History

History of Schuss Alpine Club

The founding father of Schuss Ski Club, Wieland Von Behrens, wrote the following account of the club’s early history to mark its 40th anniversary. Today, as we celebrate 50 years of Schuss, the detail is as pertinent and fascinating as ever. Alan Blakers edited the initial version of the article.wieland photo

I COME from a group of German settlers who established idealistic Christian colonies in Palestine in the late 1800s. At the outbreak of WW2 the occupying British interned these settlers in concentration camps - and many of the men were transferred to internment camps in Australia (e.g. Tatura q.v.). Most of the Palestinian/German Templer war deportees in Australia restarted life near Melbourne. In the 1950s a group of these people formed a ski club and, by 1960, had built Iltis Lodge on Mt Buller with member labor.

One of the active participants was a young Austrian builder, Otto Ulrich, who was part of this social group - though not himself a Templer. After 1960 I took a group of Adelaide friends to Iltis for a few days to a couple of weeks almost every year - initially only a few, but later, over 20 came along. Through interactions with my Melbourne relatives, and during the Buller trips, I learned that Otto had obtained a coveted licence for another Buller ski Lodge by getting our mutual Templer friends to become members. Otto had progressively built the very rustic, initially uninsulated Schuss Lodge shell entirely on his own. However, by the late 1960s he experienced financial and motivational burnout. He was not opposed to a fair buyout by a potential group from Adelaide.

mt buller kitchenBefore establishing Otto’s willingness to let go of the Schuss reins, by 1968 I had already conducted many interviews in Adelaide to understand the failures of earlier Adelaide efforts to create ski Lodges in Victoria, among them Mount Lofty Ski Club, Austrian Club, Swiss Club, German Club, University Ski Club, Teachers College Ski Club and Polish Ski Group. These proposals, involving a small nucleus of enthusiasts, frequently got as far as selecting a site after about year three. However, by the time real funds and labor effort were required, these founders were invariably exhausted - financially or inspirationally. Accordingly, by early 1969 I had formulated a unique set of operational principles for the successful genesis of an Adelaide ski club that could take over Otto Ulrich’s Schuss Lodge lease. The key was to have an essentially open-ended number of members, each contributing a low one-time membership fee with no obligatory labor contributions but a promise of bookable accommodation at a favorable member rates during the upcoming 1969 winter skiing season! Since the Australian ski-fields were so far from Adelaide, an additional necessary requirement would have to be “skier pays” – i.e. reliance on hired workers for facility upkeep paid for by skiers using the envisioned lodges.

I got Otto's commitment that if an Adelaide Schuss Ski Club could purchase his interest for $33,000 - provided that it would also get his commitment to be the 1969 builder for a high-class upgrade completed by the Queen’s Birthday ski season opening - then our envisioned Adelaide Club Committee would delegate the building process on a cost-plus basis - hopefully to the same architect who had designed and supervised the construction of Iltis. Additionally, the Adelaide club had to promise Otto that it would not change the name Schuss, and that Otto would get membership #1.

My distant Templer relative, the architect Willie Blaich, was too busy to take on such a crazy short-notice challenge. He knew how primitive building conditions were on Mt Buller back then and how intolerable the weather could make it for transport and men in any season. He wisely recommended a trusted large Melbourne architectural firm that was already involved on Mt Buller. Without recounting my democratic, ethnic, financial and other 1969 club tribulations, we more or less kept our promises. 

Undoubtedly, the essential step in that achievement was to call a very well publicised too-good-to-be-true Adelaide Schuss Ski Club formation meeting in early 1969 at the relatively new University Napier Lecture Theatre (if I recollect the correct venue). There I fielded the numerous erudite, wise, knowledgeable, experienced and sincere demolitions of our notions by moneyed senior members of the general Adelaide audience.

A senior Adelaide skier and anaesthetist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Maurice Sando, had agreed to act as first President and chaired that founders meeting. I could never have obtained his agreement to this without the wise guidance of Pat Gledhill, his secretary at the Adelaide Postgraduate Medical Education Committee, of which he was chair. Through her, I had promised that as Schuss Secretary I would shield Maurice from all administrative Schuss burdens during 1969. To reduce our risk I nominated every one of the unknown but most outspoken critics from the audience onto the committee of the new club. Thus, I ended up being by far the most junior member of a very experienced multifaceted business team committee, each of whom personally guaranteed the entire enormous bank loan for the necessary 1969 acquisition and remodel.

That initial heated tin shed was redesigned and made comfortable in 1969; and active, passive and associate Schuss members from Adelaide first used the Schuss lodge during the 1969 skiing season. Fortunately, we had at least one Adelaide builder on the 1969 committee to supervise the cost-plus building contract via the Melbourne architectural firm. However, as attested by President Maurice Sando, before the end of 1969 the first Adelaide Schuss Secretary (me!) was exhausted from the learning experience of birthing an uncontrollable democratic entity: Schuss. May it continue to thrive and attract as productive boards as we first elected in 1969 and have witnessed over the years since then – currently Australian rather than merely South Australian, and soon, probably, international!

 

If you have more insights into the history of Schuss Alpine (Ski) Club please email us secretary @ schuss.com.au (remove the spacings in the email)