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Norwegians in Kiandra Gold Fields to Ski Fields  


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19/05/2017 8:23 pm  

By Norman W Clarke

Researcher Norman W Carke discovers that the oldest ski club in the world was created by a group of Norwegian miners in the now abandoned township of Kiandra, Australia

It was only a little over seventy years after the first European settlement of Australia, that one of the worlds first two ski clubs was formed. The Kiandra Snow Shoe Club still exists today and is known as The Kiandra Pioneer Ski club. As this club was the first on the snow by a few months, it not only ranks as the first ski club but also the oldest. 

The oldest ski club in the world claim has been made by the Kiandra club many times over the past half century. However in 2006 it was finally confirmed.

Karin Berg for the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, on 22nd June 2006 wrote the following: The Holmenkollen Ski Museum confirms that the first two ski clubs in the world were formed by Norwegians in 1861, both in Norway and Australia.

The Kiandra club also held the first ever fully documented International Ski Carnival.
The International race was won by Mr. Charles Menger from Texas who learned his skills on the slopes of Denver, Colorado. (He stayed in Australia and married into one of the first pioneering families). Second was an Australian skier named James Pattinson with Englishman Earl Prince third.

Norwegian whalers and seal hunters have been reported to have used skis as early as the 1830s in Tasmania. Three such Norwegians, Elias Gottaas, Soren Torp and Carl Bjerknes sought their fortunes on the Kiandra Gold Fields in 1860. Gold did not make their fame, but their contributions to sport did. There can be very little doubt that had these men not ventured to our shores, skiing as a recreation, would not have developed in Australia until the universal appetite for the sport took hold after the Second World War. 

Twelve years before the first major find of gold in Australia, Polish born explorer Count Paul Edmund de Strezlecki had been requested by George Gipps, the then Governor of NSW, to conduct a mineralogical and geological study of the districts now known as the Snowy Mountains. It was here that Strezlecki discovered small findings of gold. This gave credit to the possibility of larger strikes, resulting in people panning for the precious metal throughout the Colony. The following year, 1840, after reaching the highest summit in Australia he named the mountain Kosciuszko in honour of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish national hero. As reports of huge nuggets being found spread around the world, the Colonys population of 450,000 more than doubled to 1,000,000 by 1858. 

The biggest and earliest finds of gold had occurred in the southern districts of the continent, then when the gold chase moved to Kiandra, Elias followed, together with fellow Norwegians, Soren Gregoriussen Torp and Carl Bjerknes, who brought with them homeland knowledge of snow shoes and trade skills never before observed in Australia. By 10th February 1860, 1,000 "Miners Rights" had been issued, leading to Gibson Plains being named "The Kiandra Gold Field". Later it was proclaimed the township of Kiandra. By April of 1860, the population of this tiny town had exploded to over 7,000 people. 

Considerable snowfalls were most unexpected by the majority of miners, which led to the need for oversnow transportation, a problem solved by our northern visitors.
It was not simply a matter of making the same skis as Soren or Elias used at home, as Kiandra was on top of the mountain and cross-country skiing was not an option in Kiandra. To travel twenty miles in any direction out of town and attempt to return from down the mountain, would most certainly result in disaster. Hunting as a sport or for non-hibernating edible food in winter, was also out of the question. Wild horses, rabbits, and foxes had not yet been introduced and the kangaroos were grazing on the lower slopes with the cattle and sheep. With the exception of the occasional colourful rosellas, lorikeets and black and white magpies, even birds were rare near the top of the tree line in winter. (Rabbits were first introduced near the Sydney Colony in 1859, Foxes in 1871.) g" alt="Kiandra skis for climbing: a rope was laced from the tip of the shoe down to the step-in strap binding" width="51" height="188" align="LEFT" border="0" vspace="10" />
Kiandra skis were made for two purposes: the first was to enable mobility to guard personal belongings on the gold fields during the snowbound months; the second was for relaxation and sport. The Norwegian miners were quick to realise their familiar long running skis were of little use on the mountain. Even though the first skis they made were over seven feet in length, they were considerably wider than the northern running ski. To climb the slopes, a rope or hemp was laced from the tip of the shoe down to the step-in strap binding. (see photo) For extra stability, this binding often had a block located behind the rubber Gumboots the riders wore. For steeper slopes and harder snow, strips of Snow-Gum bark were often threaded under the climbing rope. 

The photograph of Soren G. Torp was supplied by the Oslo Museum Curator, Mr. Jakob Vaage. The Curator also stated that Soren Gregoriussen Torp, born in 1803, was one of the many Norwegians involved in the gold rush of 1860. He returned to his home city of Mandal about 1877 after having spent many years in Australia. Another Norwegian gold miner, who would have had considerable experience in the snow was Neils Larsen. In 1867, after changing his name to Peter Lawson, he and his wife, Louisa, were on the gold fields at Grenfell, NSW where they became parents to the man who soon would become one of Australia's favourite authors, Henry Lawson.

Elias Louise Gottaas, acknowledged as being the first to make and use skis in this country, remained in the Kiandra - Adaminaby district where many of his descendants still reside. 

Carl Bjerknes, referred to as being Danish, has been immortalised in the poem, The Demon Snow Shoes:

The Demon Snow Shoes

The snow lies deep on hill and dale, 
In rocky gulch and grassy vale:
The tiny, trickling, tumbling falls
Are frozen 'twixt their rocky walls
That grey and brown look silent down
Upon Kiandra's shrouded town.

The Eucumbene itself lies dead,
Fast frozen in its narrow bed;
And distant sounds ring out quite near,
The crystal air is froze so clear; 
While to and fro the people go
In silent swiftness o'er the snow.

And, like a mighty gallows-frame,
The derrick in the New Chum claim
Hangs over where, despite the cold,
Strong miners seek the hidden gold,
And stiff and blue, half-frozen through,
The fickle dame of Fortune woo.

Far out, along a snow-capped range,
There rose a sound which echoed strange: 
Where snow-emburthen'd branches hang,
And flashing icicles, there rang
A gay refrain, as towards the plain
Sped swiftly downward Carl the Dane.

His long, lithe snow-shoes sped along
In easy rhythm to his song;
Now slowly circling round the hill,
Now speeding downward with a will;
The crystals crash and blaze and flash 
As o'er the frozen crust they dash.

The breezes o'er each shoulder tossed
His beard, bediamonded with frost;
His eyes flashed strangely, bushy-browed;
His breath hung round him like a shroud;
He never spoke, nor silence broke, 
But by the Dane sped stroke for stroke.

Among the hills the first he shone
Of all who buckled snow-shoe on;
For though the mountain lads were fleet,
But one bold rival dare compete,
To veer and steer, devoid of fear,
Beside this strong-limbed mountaineer.

'Twas Davy Eccleston who dared
To cast the challenge: If Carl cared
On shoes to try their mutual pace,
Then let him enter for the race,
Which might be run by anyone
A would-be champion. Carl said 'Done!'

But not alone in point of speed
They sought to gain an equal meed;
For in the narrow lists of love
Dave Eccleston had cast the glove:
Though both had prayed, the blushing maid
As yet no preference betrayed,

But played them off, as women will,
One `gainst the other one, until -
A day when she was sorely pressed -
To loving neither youth confessed;
But did exclaim-the wily dame! 
"Who wins this race, I'll bear his name!"

Her words were ringing through Carl's head
As o'er the frozen crust he sped,
But suddenly became aware 
That not alone he travelled there:
He sudden spied, with swinging stride,
A stranger gliding by his side:

The pistol flashed, and off they went
Like lightning on the steep descent.
Resistlessly down-swooping, swift
O'er the smooth face of polished drift
The racers strain with might and main;
But in the lead flies Carl the Dane.

Old man! I do not know your name,
Nor what you are, nor whence you came
But this: if I but had your shoes
This champion race I ne'er could lose.
To call them mine, those shoes divine,
I'll gladly pay should you incline.'

The stranger merely bowed his head
'The shoes are yours,' he gruffly said.
'I change with you, though at a loss;
And in return I ask that cross
Which, while she sung, your mother hung
Around your neck when you were young.'

Carl hesitated when he heard
The price, but not for long demurred,
And gave the cross. With trembling haste
The shoes upon his feet were laced
So long, yet light and polished bright
His heart beat gladly at the sight.

Now, on the morning of the race,
Expectancy on every face,
They come the programme to fulfil
Upon the slope of Township Hill. 
With silent feet the people meet,
While youths and maidens laughing greet.

High-piled the flashing snowdrifts lie,
And laugh to scorn the sun's dull eye,
That, glistening feebly, seems to say:
'When Summer comes you'll melt away!
You'll change your song when I grow strong:
I think so, though I may be wrong.'

Behind him Davy did his best,
With hopeless eye and lip compressed:
Beat by a snow-shoe length at most,
They flash and pass the winning-post.
The maiden said, 'I'll gladly wed
The youth who in this race has led.'

But where was he? Still speeding fast,
Over the frozen stream he passed.
They watched his flying form until
They lost it over Sawyers' Hill;
Nor saw it more: the people swore
The like they'd never seen before.

The way he scaled that steep ascent
Was quite against all precedent;
While others said he could but choose
To do it on those demon shoes.
They talked in vain, for Carl the Dane
Was never seen in flesh again.

But now the lonely diggers say
That sometimes at the close of day,
They see a misty wraith flash by,
With the faint echo of a cry.
It may be true; perhaps they do:
I doubt it much; but what say you?

Poem by Barcroft Boake (1866-1893)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Norman W. Clarke is the author of the book "Kiandra - Gold Fields to Ski Fields". 

Message for distributors in the USA
: The Kiandra Ski club is anxious to locate a retailer/distributor in the USA. Orders of over 1000 would be delivered direct from our printers in New Delhi. Any order over 5000 would guarantee sole distribution in the USA.

This article was published in in January 2007


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