. Sadly Bill died in 2012.

 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019

The Melbourne University Mountaineering Club