Published online: Sunday, 30 October 2011
This is an excerpt from Mick's forthcoming book on the snowy mountains
The Maid of the Mountains
I was born in 1926 in Holbrook. Dad's side, McLaurin came out from Scotland in 1836. They arrived as free settlers on "The Brilliant" in January 1837... about 28 in James McLaurin's family. They over landed cattle to Adelaide from Southern NSW... Holbrook area. My home was the property "Mirrabooka" at Holbrook. In 1950 I had read Elyne Mitchell's book "Speak to the Earth". She was the daughter of Harry Chavell. I also read "Soil & Civilisation" by her and "The Silver Brumby". I'd been skiing up the Snowy & I thought holy dooly! I'd love to ride up there cause I loved riding in the mountains. My brother used to call me the Maid of the Mountains cause I was always riding among mountains. Well I just wanted to do it, I sort of knew I'd be alright. My father James McLaurin thought he'd better come with me even though I was 24. He was very protective, it was 1950.
We had one packhorse and 3 riders and 4 more saddle horses. The 3rd rider was Gwen Peck. I wasn't a very good quartermaster & we went hungry some of the time. We stayed in the mountain huts. We rode up through Tumbarrumba, Batla & Kiandra & Whites River Hut then Red Hut above the old Ski Chalet at Charlottes Pass. From Red Hut up the top of Kosciusko we got held up by rain a few days and some stockmen guided us down Hannel's Spurr and as far as Bringabong. Then we wended our way down the Murray Valley Highway. We were 3 weeks on that trip. Some of the horses lost a lot of weight but came through fine. There was a bit of an article in a rural paper by Gwen. That was the only write up.
When we were riding past Spencer's Creek we sighted 2 or 3 surveyors with their tripods and gear, working but I really wasn't aware of the beginning of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. I was just keen to experience the Snowy Mountains Summer. I've always loved the bush, I now live in town in Gunnedah & really miss not being able to see the sun set. I would tell young people follow your dream. The trip comes back to me sometimes when I'm dreaming... like all the beautiful old miners huts in Kiandra. Love God above all and love your neighbour as yourself, that's my philosophy. When there's just the bush around you and you have to be self reliant, I think it's a very good feeling. Yes I think having a childhood in the bush puts you in good stead the rest of your life. It's all so modern & mechanised now. It's a very different life now Michael... a very different life. I think there is a lot of tremendous care by landowners now for their land. I utterly understand the aboriginal people... how they worship the land, It's part of their spirituality isn't it? And for some of us it is too. Oh it's wonderful to have history documented. I go to Curves in Gunnedah. On the wall is one of Gandhi's sayings: "Be the person you'd like the world to be". I think it's a great saying. I just love that Snowy River area. Oh brought up on Banjo Patterson... "The Bush Christening" and "The man from Ironbark". It's good if we can laugh about things isn't it? At home mother always fed us very well. Dad used to say "I'd rather pay for fruit'n veggies than pay for a doctor". He was a digger and had a man working for him called Darky Gordon, who was in the First Light Horse & had been an Anzac. Darky used to enjoy saddling my horse for my early morning ride. I was only 11 or 12, but I remember thinking: "Gee it's an honour to have a Gallipoli Veteran saddling my horse for me!". It's really history isn't it.
Since the early 1970s, Mick Joffe's passion has been to caricature and record endangered characters of Australia, and the world. As of 2015, the majority of these interviews exist only in manuscript form.