Kosciusko – August 1932: “Never to my dying day will I forget the skies of the Southern Alps.”

Kosciusko – August 1932

One who has never visited the snow country can have no conception of its solemn beauty.

We leave Cooma in a crowded growling bus, chattering its way over hills and plains, brown as if painted by Rembrandt. Granite rocks dropped in clusters of tombstones squat on the surface of the earth, and great, dark, obsequious trees, like shrouded mourners round the graves. Wind-swept desolation. Our driver says it was once desert country. Scurrying wastes of sand, now tethered by tender roots of grass on which the dunnish sheep browse and merge intermittently with the still cairns. Miles of granite hewed into smooth masses by the powerful hand of the wind, blowing even now.

We reach Berridale, a shy village hidden behind huge rows of gaunt poplars. English trees, naked before the tourists, elms, oaks, beeches. A squat hotel, boasting a 6 x 4 bar wherein one has a thimble of lager for 6d and listens to those great tuning forks, the poplars, shaking in the wind.

Jindabyne, the Snowy River, what romance in the name, mustangs, ringing hoofs, leaping trout – Picturesque, we grant, but the Man from Snowy River lies full length on a bench in the sun, behind him, behind him the white-washed wall of the hotel gleams yellow. A dog lazily scratches fleas. The store, the garage with its mechanical broncho, the blacksmith’s shop, all sprawl lazily like cats too warm to move. His Majesty’s post-office sadly supports its leaning frame on a gentle rise. Slinking in and out between lucky-stones and fresh dark trees the Snowy indifferently finds the sea.

Eight miles we climb, a rising crescendo of grinding gears, relieved by staccato twitterings as we see patches of snow alongside the road, carelessly flung there by the gods. An Olympian paper-chase leading to our goal.

Gears still grind their music, changing at last to a treble and a squeal from the playing brakes. We top the hill and the hotel appears stuck on a quilt of snow. Snow covers the valley and Colin [Wills] and I goo with delight, our eyes popping.

The eight buses pull up and disgorge their passengers into the slush. 260 feet drag mud into the vestibule. We get our rooms, eat, go to the ballroom where the expert tells us how to ski, and how to fall. We are fitted to the skis and trust to them for our safe-keeping. Ill founded trust! They behave like rutting females, dashing hither and thither. We pick our flanks off the snow and half an hour later are asserting masculine powers over the skis.

Snow begins to fall. Feathery foolish stuff, too light to land. Overnight it continues. On Sunday morning it drives into our faces with a bleak blasting howl. My ears feel as they have been chewed beyond pain. They are icy cold and slimy. Jess’s eyebrows and eyelashes support icicles, a handkerchief half out of my pocket is frozen stiff. Colin falls and rolls in the snow, his face rises white and laughing out of a drift. The hairs on my moustache are ice-coated. Our clothes carry a thin layer of frozen-hard snow, which cracks in the folds of the cloth. We are tremendously warm and happy, we fall, we trip, and sprawl, the snow is accommodatingly soft and as glorious to muzzle into as a woman’s breast. We laugh and yodel. Ha-e-e-e! It is easy to ski; the snow is soft, thick and slow. Perfect snow sent to us. We thank the Lord.

Snow fell throughout the day, 6 inches of marvellous clinging purity.

Monday dawned a cloudless day. We experienced fine weather for the rest of the week.

The sky was fit to worship. Never was sky so transparent, nor colour so pure. The far distant mountains are lines with a needle point against the sky. Atmosphere as experienced in the Blue Mountains is unknown. Miles and miles of etched clarity backed by a heaven of marvellous amethyst, now turquoise, now an infinite blue. One wants to be enveloped in the glorious glaring nothing. Never to my dying day will I forget the skies of the Southern Alps. The finest days in the country elsewhere cannot emulate such masterpieces. As we know them the heaven’s colours are neutralised by dust, destroying the limpid purity. There, no dust trammels the scene and the snow reflects the brilliancy of the sun back into the heavens creating a magic dome of unpaintable magnificence.

Forgive the rhapsody, for such beauty is well nigh breath taking. The country is by far more fascinating than the sport it has to offer.

The winds are clean and crisp, filling one’s lungs with superabundant energy and delicious life.

We breast a hill; we are on the Plains of Heaven, God what a view! A blast sweeps off the Main Range forcing our lungs to capacity; we could tear a horse in two.

We turn and descend, gather speed, faster, faster, plonk! We unravel the tangle of skis and limbs. Gurgle with glee.

Would that I had the style of a Stevenson or other to tell of the beauties of leafless trees reaching their stringy fingers to the sky. Fingers clawing, supplicating, for the life that was once theirs and is now gone forever. The scene is Buddha-like in its indifferent serenity, a very god; compelling worship.

I would go alone to these places, Dainer’s Gap and the Plains of Heaven and stand seeking to imbibe the essence of such beauty, to become omniscient and humble, to identify myself with the calm life around, and could only murmur “oh, god.”

Jess and I left for the Chalet on Monday Aug. 22 passing through Dainer’s Gap, Smiggins Holes, Piper’s Gap, Piper’s Plain, about 4 miles of it! The Perishers Gap, the Perisher Plain, about 2 miles to Bett’s Camp arriving at 2.30pm.

This camp was once an accommodation house before the chalet was built, and is now used merely as an emergency hut. It was disgustingly dirty, the beds, a tangled mass of sheets and blankets, jam and butter splodged about the tables, the lavatory chock-a-bloc, and the entrance and bathroom full of snow. The previous Saturday Aug 13, a party were trapped by a blizzard and stayed at Bett’s overnight.

The Chalet is about 23 miles further on. A roaring gale began to blow as we left Bett’s. Across the plain 3 of our party were blown to the ground. At each gust of wind we stood stock still, huddled like horses in blasts of rain. Clouds were racing over Mt. Guthrie licking its summit as they dashed north. We would stop and look, oft times being blown backwards on our skis. Huge black brutes edged with blazing light, fifty miles an hour or more, casting great ugly bruises of shadow across our track through the valley. The Chalet seemed to be on wheels, receding at each step we took. All were just about done in. With feeble hurrahs our skis were undone and we slumped into the dining room at 3.30pm to polish off promptly a bottle of beer each. What if it was 2/6 per! We made a slow trip, 5½ hours but the snow was soft and there was not one run downhill.

The storm brought up hail and sleet. Tuesday saw us kept indoors, fog being so thick as to limit visibility to 5 yards. Unfortunately we had to return the next day, money being scarce.

6.15am Wednesday I was up and climbed Mt. Stilwell which is just behind the Chalet. I took the camera with me to get photos of the Main Range but the clouds were very low and covered everything.

Dawn broke while I was perched on the mountain, and filled the misty valley with a vast veil of light. Mt. Guthrie showed up dimly behind the gossamer on one side, on the other Mt. Twynam squatted with its head wrapped in cotton wool clouds. It was well worth the early rising to see white shining plains and white mountains shrouded in luminous mist, and I dare say I was the highest human in Australia at that hour. A most icy wind blew incessantly from the direction of Mt. Kosciusko, numbing hands to a painful degree, most discomforting when my gloves were off.

The trees were poor stunted shrubs caked with ice blown hard in ridges on the edges of the twigs. These last of trees appear like growths of coral behind which extend long lines of wind swept snow, perfectly streamlined.

Underfoot the snow crunched, packed hard by eternal wind, the sleet had frozen into a solid gravel surface holding here and there patches of soft dust snow fallen overnight. I made my way back and had breakfast. We left for the hotel at 10am. Ruc sac containing the necessities of luggage for Jess and I weighing down my back. The snow across the plain from the chalet was icy and jagged, scraping off in no time all the wax which had been melted on to the bottoms of our skis. Two miles of slithering and scraping, occasionally on foot, for the skis would not hold on the glistening surface, to arrive at Bett’s Camp. More intolerably hard plains to the Perisher Gap, where snow covered mountains glistened in the sunlight – so many huge iced cakes. The icing gathered in rolls, sooth and shiny. Across Spencer’s plain it looks but few steps, but we cover 4 miles before it is behind.

Midday now and excessively hot. The snow is thawing and is soft and slushy. We have to push ourselves down hills, sometimes striking a hard patch over which we shoot at increased speed to pull up dead on more slush – an over! More miles and terrific glare. Sun glasses are donned and with bent heads we struggle across Smiggins Plain to the foot of a climb to Dainer’s Gap. I am just about done-in, the pack feels like a piano, I am dizzy with glare and fatigue, but the bus leaves within an hour and we still have 2½ miles to go.

Jess is in front pace making. I curse and wish I hadn’t climbed round the mountains before breakfast. Twice, no three times, I fall over, while going up hill, too tired to keep my skis apart. I curse Jess for being ahead and with horrible, spiteful effort pass her. I feel like lying down and ignoring bus, time and everything else. Automatically we reach Dainer’s Gap and start the run down hill to the Hotel. Normally the road is icy and fast. Today it is slow mush and calls for effort to descend. Push – push – I push myself over. Dried spittle clucks around my tongue. We lurch into the hotel with half an hour to spare. Have mouthful of food and board the car for Cooma, so worn out as to be actually glad to get away. The snow has rapidly disappeared around the hotel, leaving great bare patches of rock and dank grass. We turn the corner and Kosciusko is lost to view.

More notes on Kosciusko

No doubt you already know that the snow covered mountain down south was so named because of its fancied resemblance to the North Pole, Kosciusko.

Hills are dreadfully bald, due no doubt to the dandruffy like substance which accumulates on the brow of the hills and on the heads of the ranges.

The hotel is a large rambling place built to provide cover for the passage ways which abound. These passage ways serve the dual purpose of allowing Mr. Speet (the manager) to take his “constitutional” within, and for the accommodation of ill-positioned trophies.

One must “keep moving in a blizzard.” Thanks to the practice in dodging Mr. Speet around the corridors, incessant movement becomes second nature.

A bar is discovered conveniently situated near the surgery, and but a few steps from the drying room wherein are placed all the guests who inadvertently get “soaked.” The bar when full resembles a club sandwich. Wood, meat, wood, meat, wood, all tightly packed and garnished with hiccoughs.

The lucky Irish charm must always be carried by a novice else the snow will probably bite him in the back or severely maul his thumbs and ankles.

Most everybody has a snow blind. This handy little invention ensures, when pulled down, such privacy as is indispensable while on the snow.

Solemn information is given that the snow must not be eaten. I take it there is not enough to feed all the guests and is very difficult to import, tariff being high and what not.

Skis are provided free to Govt. tourists, a wise provision which encourages people to crack their necks and thus cause no end of employment in State Hospitals, Funeral parlours, flower shops and the like.

Bett’s Camp was erected to accommodate a tin of baked beans left on the spot by Charles Bett and his partners after a game of strip poker during the winter of ’68. The tin is still untouched, even by the most hungry and blizzard blasted skier who may happen along. Such respect. However, icicles on toast and a lovely cup of warm snow are provided on presentation of one’s dole-ticket to the concierge, if about.

The Chalet was discovered by the Man for Snowy River and respectfully dedicated to the Govt. During the service “Banjo” Patterson played his ukulele as the sun went down on the historic scene.

It is now used exclusively by honey-mooning couples, and known chiefly for the fact that whiskey is 19/6 per. This latter state of affairs has given rise to a thriving industry. St. Bernard dogs are reared in huge numbers and as soon as the pups are born the little barrel of rum which is always round their necks is snatched off and enthusiastically drunk to the accompaniment of rousing sea-chanties by the entire population.

At present the snow fields are sadly underdeveloped. One can blame the under-secretary for land, obviously. With a little expense and enterprise the govt. could have slalom flags growing all over the place, and the snow jazzed up and dyed like a dazzle boat. Safety zones dotted hither and thither around the isobars where one could order anything from Swedish Plonk to gin-titters. Classes of gay Oberland yodellers led by Charlie Lawrence or the local milkman, and shoals of Swiss miss carving bubbles in gruyere. Peanut vendors selling as a side line, hundred and thousands to Millions Club members and service stations for the trading in of old skis on new skies. That’ll be the day!

Caravanning with WEP – Winter, 1938; a week at Jindabyne with Lennie Lower

 

In the 1930s, Lennie Lower was considered one of Australia’s foremost humorists. His novel, Here’s Luck was first published in 1930 and is considered a classic of Australian humour.  It has been reprinted many times since and was illustrated by his good friend and colleague, Wep with the 1955 edition.  Wep and Lower were closely associated from the time Wep first started illustrating his column at the Daily Guardian in Sydney and later at The Australian Women’s Weekly when that publication commenced in 1933 cementing their notoriety throughout Australia.

Lower was reknowned for his drinking and in the winter of 1938, Wep and his wife Jess were accompanied by Lower for a week’s sojourn in the Snowy Mountains region around Jindabyne and Cooma.  Lower was to write a series of columns for the Daily Telegraph and Wep was under instructions not to give Lower any more money than 2 shillings.  Lower went to Cooma with his two shillings and returned rotten drunk with seven and sixpence change. He’d gone into Cooma and told everyone who he was, and that he was there with Wep. No one would let him pay for a drink and actually pressed money on him thus defeating the other instruction to Wep to “sober him up and keep him sober.”

Caravanning with Wep – Sat., 14th Aug 1937; Quiet times at Bylong Valley & Wondy Peak

Sat. 14th Aug.

Existence most inordinately quiet down here. Absolute remote hermit-like. Conversation confined between three of us. Me, Jess & Dawnie. An occasional school child falls into my trap. I learn the name of the mountain I have painted from 3 angles. Wondy Peak.

Twice a week I recontact civilization, such as it is, at Rylstone. A dull old town appearing as if made from debris of some old prison. A uniformity of ancient stone and morgue like quiet. Radio, consequently, working overtime. Have had to change batteries. Nothing of any consequence happening. Only excitements are furtively snooping water from school house and chasing canvas blown like paper before the howling gusts that swell down the valley. Returned from Rylstone this morning to find our calico lean-to razed to the ground. Had day off from painting & spend time shooting tins – with indifferent success.

Occasional cars pass towards Ginghi – loud whoops and squeals traverse the night. A mile or so down, the local dance. Complete with piano accordion & violin, cheap plonk, and “King hits,” so our local correspondent informs us.

How hard it has been trying to rain. Day finished with Wondy Peak silhouetted against tufts of salmon cotton wool languidly floating beneath a ceiling of blue grey dappled sky. The definite pearly quality of the landscape here. The incredible subtleties of blue, green, and pinks, & ochre deepen to dusk.

Caravanning with Wep – Thurs., 5th Aug 1937; Ginghi, Bylong Valley & adventures at the Telegraph Office

5th August Thursday

Ginghi, Bylong Valley.

Thank God for a quiet life. A welcome relief after tiresome, tensed up driving.  Seem to have a positive genius for picking lonely unfrequented roads. A lonely plugging uninteresting trip from Wauchope up the Oxley highway. Miles and miles of intolerable hill and forest. A worrying run beset with overheating troubles & fears of petrol shortage. Miles and miles of dense sub-tropic forest atop the range, a sudden glimpse of busy human ant like activity in the shape of timber mill, tucked securely in a corner of the hills, manifesting its existence with harsh whine of the saws & the blowing hiss of steam. More miles of dark and darkening green & ever present frost in the gullies. At night fall a petrol pump is discovered, to our eyes, orchid like, aside the road. A lone house attends it. We fill up and enquire the locality. Yarrowitch. And it is on the map!

Time our arrival at Tamworth perfectly to coincide with lunch at the Holes. How delightful after days of dining on sad, aged meat(!) pies, and soggy mullet, & lemonade. Lemonade at 11d a bottle!! Enough to send a man to drink. Had pleasant lunch & even more important, the first decent water for weeks. Water, without weeds, mud and slimy dressings! Sat around till 3 o’clock & were regaled with choice scandal.

Slept on top of Murrurundi that night & wakening waited on 10 o’clock for the bank to rescue us from 1/10½.

Entered the Bylong Valley after lunch. Saw Daddy, Mummy & Baby kangaroo dash startled through the cypress covered slopes. How remote from the world this valley seems cupped by hills and traversed by the near dry Goulburn River. Fenceless & houseless & motionless the senses suggest that even time itself has stopped down here. We turn a corner expecting to emerge upon some great lost Atlantis but grey & still, the grass still mats the earth. Bladeless, red & rocked, the hills. Cypress mournfully aid the pervading melancholic suggestions of desolation & despair. A twenty mile suspension of recollected life. We are in the grave awaiting resurrection or disintegration.  We climb around the spine cracking curves of Kerrabee Mountain & descend into the ragged head of Bylong proper. Finally arrive at a 2×4 store. A telegraph and telephone office, not yet dignified with the title Post Office. I get out & buy cigarettes & am beset with daffy looking people. The general excitement over the caravan and Dawn is intense. Their photos are taken and Jess is duly informed of the viciousness & untrustworthiness of the breed. “Tell me the old story.”

Black bushy eyebrows & moustache are cock quizzically as a Scotch terrier beneath my abstracted gaze. A simple youth rolls his head and his face floats silently gaping & guffing at my dissertations on said Alsatian’s food. I wish to send a telegram. Immediately great comings & goings & fumblings & seekings & behold, from beneath a pile of rhubarb & papers a hand emerges triumphantly clutching a dog eared telegraph form. The memory expert has saved the day. 4 of us telephone the wire to Denman. I leave in a daze, my mind remote.

Am settled beneath the shadow of encircling cliff faces. At sun down, gold lit with Rembrandtesque effulgence, glowing orange above the bluing shadowed trees.

Caravanning with Wep – Sunday, 17th July 1937, Skyring Creek, Qld., description of trip from Jindabyne, NSW to Queensland

17th July Sat.

Skyring Creek, Qld.

A marvellous night, mild and limpid under the moon. Undergrowth tangled & dark, mysterious, protects our quiet privacy.

Dawnie, our infallible thermometer, lies uncurled, a vast improvement (to her dog-mind) on Jindabyne where days and nights were spent in periwinkle curled sloth.

Which reverts us to our farewell to that transitory home. Thursday, I guess it was the 23rd June, so finally sickened and us sunk deep in despair by locals cheerful intimation that it’d be sloppy for a month or so to come.

Packed, sadly, & drove car round Weston’s back gate to Wooden Woman paddock and with spade and axe severed forever her connection with the earth that spawned her life. Slim she was but thunderous weighty. Not all my effects could carry her, so needs must ignominiously drag her, like a leaden drunk to the car onto which after ½ hours strenuous grunting & cursing managed to attach her. Whereupon the springs gracefully inverted themselves. Returned to trailer and in midst of manoeuvres almost followed it into the Snowy.

Boiled our way steadily into Cooma, dined with George & retired to lounge until 1:30pm. Had ham & eggs down the street and pulled off the road 12 miles out of Cooma. Seeing as how, the b—- caravan was full of logs & canvasses we decided to sleep together, which after taking off boots and nether garments did. Woke to the clanging of picks and shovels outside the window and perceived a gang of road men blithely at work. I hope we didn’t look too damn silly on that 2 foot bed.

Got to Brighton about 9 o’clock PM after an unpleasantly wet run from Marulan and a spot of high powered bother with some of Howard Couch’s bright(?) brainwaves attached to darned head light.

Frittered a week away in Sydney. The longest and dullest week I’ve had since leaving work. Sheer boredom. Had a few sad drinks with boys & visited all who should be.

Left again on Monday. Jess must go and lose the filling out of her tooth again. Hence John Brooks, dr. to W.E.Pidgeon. Discovered two broken leaves in trailer spring and had same fixed.

Arrived at Wyong & stayed night with brother John. Slipped the car off bloody bridge over gutter next morning but after 1 hour’s rupturing effort with railway sleeper got out right. Attended meeting of shareholders of my gold company. Didn’t say a word.

Stayed outside Singleton overnight. After pleasant run up the best part of the New England Highway paid visit to the Browns at Currabubula and remained 2 days leaving Sat. morning.

Apart from coming down the mountain on my bum nothing of any consequence happened, except maybe getting 3 or 4 broken down rums out of Alex. Christ, Nance is a tiny squirt! She made us quite at home & farewelled us with loads of home made biscuits and local oranges. For which many thanks offered. Alex now almost as fat as a prize Berkshire & getting more like Uncle Jim in manners, voice, face, etc, than ever. Out does any movie detective in the matter of hats on in the house! Still he’s much bitter company than he used to be. Quite human. The old folks away in Singapore. Jess very upset because deprived of joy of Uncle Jim’s company. Finally got past Guyra for the day. Damn cold too up there. Bad as Jindabyne. 5000 ft up in the heavens. Went to sleep with the angels’ chilly bloodless feet on our faces.

Least said about the trip on Sunday the better! What roads! Seemed as if a major earthquake had overtaken them. Crossed a cattle ramp into Queensland at Wallangarra & had my first northern beer. Better than the Sydney slush anyway. More good (according to the ignorant locals) roads to 8 miles of NSW side of Warwick.

Through the Darling Downs to Toowoomba thence down a Big Dipper Hell towards Ipswich & Brisbane.

Extraordinarily fertile looking country in Qld. Well grassed and cared for. Houses surprisingly neat & tidy after NSW hovels. All curiously stuck on stilts.

And the toy tram lines.

And PUBS OPEN TILL 8 O’CLOCK!

Caravanning with Wep – Monday, 21st June 1937, Time to leave Jindabyne

Monday 21st June

Vague stirrings for a return to home. A home which we haven’t got. Having made up our minds to depart at earliest convenience are experience the yearning to achieve the objective. Am missing that vague contentment one enjoys on possession of a settled spot from which all actions radiate and return centreing. Jindabyne has for 5 weeks now been our focal point and accepting such have been resigned. But now its drifting and our petty path will soon be circumscribing a new focal point with its attendant fresh enthusiasm.

If only this b— weather would clear up and grant me just a few more days of placid sunlit warmth I could finish those paintings and depart with well satisfied heart. So little I have accomplished, so little I have still to do. The rain is even now pattering above us, each drop a period halting the rhythm of my painting. I am appalled at the meagreness of my accomplishment. I am so mortally lazy, so dismally lacking in creative force, so blarsted impatient with my inability to achieve quickly, or what? Or just groping in the dark. How can I achieve anything when as yet I have no definite eye to the realities that exist. Or arte the realities I perceive so diverse as to stay my fumbly hand. Each painting I attempt has a different technique, as following upon the different essence of the scene I find before me. My outlook so utterly in confusion, so adolescent, so many faceted! God, but it makes me slow. But has its compensations in the sheer joy of perception of beauty, nature’s prodigality of loveliness which many eyes are untrained to see – and to humbly wonder at. This break of mine, even if it accomplishes in production of paintings, next to nothing shall, I think, have served to have smoothed my corrugated soul and mellowed my mind and outlook with a simpler truer vision than that tortured, jangled outlook with which I left the city. The whisperings of nature and the very silences themselves conspire to heal the mind and have allegiance and yet city-bred, I need the stimulus of heightened tempo. Of congenial and intellectual intercourse so rarely met with among those bound to the earth from whence their living is torn. The land seems so exacting, seems to absorb the luxuriances of mind as it does the rain, leaving but a dried intelligence, shedding the withered intellect.

Capitalistic strife seems remote and foreign intrigue and war the evil machinations of inhuman and predatory maddened beasts. Nature, as above good or evil, inculcates simplicity.

The even tenor of our way has been such as a week has flown smoothly past and nothing has happened neither has it been noted.

Have been to Kos. Twice. Tuesday & Sunday. Made our farewell appearance yesterday and were god-speeded by pa Speet. (Apparently well pleased with the prospect of the Pidgeons with family.)

From 2 till 5 skied without stopping. Gave up only when my legs began to jelly and had almost ploughed my head through a trunk. Douglas at top of hill had to attend to cold and miserable Freddie embroidered with the loviest crisp and auburn locks. Am still jerky in my movements and using only will power in my left handed christs with dire results. Tore my skis to bits. Poor old Dawn a model child – sat without complaint, in car until 10 o’c. Jess tells her to have a good look for she’ll never see it again.

Gloomy word ‘never’, threw me into despondency with visions of death, and shortening life. These sudden panics no amount of philosophising can over ride. Maybe it is the fear of not getting anything done, not fulfilling my life, when there is so much to be done.

Did caricatures of Teddie and Donnie Speet today. Johnny Weston returned on Sat. from 3 day trip after grass, of which he found none. Very sorry for himself. Doesn’t know whether to blame the fall he had off a horse or the gin he drank with Straw last week. I’d say the gin.

Gloomy day. Gloomy me.

Caravanning with Wep – Friday, 11th June 1937, near Jindabyne

11th June

Time passing most uneventfully i.e.superficially. Ah, but I forget. Tuesday acted the good (or not so good) housewife to my poor missus as she lay stricken upon her sick bed waiting for a blessed minor event. Did all the housework with almost feminine skill and busied myself greatly with this and that.

Wednesday the blessed event came off. Jess rose and is looking up.

Porridge now is the order of the day. Rolled oats, sticky like clay, appearance seems to guarantee constipation of the direst severity. I don’t know whether to really lay the blame there or elsewhere, but something’s happened and I was doing so well too! Damn near had filled the Snowy Valley. Went up to Kos. At 12:00 on the strength of dirty weather during Mon & Tues and was b—- well duped. Nearest slushy water snow at Daner’s. Drove car up and mucked about half heartedly. Anyway Dawnie enjoyed it. Returned to Hotel and took it out in front of fire. Afternoon tea in the lap of luxury. Local gossip supplied by Charlie Krist.  Returning were amazed by the extraordinarily vivid cloud colourings during sunset. Such slashing oranges! The Alps afford us an unique collection of skies, both in quality and quantity. Such linear patterns as one’s imagination would scarcely credit. Bold sweeping curves circling the whole of the heavens. Staight lined shafts slicing off great areas of massed colour. Sinuous rhythms, green vaulting heavens, driving lead mists only feet above, vapours from out the valley, snow capped peaks lost in straggling lines. Forms vortexing towards the earth, their heavy lines tracing the wind currents set in motion by the enormous masses of the hills, an eerie suggestion of upside down solid reality. And all ever changing rapidly, assuming new forms in the very moment the eye peers from shape to shape.

Friday occupied in practically finishing painting of leafless forest. The tortured rhythm of tree form having driven me unconsciously into semblance of Van Gogh technique: can’t see how else I could have done it. I don’t suppose it matters much.

Had yarn to Johnny Weston about the poverty of the soil up here, and was informed his old lady had snavelled the sketch I did of him kicking the calf & is having it framed. Quite a decent scout, not like his grouchy brother pub keeper “Straw”.

Big hop on tonight at the Hall. All the girls getting round today in Kirby grips & setting pins. Whoops!

Caravanning with Wep – Monday, 7th June 1937; Dawn playing at Daner’s Gap, dinner at Hotel Kosciusko & frustrating caricatures

7th June

(Our first wet day)

(Jess very crook – 3 days)

 Went up to Kos. Again yesterday the third time within the week. Visited there on the Thursday & afternoon tead & took Dawnie up to Daner’s Gap. How she revelled in the snow, belly deep and leg embracing. How she scooped and chewed & pranced & SNIFFED. Too bad I didn’t have the camera to get a picture of her eating the blooming stuff. Hear her clicking galloping down the road after me. Seemed to be nowhere but under the points of my skis. Turned much better. Snow, what there was of it, delightful, powdery over a frozen surface. Fool proof. Would run out of petrol 2 miles from home, and of course would leave the tinfull at the camp. OF COURSE!

Three of us tramped drearily in great boots soon to feel like leaden boots of divers. Tramp back. Two cars passed going the wrong way, OF COURSE! Got back after an hours walking. No darn wonder my legs are getting fatter. Friday, another lousy strip. Wednesday, much excitement, PAY DAY, Whoops!

Saturday gave the old girl up in the hills a neck and did feel most disconsolate at night. Sunday, Kos. Did ourselves regally and had dinner at the Hotel. Sat by fire and listened or appeared to listen to Miss Happ telling dirty jokes. God! What a boresome business that all is. Met Arthur Hill who gave me a lift up to Daner’s in his car. Three others. Lent myself to help photograph’s appearance. Crowd from Cooma up there. What a joke the old boy with his sons were. And how he skied like riding a horse and with the bottom of his pyjamas showing beneath the leg of his trousers. A riot. In an old lorry – Christeson or something Swedish like. All swarming on the slope like maggots over a corpse.

Teddy took me into the Speet Holy of Holies where photos were duly inspected. Will I ever forget that old man Speet in his days of early marriage. Ma-Teddy & Pa & someone else. Ma-in-la I suppose. But Pa’s mustachios! Better than anything ever seen in the pictures or in musical comedy. Gendarmerie style – a la Kaiser avec splayed out ends. Classics of their kind. A real loss to posterity that he didn’t clip them off holus-bolus and mount them under glass. I could dream about their rhythm, their poetry, their fire! And I’ll bet he thought he was a wow!

Pretty near wasted a whole day trying to paint Ernst Skadarasy. Having gone wrong on him before I sadly think I’ll never get it right. What evil genius prompts me to tell people I’ll do them a caricature. I never can. A curious form of self flagellation. Just a waste of time & paper to say nothing of the havoc wrought amongst nerves & temper. IDIOT!

Did my own butchery today. Butch has cut his hand.

Been drawing cows this week.

What crazy visions of a life time’s art in 6 months I’ve entertained. How much I thought I’d do and learn and how little I have accomplished. A couple of paltry paintings and a realization of the immensity of the task. A realization of how little can be done in a few weeks – of how short the days are in which to endeavour. And of how hard it is to be resigned, to realise that it all doesn’t matter and that the number of paintings is not so important at the moment as learning to see. The time I spend in seeing. At least I’m learning that. A groundwork, a new outlook, a basis upon which I can build when the tempo of the mind is not so agitated, wanting to do all things, knowing it lacks the time. And yet, I think I’m learning.

War Letters Back Home – from Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Morotai and Borneo

During WW2, William Edwin Pidgeon (Wep) was a War Correspondent for The Australian Women’s Weekly. Between 1943 and 1945, Bill was attached to the Australian troops in Northern Australia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo and Morotai where he was situated when hostilities ceased in August 1945. In his work he recorded the daily lives of the men, women and natives around the camps, field hospitals, race meetings, church parades and some famous battle scenes. As a participant in their lives he drew and painted his subjects with a marked sense of involvement and an unmistakably Australian feeling of casualness. There is no straining after effect in his compositions, which are almost always of groups of figures in their appropriate settings. Their style is quite opposite to the style of the official war artist’s portrayal of troops in heroic action. The paintings are usually small in size, with a limited colour palette and restricted by what material was available on the run.

The following is a collection of letters to his wife, Jess, during these trips; letters composed in similar vein to his painting, yet full of visual verbal description describing life amongst the troops complete with illustrations scattered throughout.

Caravanning with Wep – Tuesday, 1st June 1937; Jindabyne and the excitement of first snow fall.

Campsite covered in snow

1st June

Patience rewarded. A biting wind all yesterday. Later, drizzle the noise of which ceased about 8 o’clock and a quiet murmurous warmth pervades the air. Jess goes out into the night for something or other, yells excitedly “Snow”. Instant excitement replaces sleepy boredom of work-doing. The “W. Weekly” strip pushed brusquely aside while I goggle & stare at the fat and sloshy falling snow. Great wet flakes defy expectations by falling noiselessly instead of splodging plunklyly. We run out with the lantern dancing in the whiteness. The alive quietness broken only by the sharp hiss of melting flake against the lamp. A curious velvety warmth replaces the chillness of the day. The heavens cloak the naked earth. We hasten to sleep so as to wake wide eyed upon an accomplished fact. 5 o’clock comes but the snow has been replaced by rain washing off the clinging whiteness. By 6:30 2 inches of snow still covers the land & has within the hours changed all colour. The country is hardly recognisable. Trees and fences are etched sharply against the paper white. Bewildered cattle and sheep nose in the damp seeking the grass that is hidden now from view. Three weeks calves, damp hided and amazed, bawl lustily for their parent’s comfort.

Dawn surveys the morning scene

We try to ski round the confined & grade less vicinity of the caravan. Hopeless endeavour. Dawnie stands in the caravan desolate & shivering. It is beyond her cognisance. We inveigle her out. She scampers & slips and bites the points of our skis. My low feeling disperses and we decide on Kosciusko. An early feed of soup and away. Chains are needed along the road & much to my rising annoyance are too big and flap madly against the mud guards. After two attempts I more or less remedy the trouble and re-enter the car with half the road on my arms and face.

Did a spot of skiing up near the Koscy on a down trodden practice ground. Elsewhere unreliable snow crusted over dangerous softness. Afternoon tea & home to sausages and eggs. The sky surprisingly variegated against the paling whiteness of the snow, blue then salmon then orange, reverting again to blue. Livid clouds smear the horizon. Cold! Return to snow less caravan. Feels like a hearty frost tonight.

George Longmuir came out over the week end & a good time was had by all. Took him up to snow less Kosciusko. Boiled twice on the way. Ate hearty on mixed grill. Billy of milk floated leisurely downstream during our absence.

(Margin note: Carl & Red dressed in everything but the hotel eiderdown.)