30 years of Bogong Horseback Adventures

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The growing Baird family; Kath, Steve, Alex, Lin, Clay, Lucie and Felix – December 2016
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Kath, Steve, Lin and Clay – circa 1988
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Steve riding down Eskdale Spur – circa 1996
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Family photo on Mount Bogong – December 1989

This is our celebratory thirty year newsletter. They say some don’t read text just look at pictures but thirty years is a long time in the adventure tourism industry, to be honest I will have to start a book to tell the full story; but here goes into our blog- I urge you to be inspired tap into your deepest space in your heart, set aside a little part of your day and read our story, or at least our story so far; perhaps you have already been apart of ‘our story’ and if you haven’t then maybe you could make ‘ours’ apart of yours.

In 1986, Steve and I embarked on a journey with a truckload of horses, two young boys; Lin just four years old and Clay was still in nappies.

We left our award winning home that we had built and where the boys were born in Tonimbuk to a life of adventures, hard work and rented a tiny flat adjacent paddocks in Mountain Creek road, Tawonga, Clive Hanson owned, what was then called Mountain Creek School Camp. He recognised the difficulties we had in running a pack-horse business and trail ride business out of a tiny flat. He then purchased a movable house for us and put it in the middle of the front paddock where it roasted in the heat and froze in the winter frost. We did our best to renovate, building a veranda all around where helpers slept in the summer, and winter time Steve got outside work either at Falls Creek or 4×4 Diamantina desert tours. We built hitching rails and of our plant and equipment were stored in a shed. We ran our trail riding business from there but sometimes I think back and imagine what our guests thought as they arrived. The comedy ‘Foot Rot Flats’ comes to mind.

28th of December 1987 Steve left on packhorse trip and as I was shovelling manure and cleaning up after loading pack horses with Steve and Greg Pownall that morning. I was called to the telephone, it was mum. I’ll never forget her words for as long as I live.

“Kath,” she said, “Dad had a fall off Firefly today, he’s dead Kath, stone dead.”

I remember a sound came out of my guts, a groan, a deep painful groan. It was final, those words. There was no chance I would ever see him again. I didn’t know what to do, the pain is still with me to this day. There were no mobile phones so I rang a friend, Pete Irvine and he came around immediately. We jumped in my car and he drove me to try and catch Steve on the trip before he got into the National Park. I don’t remember much of our conversation through my gasps and shock but what I do remember is he said he would go no further and come home with me.

Having met some good local people, Steve rang my dear friend Leonie Roper who knew the mountains well and she and Greg Pownall continued on, leading the pack trip. Small communities like ours during times of hardships are the reason why we stayed. We buried Dad at 62 years old, on New Years eve, 1987 on their 35th Wedding Anniversary. Mum, Eleanor Viney insisted we stay and continue our dream of building a future with our boys and working in the field of horses and adventure tourism. I ached to go home to Tonimbuk.

One year later grief turned into anxiety. Panic attacks became a regular occurrence but were never acknowledged or talked about back then, for twenty years I suffered and never understood what was happening to me. Here was I, running trail rides, being responsible for so many people to keep them safe and enjoy their experience. The mob of horses we had purchased were terrific but looking back now, I recognise just how full on they were. I think when I saw an ad in the Albury Border Mail for a clinic with Wayne Banney where it read “Have you a problem horse?”

I recognised the need to change our practice and said to Steve “I think we should hire a truck”. That weekend clinic changed my life forever. Grandpa used to say “The day you think you know everything about horses Kath, is the day you never put your foot in a stirrup again”. Grandpa Frank was a light horseman in World War 1 and was a big part of my childhood with horses and had already taught me so much. We had already started a breeding program using an Australian Stock Horse, Inca Gold recognising that to go and look for quality horses to purchase was always a challenge. Traveling with two small children and miles on the road, to turn up to view a horse that was always ‘8yo, easy to shoe catch, saddle and float’ hmm, not necessarily. After the awe inspiring clinic by Wayne Banney, the long reining taught by grandpa went out the window and natural horsemanship was born into the training practices of Bogong horseback Adventures and our breeding program began in earnest.

In 1989, We went to an auction; a burley tobacco shed near Myrtleford was for sale the top end of the Buckland Valley. Burley tobacco was air dried, so the shed was a huge corrugated iron roof with peppermint posts lashed together in levels where the tobacco sat to dry. The building was passed in at auction but I, was determined to get out of the sun, out of the rain, and build some stables like mum and dad had done in Tonimbuk, where I had grown up, where I met Steve and was living and running trail rides for mum and dad in Tonimbuk. So I rang Mr Iaria and sweet talked him over the phone. Steve was working at Falls Creek during the winter to make ends meet, so the project of dismantling this massive building and trucking it home began. It now stands proudly with a new shape to create our stables. Steve’s passion for Australian architecture has inspired him to build traditional iconic buildings, using passive solar design, to design and build a beautiful family home, business, and a safe work environment. It was a bare paddock when we purchased from Clive Hansen. An orchard was planted after the stables, shade trees and a Veggie garden to sustain our family and helpers. Wayne Pendlebury now had a hut to live in and the family home was always ‘home’ to many young travellers, ‘WWOOFers’ who wanted to experience traditional Australian Packing riding horses, learning Natural horsemanship and sleeping out under the Milky Way, with the gentle sounds of hobble chains and grazing horses fattening up on the sweet high country clover. I met a mutual friend here Nereda Rink (her husband and Steve had been south coast surfing mates in their youth) here one Easter, she loved horses and natural horsemanship techniques and wanted to help out. One wild night at the Man From Snowy river Festival we decided to go to America and work at Rock Creek pack station in the Sierras. First time out of the country for me and first time in the States for Nereda, and for me just the thing to attempt with chronic undiagnosed back pain. When we landed back in Australia, we were both changed women. Nereda wanted to work with horses and so came and partnered with us for some years, she would be able to tell you how long, what year the horses were born, what day it was. I relied on her more and more as Steve and I were wearing out. My back was causing me more and more pain. I used to take rides prototyping rear view mirrors that would attach to the saddle, as I led the rides so there would be no need to twist in the saddle; often opting to ‘tail end Charlie’ and mask up with a bandana to filter the dust. After the 2003 bushfires here in the Alps, Nereda returned the coastal home of Apollo Bay to be close to her mum and now a growing mob of grandchildren, and her mum’s Great Grandchildren. Saddling up horses, loading packhorses and riding for days on end was proving to be more and more difficult for us both, I started riding less and less and Nereda missed her family more and more. Our shared commitment to our families and the shared experience of losing ‘our dads’ made the decision to part ways in business; but the bonds of friendship will forever remain.

Diagnosed with terminal cancer mum, Eleanor Viney left her beloved Tonimbuk and her youngest daughter Joanne, my sister, and came to live with Steve and I here at Spring Spur. It was the toughest but most beautiful time in my life, Those last cruel months of struggling with cancer, we laughed we cried but mostly we loved. She died in February 2006, she lays with her ‘one true love’, Bill Viney at Bunyip Cemetery.

The smart thing to do would be to call it a day, sell all our stock and sell the farm. Lin and Clay had been coming home most summers to help us where they could. It was time to decide where they wanted to set their roots.

They chose home.

We have started a kind of family experiment, building Spring Spur Stay and continuing creating a ‘place of friendship and family’ uniquely Australian; although a few western saddles, crosscut pack saddles? and even mules (George and Mildred) are creeping in to the stock and plant. Life evolves around our experiences and passion and although mules were used here in the high country, they are more commonly seen and used in the U.S.A.

Change is healthy and the prodigal sons now proudly call Spring Spur their home. They have built Spring Spur with their father Steve, and a host of awesome travellers that will be remembered and hold gold cards for the rest of their lives, you know who you are if reading this story. There are way too many to mention. Lucie Durant~Baird and Alex Phillips now bring the female balance to our family business, Lucie giving birth to Clay’s son last August, our delightful grandson Félix Earl Baird. The horse lineage continues though the veins of his French and Russian blood; Lucie’s Great Grandfather was the horse breeder for the palace of the Russian Czar, Nicolas the 2nd fleeing Russia just before the Russian Revolution.

The buildings are passive solar design and using mostly recycled timbers we carefully considered the accomodation for our guests, creating beautiful spaces to share or enjoy in isolation, your own private verandah off your spacious modern bedrooms, en-suites and heavenly beds to support you after your adventure riding the mountains.

So, Where are you? What are you doing this Summer? Come and share this uniquely Australian Adventure with us. New Year Eve under the Milky way, snug in your swag, smells of Alpine mint in your nostrils, connect with your deepest part of your self, connect with your equine friend, connect with your family, friends or lover. Leave you troubles in a little bag by the door as you leave your busy lives and take sanctuary in the arms of the Mountains visit Bogong Horseback Adventures and Spring Spur stay, I promise you that the bag you left at the front door won’t seem as heavy when you get home.

with Love and gratitude,

Kath Baird and family.

A house in the Mountains

Equine Magazine

Story by Ute Raabeyardarialsml

You could be forgiven for thinking that this is the famous station of The Man from Snowy River, or perhaps the long- lost family farm of bushranger Ned Kelly. But no, this is Spring Spur, home of the Baird family and their horses.

It is late afternoon when I drive up the gentle hill towards the homestead. A beautiful chestnut is grazing peacefully in a paddock on my left, just casting a curious glance towards my car. As I later learn, it is the young ASH stallion Moroka. More horses are scattered across the slopes on the right. I park and stretch my legs as I get out and take in the spectacular scenery.

There is the peak of Mount Feathertop, and the imposing bulk of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, looming over the Kiewa Valley to the east. This lone massif is separated from the Bogong High Plains by the deep cut of the Big River and basks in the autumn sun’s warmth.

The colours seem to be changing with every hour of the day and the view never ceases to amaze. I have arrived at the heart of Victoria’s High Country, in the north-east corner of the state.

It is an area famous for its national parks, mountains, lakes, ski resorts, vineyards, and a colourful history including gold diggers, cattlemen, and bushrangers.

The early cattlemen identified Staircase Spur, Eskdale Spur, Long Spur and T Spur as the most practical stock routes to the summer pastures up high. Bringing up the herds from the Kiewa and Mitta Mitta valleys, and across from the High Plains via Duane Spur, the going was always a bit challenging, but rewarding at the same time.

Tourists from all over Australia, who have come to taste locally produced cheeses and small goods and enjoy outdoor activities like bushwalking, cycling, scenic driving, fishing or skiing, have now replaced the cattle.

The High Country is a year-round destination and continues to change with the seasons, from deep snow cover and icy ridges in mid-winter to a blanket of spectacular wild flowers in early summer or deciduous trees in their autumnal splendour.

The homestead looks deserted so I decide to walk up to the imposing yet airy stable barn, and there I bump into Steve and Lin Baird, father and son, and half of Bogong Horseback Adventures, the family business (which is of course named after Mount Bogong) and is renowned for packhorse expeditions into remote areas of the Alpine National Park. The other half is Lin’s brother, Clay and Steve’s wife, Kath.

A warm welcome is exchanged, followed by Steve looking at his watch and deciding it’s ‘beer o’clock.’ While Lin and his team of helpers take over the feeding of the horses, dogs and chooks, I follow Steve to the new riders’ lounge and Spring Spur Stay accommodation, which was added to the property about two years ago.

The riders’ lounge project was born out of the idea to create an inviting place that riders and families visiting Bogong Horseback Adventures could relax before and after a ride – a place to enjoy a home- cooked meal and re-live the fun and excitement of a recent ride over a drink with new and old friends.

The lounge is adorned with vintage furniture collected by Kath, beautiful black and white photographs of the old days, a library filled to the brim with a collection of antique books, and a chandelier made of horseshoes.

The pride of place under a huge panoramic window belongs to the impressive ‘long table’, which was made by Kath’s father, Bill Viney, in 1970.

The church pews on either side are alpine ash from St Pat’s in Albury. When visitors step into the riders’ lounge for the first time, the initial reaction is usually the same, Lin tells me later: “A lot of people go ‘Wow, this is great,’ as they see the big window and the view towards Mt Feathertop and are surprised.”

Attention to detail and love for the place is evident everywhere, for example the floor of the guest accommodation. It is made up of leftover bits and pieces from granite kitchen bench tops; there are many different textures and colours, but put together they form the most amazing patchwork floor tiles.stay

Every building has been designed and built to minimize the environmental impact; every stone tells a story.

Spring Spur was built on the strong backs of energetic and hard-working country folk and with the help of many friends and dedicated workers. The property sits on just over 100 acres; another 160 acres are leased for pasture.

When Kath and Steve acquired the land about 30 years ago, it was just a cow paddock, or “one hundred acres with a fence around the outside” as Steve recalls. The young couple developed everything from scratch, from the roadways to the water supply, from the yards to the trees and gardens, and the stable and residential buildings.

They stumbled across the property somewhat by accident. “When we first arrived here, we had customers already booked, a truckload of horses and saddles, a couple of snotty-nosed kids, but nowhere to live.”

“So we were introduced to a bloke who rented us a little flat next to the pine plantation. We were very lucky to have met Clive, as he owned the farm next door that we eventually bought from him. It was a coincidence, but I couldn’t have chosen a better place,” Steve says proudly.

His family has been around the High Country since the gold rushes of the 1860s, and Steve has always felt a special connection to the alpine landscape and its rugged terrain, wild rivers and snow gum forests.

“I’ve lived in different parts of Australia, but I’ve always come back to north-east Victoria because it’s beautiful; there are four distinct seasons which I enjoy and which are reflected in our business because we do different things at different times.”

“My parents were great adventurers and never missed an opportunity to take their kids away to the mountains, to the beach or to the desert. That instilled an appreciation of the natural world and fond memories of the landscape of the northeast in me.”

“It’s funny, you drive up the Hume Highway and then you turn into a valley, whether it’s the Ovens Valley, the King Valley or the Kiewa Valley, and you feel this great sense of adventure, the mountain environment just has that effect with the special light about it, the mountains, the valleys, the rivers – there’s drama in the landscape.”

Steve spent a couple of years studying architecture before he eventually became a builder. He met Kath when her parent’s farm in Gippsland was changing from a dairy farm to a trail riding business and growing its horse numbers from the initial group of kids’ ponies.

Kath had grown up around horses, but Steve felt comfortable to be involved as well and proved to be a quick learner, soon exploring the trails around Tonimbuk and the Great Dividing Range.

He remembers, “After we made a few trips into the mountains with other people in the 1970s I became particularly interested in the business of pack horses.”

“There was a risk that the techniques and traditions were being forgotten about and lost. So that was part of the reason we decided to take on this business up here. We would focus on packhorses to give us a sense of differentiation from other tour and horse riding operators. It started to genuinely protect the packhorse heritage and share the experience. And that’s the way it turned out!”

They left Tonimbuk in 1986 and purchased the goodwill and license of a High Country riding business and, along the way, collected a mixture of tried and new horses and equipment.

“We decided to get out of the building business and start this new venture on our own, rather than continuing with Kath’s parents’ place in Gippsland. Because of my background and love of the northeast, we knew it was beautiful countryside to ride in. With the plains, and the stock camps and great terrain for mountain riding, it is just a terrific place to set up a riding business. For me it was a little bit like coming home,” Steve continues

“When we were in Gippsland, Melbourne was growing and encroaching closer and closer, so we were looking for a strong little community, a place for the kids to grow up but not too isolated. Down here we have all the things you need to make a healthy community.”

Nonetheless, it was a huge decision for the young couple and their two little boys aged four and two to leave Kath’s family, their support network and an established business behind.

But they had plenty of passion and a big sense of adventure, throwing themselves into learning the ways of the mountains, navigating, finding good camps and practising the art of pack-saddling.

Over the past three decades Steve’s and Kath’s dream has become a reality, the buildings have morphed into the landscape, the gardens have matured and their team of horses has carried an edgling trail riding business, run from the back of a truck, into the well-run and award-winning operation that Bogong Horseback Adventures is today.

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Spring Spur has developed into a unique place with its vast views across the valley and the forest backdrop that has an abundance of birds and wildlife.

There’s a sense of remoteness and peace and quiet that comes from isolation, yet the property is neither too far from the township of Tawonga nor too remote for visitors to access.

All the buildings are designed in the same style of heritage architecture that can be seen on the big stations, with lots of iron and raw timber.

Where did the inspiration come from for the property? Steve explains, “When I was younger I visited different stations in various parts of Australia, and I always liked the properties that had been developed like a little village, with a station store, a homestead, the workers’ quarters and sheds – like a collection or cluster of buildings that created a real village atmosphere. That idea always appealed to me.”

“We always had a rough master plan in the back of our minds and as we have added things we have made sure that they still complement the whole idea. I like the fact that it is a working property.”

“People come here and can immerse themselves in a horse experience; there is always something going on. And they are staying with a family. We do not separate staff and guests; we enjoy meals together and talk about horses and life. All that makes it very rewarding for our visitors.”

It was also a rewarding and exciting upbringing for Lin and his younger brother Clay, who remember a childhood filled with adventures, riding horses and exploring in the forest. They went to the local school in Tawonga, but at home they would mingle with guests and staff from all corners of the globe.

Later, Lin studied Multimedia and Design in Melbourne, skills that come in handy when it comes to managing the Bogong Horseback website and other marketing platforms. Clay did a Diploma in Film and Television and worked on a few productions, including the acclaimed Van Diemen’s Land, a 2009 Australian thriller set in 1822 colonial Tasmania.

Of course, it was not long before the brothers wanted to fly the nest and see the world. They spent almost a decade away as cooks and expedition leaders on horse outfits in the Californian Sierra Nevada Mountains, Central and South America and the UK.

Lin reflects, “We spent some time in California at Rock Creek pack station and worked with a bunch of cowboys from all over the States, old cowboys from Montana, Arizona and Oregon, and Texan cowboys, who are a breed of their own.”

“We had a lot of packing experience from the family business at home, but we learned a lot about the American way of packing, how to pack mules and do multi-day expeditions into the High Sierras.”

George and Mildred, the two mules on the property, are a testament to Lin’s and Clay’s time in the USA.

Lin clarifies, “We pack the mules in the traditional American style, but all of our pack horses are packed in the Australian way. There are some differences, but the fundamentals are the same, even weights and no overloading.”

The brothers have taken over the day-to-day operations from their parents. They are a versatile pair, both cook, manage the marketing and booking side of the business, shoe and pack the horses and lead pack trips among the many other tasks required.

“Mum and dad have put in the miles in the past. However, their roles are still very important, and dad is helping every day, including in the office.”

Working closely with the family does, of course, have its challenges as Lin admits, albeit not before giving his dad, who is sitting next to him, a smug smile.

“We work pretty well together. The biggest challenge for all of us would be separating family life from business. I think we have achieved that by building the riders’ lounge building here. We now have an office instead of working from our living room table, mum’s and dad’s house has become more of a home for them and dad can find the time to retreat to his studio more often.”

“I think the key to a well-functioning family business is good relationships, planning your week and getting things organised, and having that time out from the business. The latter can be hard, especially when you live on the property. For example, I try and only ever answer emails when I’m in the office or the riders’ lounge. If you follow those rules, you can make it work.”

Lin’s favourite part of the property is the vegetable garden, “Though it does need a fair bit of work at the moment… I also love the top of the back hill.” In the winter time, many little springs pop up on that back hill, and they have given the property its name, Spring Spur.

Steve’s favoured place of late is a big old tree by the spring that feeds the dam. “Because we had quite a dry autumn I was down there the other day, looking at the dam, and thinking to myself that this is a really important place, this spring and this tree, it is what keeps everything alive on this property.”

“I like to remind myself that there is good water coming out of the ground there, and that is essential to everything else here.”

Aside from a few finishing touches, the property as it is now is the finished vision of the Baird family. Those finishing touches may include a little pergola beer garden, a new garden shed and hothouse and perhaps a cellar shortly.

“And I would like to build a bigger studio,” Steve throws in. He is an accomplished artist, and many of his creations can be admired in the guest accommodation. One of his topics is infamous horses that have been in famous narratives and are brought to life in his art series called Horse Myths.

The first Horse Myths project traced a narrative about one the favourite horses of Australian explorer Ernest Giles – a mare named “The Fair Maid of Perth”, which disappeared mysteriously into the Gibson Desert.

Another subject is Ned Kelly’s favourite horse, Music. Steve immerses himself in Australia’s rich history and landscape to find ideas and inspiration for his art and his passion becomes evident when he recites the story of the Fair Maid, Billy at the dance or legendary explorer Ferdinand von Mueller.

An exhibition of his artwork in Melbourne’s Bright Space gallery is planned for later this year.

As long established and responsible operators, the Baird family are entrusted with horse access to some special areas such as the stony refuge of Cleve Cole Hut or Eskdale Spur at the head of Mountain Creek.

But there’s always a bit of red tape to negotiate when you are working in a national park, and Bogong Horseback had its fair share of it.

Steve notes, “Over the 30 years we’ve been here, I suppose our biggest hurdle would have been access into the Park. We’ve always had access, but there was always the risk of losing it. Thankfully, we now have a good relationship with Parks Victoria, but it took me to get there. We also had ten years of drought in the 90s, some serious bush fires and Equine Influenza. During that time, we had to keep our horses on the property and could only ride within the property boundaries.”

They have also had their fair share of family tragedies, particularly when Kath’s dad was killed in a horse accident on his property.

“Aside from dealing with the trauma and the loss, it made us re-assess how we manage risks around horses. In the end, that became quite a positive, we changed lots and lots of practices to make it a safe and enjoyable experience. It also marked the start of our way to natural horsemanship,” Steve recalls.

“These are the milestones, but the buildings – we just enjoyed doing that! Breeding horses, starting and educating them is also great fun. We have been here long enough now that we are into the third or fourth generation of horses, so we know their parents and their grandparents. The original horses are no longer with us, but their descendants are in a lot of cases.”

“Our horses are not a collection of individuals, they are a herd, and they have a lot of heritage that relates to this property and their work in the mountains. The young horses learn from the old horses; they learn the camp routines very quickly, where the camps are, what they should and shouldn’t eat – that’s something you can’t buy or create, it takes time, intelligence and knowledge.”

“It doesn’t often happen because most horses are bred here, but when a new horse arrives on the property, they are usually a month behind our horses when they start to grow their winter coats. For our horses, it is part of their cycle, and it is right now,” Steve adds laughing.

The current Bogong mob comprises 60 horses, of which 40 are working horses and the remaining 20 are made up of youngsters, broodmares, retirees and two stallions. While there’s a brumby mare in the herd, the majority of the Baird’s horses are stock horses.

The stallions, Ashlar Stud Simply Red and Moroka, both descend from Australian Stock Horse heritage lines. Red is registered with the ASH stud book as a breeding stallion. Steve explains, “Stock horses have a history of all sorts of horses in them anyway. Some of our mares have Quarter horse in them, some a bit of heavy horse to accommodate larger people. It’s good to have those two different types of stallions; we can match them to the mares and hopefully get the sort of result that we are after.”

Looking over the property, he says, “I reckon we are sort of past where our vision was originally. With any business, but particularly with a family business, it’s important to take a breath every five years and take a good look at what you’re doing and where you’re going. Give yourself new goals, some new vitality, and things to strive for, but also discard things that maybe aren’t working instead of struggling on with it. You have to keep re-inventing yourself.”

In many ways, the High Country has also re- invented itself since the Baird family first settled at Spring Spur. The biggest impact can be attributed to bushfires; some areas may take up to 100 years to recover. Lin adds that the fires sparked a cultural change as well.

“First, they took the cattle off the high plains, which was a bit of a shame regarding the heritage. The ecology has recovered from the cattle, which has been replaced by the deer in the lower areas. Secondly, how the humans visit the Park has changed, there’s a huge increase in cycle tourism and a lot of mountain bikes frequent the High Country these days.”

“They are supposed to stick to the tracks, and most of them do. Also, people are going for smaller hikes and are looking for a bit of glamping to go with it.”

“They are testing some eco-lodge accommodation projects in the old stockyards, and that is great, but I don’t want them to forget the heritage either, and that is horses in the High Country.”

While horses and the High Country go together like bread and butter, you don’t need to be a rider to enjoy the hospitality, stories of the past, good food and great atmosphere of Spring Spur.

Musicians, actors, captains of industry and artists have visited the property in the past. But as Lin grins, “Johnny Depp hasn’t been here yet. He’d probably want to bring his own horse, but we need to respect Australian biosecurity laws…”

Victoria’s High Country Harvest is a tasty celebration

The Weekly Times

Words by Riahn Smith

High time: Explore the Alpine National Park on horseback with Lin and Clay Baird as part of this month’s High Country Harvest festival. “IT’S a cornucopia at this time of year,” says Steve Baird about Victoria’s High Country. “The riches available in the area are second to none.” Steve and his wife, Kath, moved to Tawonga, just north of Mt Beauty, 30 years ago “with a couple of young kids, a truck load of horses and a bit of a dream”. Three decades later and they have built a successful family business comprising trail rides, a stock horse stud and on-farm stays with their sons, Lin and Clay. This month, their property — the 40ha Spring Spur — will host four special riding and dining events as part of the region’s High Country Harvest. The festival, which runs from May 13-22, is a 10-day celebration of North East Victoria’s famous food and wine culture. The Baird family’s contribution — for the third year in a row — is “To Lunch on Horseback”, a three-hour horse ride through the lower levels of the Alpine National Park followed by a long lunch at the homestead’s riders lounge on each Saturday and Sunday of the festival. “It goes through a beautiful part of the landscape with great views of the Kiewa Valley,” Steve says. “Then the guests will come back for a long lunch. It’s not fine dining, it’s a robust, rustic style of food and all our recipes are inspired by our experiences out on expedition where we’re mostly cooking over coals.” Steve says the majority of the produce will come from the property, with a small amount to be sourced locally. The Bairds raise their own pigs, chickens and goats (although goat will not be on the Harvest menu), and have an extensive garden of fruits and vegetables. “The eating experience is all about trying to keep it fresh and local and relevant to the area,” Steve says. “There’ll be locally brewed cider and beer, local cheese from Milawa and wine from Billy Button Wines.”

Feast Your Eyes & Bellies At This Epic Autumn Festival

Urban List

Words by Pip Jarvishigh-country-bogong-horses-6_740_486_s_c1Autumn in Melbourne may be pretty, but travel just three hours out of town and it’s mind- blowingly, jaw-droppingly, eye-wateringly perfect. Yup, North East Victoria’s stunning High Country puts on QUITE the show as the leaves turn and temperatures drop. From Wangaratta to Milawa, Beechworth to Bright, not only is the High Country super accessible to Melbourne, it’s beautiful (did you get that?), home to some of Victoria’s best wine regions and most abundant valleys, and the locals sure know how to party.

Returning for 10 jam-packed days throughout May, High Country Harvest is a festival of 40 exceptional culinary events, celebrating the finest of wine, heartiest of feasts, and most colourful of seasons, with ample opportunities to indulge, unwind, and get amongst the untouched Alpine scenery.

From 13-22 May, the High Country will once again come alive, offering guests the chance to taste the region, cycle its celebrated rail trails, try their hands at a cooking class, or gather under open skies at one of five village bonfires.

Whether your tastes run more to adventure or the leisurely pursuits, we’ve cherry picked the best events to warm your bellies and tickle your tastebuds. Ready, set, book.

high-country-bogong-horses-4_740_486_s_c1If You Really, Really Heart Horses: To Lunch On Horseback For more nature than you can poke a stick at and a generous side serving of adventure, visit Bogong Horseback Adventures this High Country Harvest. The charismatic Baird family has been breeding horses and running scenic mountain rides from their Spring Spur property in Tawonga for three decades, so you’ll be in the safest of hands for To Lunch on Horseback, no matter your riding level. Over three delicious hours, let your eyes drink in the autumnal wonder of the Alpine National Park as you ride through forests, gullies and rivers, before returning to the toasty Riders Lounge for a shared feast of campfire-inspired seasonal dishes, like cinnamon-roasted butternut, slow-cooked pickled pork on sourdough, and Yackandanda green beans with pistachio, with ingredients grown on site or sourced locally.

A liberating High Country horseback adventure

Australian Traveler Magazine

Words by Leanne Clancey

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A packhorse trek through Victoria’s scenic High Country proves that the most rewarding journeys often require us to loosen the grip a little.

We’re about 20 minutes into our ride and have just hit a straight stretch of track.

“You reckon you’re up for a canter?” hollers third-generation horse wrangler Lin Baird from a few horses up in our eight-strong pack.

He’s leading our half-day trek through the Alpine National Park, part of a vast swathe of pristine bush in Victoria’s mountainous north-east.

It’s been a while since I was last in the saddle and I’m nursing a bad cold, so I’m feeling a little apprehensive.

Will I be able to muster the hearty vigour required for five hours spent on the back of a horse? Will my thighs survive?

I love horses and, sure, I came here to ride, but I’m not exactly feeling primed for the kind of long-haul The Man from Snowy River action my brief is proposing.

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I’m secretly hoping they’ll let me off the hook so I can go at my own speed. Up to this point, we’ve been walking at a steady pace, taking in the fresh alpine air and our scenic surroundings.

My horse’s rhythmic clip-clop and gentle side-to-side movement is soothing. This, I can handle.

We’re out in nature and surrounded by huge mountains on all sides. I look around, and take a deep breath. I’ve never experienced a landscape like this before; it’s exhilarating.

I feel an overwhelming urge to break into song. The Roy Rogers tune, ‘Git Along, Little Dogies’ gets an airing and one of the other riders, Clemmie – a sassy blonde ranch hand from Delaware – joins in.

We share a laugh and keep clip-clopping along the track, like a couple of check-shirted stars in our own Western film.

There’s a nice camaraderie with the other riders, too. I’m liking this. But it’s clear the others are keen to graduate from trotting and take it up a notch.

I kind of wanted to work up to it, I think to myself. But it’s a packhorse trail after all, so I surrender to pack pressure and giddy-up.

My steed, a handsome black Australian stock horse called Midnight, doesn’t care that I’m not mentally prepared; he gets a whiff of my command to go (a kick to his flank with my heels) and is off like a shot.

As Midnight gains speed, things start getting real. I’m holding my reins in one hand while the other one grips the saddle with increasing desperation.

I’m bouncing around like a fool, my butt rebounding off the saddle like a graceless chump. There’s supposed to be a nice even cadence to it, but I’m not finding it.

My heart is pounding. Nope, not even a hint of Sigrid Thornton.

Lin sees that I’m struggling and effortlessly sidles up to offers some pointers, “Shorten your reins and straighten up in your seat a bit,” he says, with the patience of a man who’s seen countless townies pull the same stunt over the years. It helps. I’m more in control.

We slow back down to a trot and then ease into a walk. I look around. The other riders are all euphoric, smiling. I’m just relieved.

What was I thinking? Horse riding is scary. And exhausting. Why didn’t I remember this? I’m no longer singing Roy Rogers.

I start to wonder what happened to all the horse skills I learnt over countless hours spent riding as a kid, when I boldly raced up and down valleys and through creeks, the thrill of independence surging through my tomboy-ish, pre-teen self.

That feeling was incredible, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Yet here I was: a grown woman, otherwise relatively gregarious, freaking out about cantering along a straight, flat track. Sheesh.

Horse wisdom would suggest that I needed to connect with my horse. Understand its language. And relax. One of my fellow riders, Pedro (a first-timer), reckons the horse can sense my nervousness.

“If you’re feeling anxious your horse is probably picking up on it,” he says.

It’s all the stuff that came naturally to a wide-eyed country kid but is a bit more of a struggle for a wound-up urban adult. Lesson one in understanding the Zen of horseback riding. Tick.

“It’s always good to remember to breathe. Try and feel your seat, relax through your legs and loosen up a little bit,” Lin explains.

He tells me the trick to communicating with your horse is less to do with emotions or kooky voodoo energy stuff and much more to do with actual body language.

He says that horses can pick up on even the slightest physical cue, like the rider turning their head in the direction they want to go.

The more he talks, it’s clear to see Lin knows a fair bit about horses. It’s as if they’re an extension of him, and with his Wrangler jeans, button-down cowboy shirt and worn-out Akubra, he certainly looks the part.

At 33 years old he’s an accomplished horseman, having led trail rides and extended packhorse treks in the Californian High Sierras and mounting steeds in places as far flung as Cape Town and Argentina.

A half-day ride through what Lin considers his backyard shouldn’t be worrying me. I’m in exceptionally good hands.

As we approach the boundary into the Alpine National Park we make our crossing through a shallow creek, lined with smooth round rocks. The horses wade through, good-naturedly, one by one.

Soon we’re climbing a steep hill, venturing further into the national park, surrounded by peppermint gums, dogwood and acacias. The midsummer sun is out now but the air up here is fresh and cool; the scent of eucalyptus hangs in the air.

I’m getting anxious again. The other horses take the middle road but Midnight wants to walk along the outside edge of the track.

We’re quite elevated – about 600 metres – and the drop beside the track is steep. I try not to look down.

Lin reassures me, “He likes walking on the edge because the ground is softer on his hooves there.”

Lin reminds me that the horses have walked this track countless times. “Unlike us, they have four feet, so they’re pretty steady,” he says, by way of assurance.

It makes sense. I’m reminded of my wound-up urban adult-ness again.

A level of surrender is exchanged when I recognise that this big old creature knows far more about this place than I ever possibly could.

I take another deep breath and decide I’m finally ready to hand over my trust to Midnight. As we continue through the mountain trail, I turn my attention to the view instead – lush green valleys, mountains in all directions, shrouded in a dark blue haze with low hanging clouds.

Within moments I’m back there – as if by way of some kind of metaphysical reward – feeling that familiar childhood stirring all over again.

The details: Bogong Horseback Adventures

Getting there: Bogong Horseback Adventures is approximately four hours’ drive from Melbourne. Several airlines fly into Albury, which is a one-hour drive away. Transfers from Albury airport or Albury railway station are available on request.

Playing there: From three-hour trail rides to nine-day group packhorse treks through the High Country, Bogong Horseback Adventures offers a range of riding experiences for beginners and advanced riders.

A great time to visit is during the region’s High Country Harvest, when Bogong Horseback Adventures has a special package to celebrate the festival.

For $550 per person for weekends from 13–22 May, you can enjoy a special long-table lunch as part of your ‘stay and ride’ package that showcases the region’s best produce, wines and native foods.

Staying there: Located on the Baird family property and decorated with Steve Baird’s contemporary artwork, eco designed Spring Spur Stay offers the chance to immerse yourself in the full rustic country experience.

Expect fresh mountain air, modern accommodation and stunning views of the Kiewa Valley and surrounding mountains.

Excellent home-style gourmet meals are served in The Riders Lounge, along with boutique King Valley wines, craft beers and locally roasted espresso coffee.

Australian Traveller issue 68

On a High Horse

Weekend Australian Magazine

Story by Kate Legge

A five-day ride through Victoria’s alpine country reinvigorates the soul

I barely slept the night before we left Spring Spur homestead for five days’ trail riding deep inside Victoria’s Alpine National Park. Not because of discomfort, since the new accommodation wing is a five-star addition. Nor was I kept awake with feverish excitement. It was the waiver I’d signed acknowledging an alarming array of risks in remote country with sporadic phone coverage – astride “unpredictable” beasts quick to smell fear and incompetence before feet even find the stirrups – that disturbed my dreams.

What the fine print didn’t mention was how the soul and spirit can be reinvigorated in “unpredictable” ways as guests flourish in a free-range environment without beeping gadgets or traffic snarls, spellbound by the beauty around them, satisfied by the simplest of pleasures, relaxing into the slow, rocking rhythms of a horse’s gait.

An hour in the saddle of a tall, caramel-coloured Clydesdale crossbreed called Omeo and it’s obvious why this gentle steed is trusted with young kids and novices like me. Anxiety drains from my knees as I loosen the “death grip” on the reins, listening up to tips from fellow riders led by Lin Baird, a strong, lithe horseman who looks as if he was born in a pair of cowboy boots with a weather- beaten Akubra shading his crown.

We start out climbing the Big River Fire Trail, past green tree ferns growing
thick in the lower reaches of wilderness most Australians only glimpse as they fly overhead. Apart from occasional hikers we are alone with our thoughts, the horses, the grandeur of gnarled trunks, and native fauna such as the black snake sunbaking on a rock, which slithers into the bush to escape our curious stares.

Six sturdy packhorses, including George the mule, are loaded to the hilt with everything including the kitchen sink: food, first aid, an axe, a small wooden table, cutlery, a barbecue grill plate. These equine couriers give us wings to travel beyond the reach of four-wheel- drives into the remotest corners of a landscape that sings with reminders of Banjo Paterson’s verse. Our 125km trip traces a large loop through the Bogong High Plains around Quartz Ridge, Timms Spur, Mount Nelse, Hollands Knob, along a trail to Wallaces Hut, skirting Falls Creek and across into Pretty Valley, before climbing up Mount Fainter, then back down into the Kiewa Valley. Towards the end of the first day I’m wishing I’d brought a cushion.
At dusk we ford a rapidly flowing stream and let the horses loose. Everyone pitches in to set up camp taking cues from Lin, who’s a stickler for jobs done properly. A young man who wants to conquer the Bicentennial National Trail is briefed on the rulebook for digging a dunny. “Depth, stability, access, privacy, and view,” Lin laughs, underscoring the imperative of a panoramic vista. Our bush thrones get better every night, the higher we rise above the tree line. Once the fire catches, icy water is collected from the creek, swags are unrolled under a tarp, cold beers appear, a bottle of red is opened, and spare hands take it in turns to stir the chicken and mushroom risotto in flame-blackened pans.

My excruciating saddle soreness disappears with the warmth of food and drink. Nothing rivals the tiredness of physical exertion to sharpen the appetite. Without screens to entertain us we swap stories in darkness lit by a full moon. Stars blink brighter than I’ve ever seen them. Lin proves a master of campfire blarney, telling jokes and tales of past trips. He and his brother Clay grew up on these trails, learning bush wisdom from parents Steve and Kath Baird, who pioneered their award-winning tourism venture Bogong Horseback Adventures in 1987. They offer a unique experience because of the region, the pack horses and a self-sufficiency that taps into the stuff of Australian legend. Now in the hands of sons with Instagram accounts, the business has a second entrepreneurial wind. Their knowledge and skills are home-grown, hard-won and can’t be gleaned from a hospitality degree.

Horses run in the clan’s blood. They breed and school them at the Spring Spur homestead. Kath grandfather served in the Light Horse Brigade, and her farther ran trail rides in the La Trobe Valley until he died after his horse fell in unlikely circumstances more than 20 years ago.
Watching his grandson handle the reins is a beautiful sight. He speaks of the horses as if they are close friends with foibles and idiosyncratic habits. We ride in single file as if tails are tied to manes. Every now and then he shouts “Pull up” and we pause while he hops off to secure a load. Omeo never wastes these opportunities, yanking me forward to snatch a mouthful of fuel. He’s tall and solid and sure of foot, whether stepping across a stony creek or ploughing up a steep incline.

His younger brother Stringer has come along minus a rider to learn the route. The morning Lin decides to bridle and saddle this feisty apprentice he prepares with a rope and halter, guiding Stringer back and forth in the stick and carrot technique of “pressure then release”. A familiar ritual to forebears who relied on horses, it’s a rare insight into the forgotten arts of our bush history.

Another in the group who hails from Queensland is just as confident on horseback, with roughened hands that can shoe a hoof as easily as chop wood or drive a stake into hard ground. Easy to typecast outdoor savvy as a bloke thing until a teenager called Hannah, who first rode these trails during a freezing cold snap when she was barely 10, reveals her spunk. She likes a “forward” horse, happy out front navigating terrain toothpicked with the dead boughs of silvery snow gums. She rides beside me when a number of us peel away from the group to crest the peak of Hollands Knob. Omeo hankers for the comfort of the herd and neighs his angst at separation. “You big girl,” Hannah ribs him. The night before she’d raced bareback through the bush to chase a runaway mare.
Every day brings a fresh adventure, which is half the thrill of a journey where the weather or the bush or a horse can foul the best-laid plans. Accidents happen. One guest cops a kick from a cranky horse; her foot is injured but she soldiers on thin-lipped with pain as we swing into the flat basin of Pretty Valley.

We bed down beside the Tawonga Huts where drovers took refuge for most of last century. The remains of hitching posts are protected by a heritage order. Lightning and rain force us inside the corrugated tin shelter, but Lin perseveres until a roaring fire roasts potatoes and steak. When morning dawns he decides we’ll delay our departure so the hurt rider can be escorted out to an access road for medical attention. The first evacuation in 25 years is handled impeccably.
Calculated risk is part of the reward. Exhilaration and excitement require the stretch of effort. A shivery cold night makes the warmth of a morning fire so much sweeter. Senses are sharpened in the shadow of danger. But for the most part we plod along enraptured by spectacles that can be savoured all the more at our clip-clop pace. A contemplative trance descends as we surrender to the drama of mountains folded like giants slumbering under mohair blankets, or the close-up brilliance of yellow billy buttons and waxy bluebells on the carpeted earth, broken only by the excitement of spotting a hawk or a wild brumby.

The experience of shoulder-rubbing intimacy around the campfire and along the trail binds strangers together. We haven’t showered for a week and my jeans stiffen with sweat and grit. Living rough, even softened by luxury provisions, is strangely cleansing. Swag-making, fire- building, knotting rope, breaking camp encourages a co-operative mindset often missing from urban life. “Any fusspots?” Lin asked before our first dinner. Who would dare raise a hand?
By the final day of our trip I’ve grown accustomed to Omeo beneath me. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss the rhythm of these days. The bush has breathed vigour and joy into my heart and I head for home with a delicious lift from this life-giving breath of renewal.

Myths and Mountains

Royal Auto Magazine

Story by Cam Cope

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Trail rides lead to a wilder past in Victoria’s high plains.

With his left hand holding the reins and his right casually directing a packhorse by lead-rope, Lin Baird leans back in the saddle and glances over his shoulder. Stretched out behind him follow 18 horses saddled with packs and riders inching their way towards an exposed rocky pass known as Hell’s Gap.

Cast against Mount Bogong’s sheer south-eastern flank and a deep gully of impenetrable forest far below, it’s easy to see why the southern Great Dividing Range has long held theatre in Australian national mythology. Bushrangers, brumbies, cattle rustlers, drovers and legendary horsemen all played out their epics amplified by the same dramatic backdrop.

Today most visitors experience the Australian Alps in a queue at the base of a chairlift in winter. But from December to April it’s still possible to ride out amid the mountain plains and twisted snow gums where Australia’s icons have been immortalised.

Operating out of a hand-built home stead in the shadow of Mt Bogong at Tawonga, Steve and Kath Baird (and sons Lin and Clay) have run Bogong Horseback Adventures, a unique, multi- award winning horse expeditions business, for just shy of 30 years. I begin a five-day expedition into the High Country by arriving at their stables a nervous novice. With a sense of comedy, Lin and Clay immediately set to demystifying safety around horses and introduce me to the basics of “natural horsemanship”. As hominid and equine acquaint, Lin winks in my direction and labels me a predator – apparently because I have eyes in the front of my head. “Horses on the other hand are prey animals,” he says, and the likes of Spur (the grey standard bred gelding I’m paired with) are care fully trained to put up with the likes of me.

As I settle into my saddle up valley on the old East Kiewa River stock route, it crystallises that a ride into the Victorian Alps is also a journey into its multi- layered history. Steve points out that Ned Kelly and Bogong Jack, the Gentlemen Bushranger, both made hideouts here among the high ridges and heavy timber, but over the coming days the plains also reveal brumby traps, cattlemen’s huts, Chinese goldmines and sites of incalculable Aboriginal significance.

An essential part of ascending these mountains at a hoof ’s pace is also an intimate appreciation of the different climates and vegetation. After our first camp in a tree-fern gully on Bogong Creek, Clay leads us higher into the mountain folds via Timms Spur, and as the temperate rainforest gives way to leathery snow gums, the air becomes crisp. Finally, we ride above the tree line onto alpine meadows presided over by Mount Spion Kopje, Mount Nelse and Cemetery Spur. Although the highlight is yet to come: under clear March skies we practise a canter and watch wind swept peaks that will soon be hidden by snow glide effortlessly by.

Each day the journey demands three to six hours in the saddle and an active persistence to transition from passenger to rider. But fortunately the struggles of travel by horseback are no preclusion against gourmet dining or a comfortable sleep. Lin and Clay serve wine in the evenings and prepare meals built consciously from locally sourced, homegrown and organic produce. Smoked pork sausage and puy lentil cassoulade, Moroccan lemon chicken on couscous, marinated pork loin and stir-fried Chinese greens all feature on the menu and work as a general prescription against saddle-induced bowleggedness. Post-dinner our swags make private observatories to the stars before a blink of sleep brings frost and breakfasts of fruit, muesli, wood-smoked bacon and eggs on toast with billy-boiled tea and coffee.

Before our final evening, Lin again proves the salt of his surname, clearing fallen trees with an axe on Long Spur as we climb onto the Bogong High Plains proper. It’s our final assault on the mountains, and as we approach Hell’s Gap on day five I suddenly recall how a Victorian Aboriginal elder, Uncle Albert Mullett, once summed up the Australian Alps to me as the “Kakadu of the South.”

Looking over an immensity of forests, ridges and valleys, I finally begin to understand what Uncle Albert meant. This is the heart of more than three million hectares of adjoining national parks, state parks and state forests stretching from Victoria to the Australian Capital Territory. It’s an ample theatre to host the mythologies of a nation, and so far – thankfully – the play continues.

Easter Friday Moonlight Ride

BHA are running a moonlight ride followed by a ‘Long Table’ dinner Spring Spur Riders Lounge. This will be available to book soon. We will send out a tweet and post on Facebook when this ride will be available to book.

Mount Bogong Packhorse Adventure

Mount Bogong

As you approach Spring Spur you can’t help but notice the imposing bulk of Mount Bogong, Victoria’s highest mountain, standing over the Kiewa Valley to the east. As a lone massif it is separated from the Bogong High Plains by the deep cut of the Big River, and basks in the summer warmth with it’s spurs radiating out in all directions.

Early European visitors, the cattlemen, identified Staircase Spur, Eskdale Spur, Long Spur and T Spur as the most practical stock routes to the summer pastures on top. Bringing mobs up from the Kiewa, Mitta Mitta and across from the High Plains via Duane Spur, the going was always a bit challenging, but rewarding at the same time.

The cattle have gone, but the mountain continues to change with the seasons from deep snow cover and icy ridges in mid winter to a blanket of spectacular wildflowers in early summer. Mount Bogong has lent it’s name to the adjacent and vast Bogong High Plains and even to our business Bogong Horseback Adventures.

As long established operators we are entrusted with the only horse access between the stony refuge of Cleve Cole Hut on the eastern slopes, across the mountain and down to the base of the Eskdale Spur at the head of Mountain Creek. This allows us to complete a 5 day loop expedition that culminates with a descent of the Eskdale Spur on our final day. An exciting and spectacular scene, to top off five days of mountain forests, rocky ridges, high plains and sheltered camps by mountain streams.

Join Bogong Horseback Adventures for what many have described as the experience of a lifetime. We are offereing a special promotion for our two remaining Mount Bogong Packhorse Adventures for this season. Ride dates are on February 22nd and March 15th 2015. The first four places booked will receive 20% discount on our retail price of $1950.

Follow the link to our bookings page and quote this code: BOG2015

Aussies Ride the Sierras

WILDERNESS COLLECTIVE | WC-009 | EASTERN SIERRA NEVADA from Wilderness Collective on Vimeo.

Lin and Clay Baird, who run Bogong Horseback Adventures with their parents Kath and Steve Baird from the family property ’Spring Spur’ in the Kiewa Valley in North East Victoria. They have enjoyed guiding rides in the High Sierra Mountains seasonally for over 10 years, with many trips as expedition leaders.

The Sierra Mountains are located in central California, USA. The Mountain range is known for its stunning wilderness areas including Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon NP; Mt Whitney (4420m), historic trails including The John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail, cultural links with Native American peoples and early outdoor enthusiasts such as John Muir and members of The Sierra Club.

Lin and Clay have brought a little piece of their experiences back with them for the Australian bush by adopting some of the US packing styles by using Bogong Horseback’s very own mule duo ‘George & Mildred’ joining our traditional Australian pack horses on their Australian Expeditions.

Traveling with horses and mules in the Sierras’ is a unique experience. Riding well bred American Quarter horse types suited for the High Sierra Mountains, accompanied by an experienced team of pack mules, each with their individual ‘mule-analities’ and big loud bray. BHA has partnered with a well respected pack outfit operating since the 1940’s with a long association with the Sierras and traditional packing into remote wilderness areas.

Take a look at the full itinerary here – Aussies ride the Sierras