History is where the heart is

As my first blog post explains, I’ve been a member of Caloola Ski Club since birth. Inheriting this membership from my mother, who inherited it from her parents; Caloola is close to my heart as a place that feels like home and carries memories from multiple generations of my family.

That said, until now, those memories – the history of Caloola – remained a mystery to me. I’d heard theories on the meaning of the name (“it’s an Indigenous word meaning ‘high place’”), who designed the logo (“it was Noni’s daughter Louise – no, it was the architect Keith!”), and even when the club was established (“1963, that’s what the plaque on the front door says”). But none of these theories seemed to align, because in the more than fifty years since Caloola’s establishment, little to no efforts have been made to formally preserve its history.

Building Caloola in 1962 and 1963.

As a member of the club, I have a responsibility to maintain it, and I’ve done so at many summer work parties – helping to repaint, refresh and otherwise repair the lodge. But in embarking upon this project, I reconsidered my idea of club maintenance; and realised that by putting together a history of the club, I can preserve its memory and legacy.

Diving into Caloola’s history has been invigorating and rewarding, but it hasn’t been free of challenges. I certainly underestimated the difficulty of piecing together a history that has never before been written. Being such a small club, with only 80-odd members, it’s not the sort of thing you can find at a local library, or a state library, or the digitised National Archives, or even via a well-placed Google search.

To find the information I did, I talked to foundational members, current Board members, scoured old documents like shares records and rulebooks. In addition to the primary sources I utilised, I also relied heavily on the work of the Perisher Historical Society, who are the main keepers of the history of the Mountains and its inhabitants. Eventually, I pieced together enough of the puzzle to create a basic history. It isn’t super-in-depth, because that would take many more months than I had; but it is a history that has never been recorded before, and for that I’m pretty proud.

The project took shape in the form of a new website, designed with the Caloola membership in mind as the primary audience. I tried to be informative yet concise and incorporated a lot of imagery to intrigue the audience. I considered the things that I, as a member, have long been fascinated by: who created what, and when, and why.

The website is broken up into sections. The “About” section takes the reader to pages exploring the history of Caloola, the history of Smiggin Holes (where the lodge is located), and a series of photo galleries. Additionally, there is a page exploring the Indigenous heritage of Caloola. It describes the significance of the Snowy Mountains to various Indigenous nations and explores the actual definition of Caloola’s name, which I discovered is a Dharug word (the language of the Wiradjuri nation) that can be interpreted both as “to climb” or “an old battlefield”.

The “Resources” section of the website is currently used for making important documents easily accessible to members. This allows for the necessary information – like booking forms and the current rulebook – to be easily accessed, whilst maintaining privacy for the club, which is only available for members and their friends and family to visit.

The new Caloola website is a pastiche of new and old information about a very niche history. This project has highlighted both the significance and difficulties of niche histories: the way that the smaller stories of history can be the hardest to uncover and the easiest to forget.

At times, the project was frustrating, due to the gaps in information; but I was encouraged by the support of club members. Their enthusiasm for a history of the lodge they, like me, have known and loved for the majority of their life proved to me the importance of niche histories. Grand, sweeping stories of how nations and entire cities came to be are important; but so too are the small, intimate stories of how shared interests brought together small communities such as Caloola.

Through this project I’ve learned that everyone can create history, and that is what the members of Caloola have been doing since they came together in 1961: through stories told over drinks at Christmas parties; the preservation of old documents in home filing cabinets; and the sharing of family photographs.

Now, they finally have the beginnings of a collated history; one that tells the story of a group of people who wanted to spend time with family and friends in one of Australia’s most beautiful locations. It is one that matters to the members of Caloola whose early responses to the site included statements like “I never knew that story!” or “wow, I’ve never seen those photos from that era!”. It is one that I aim to keep working at over my future years as a Caloola member.

You can discover that story below at the new Caloola website.

Growing up in high places

My childhood photos are scattered through with pictures of myself and my sisters wrapped up in puffy parkers, comically large goggles and tiny mittens; traipsing around in the snow or traversing tiny “slopes” in tiny skis while our parents watch on. Other photos from these family holidays show us running amok in a cosy, albeit slightly run-down living room, complete with a roaring fire to toast marshmallows on. Some of my fondest memories reside on those snowfields and in that living room.

A collage of photos from the writer's youth. Clockwise from top left: a group of children roasting marshmallows at a fireplace; a group of children in snowsuits sitting amongst snowgums in the snow; and a group of children building a snowman on a balcony.
Clockwise from top left: roasting marshmallows with friends as my parents watch on (I’m the toothless one on the right); posing for a photo post-igloo building (I’m the squinty blondie in the all-red ensemble); and building a snowman on the balcony (I’m in the centre, with the awful sunnies that my mum, for some unbeknownst reason, thought to put on me).

Since being born, I’ve been lucky enough to have a home away from home – one that I gladly share with about 85 other people. Caloola is a lodge located nearly 500km south-west of Sydney, in the Snowy Mountains.

Nestled in the bowl-shaped valley of Smiggin Holes (or Smiggs, as it is colloquially known), Caloola serves as the home of the Caloola Ski Club, whose website describes it as:

“a non-profit club lodge dedicated to the pursuit of Snow Sports.”

Caloola is mainly made up of Sydney-based families who have all joined via their friendships with the original members. Upon birth I inherited membership through my mum, who in turn inherited membership from her parents, who themselves were close to founding members back in the late 50s, just a few years after they escaped from Croatia (then-Yugoslavia) and started afresh in Sydney.

My home away from home: Caloola, in the Snowy Mountains village Smiggin Holes.

When I became a fully-fledged member upon turning 18 in 2015, I gained the responsibilities of club maintenance, mainly achieved through summer work parties. Being a rather scrawny individual, I’ve been thinking of ways I can better apply my skills to Caloola. When this unit came along, it was a perfectly serendipitous moment of two worlds colliding as I realised how much I would love to delve into the history of a place where I – and my mum, and in part my grandparents – have grown up.

See, whilst I have grown up at Caloola, there’s a lot that I still don’t know about it. The first person I turned to was my mum, who admitted to me:

“Everyone has different ideas about who did what and how the lodge came to be. There’s no singular, entirely accurate record.”

There are contesting legends surrounding our ski club: who designed the logo, the plaques on each bedroom door, the lodge itself; and how exactly it all came to be. I’ve always heard that Caloola is an Indigenous word (I’m not sure from which nation), meaning High Place. I’ve also always heard that the lodge was born from a group of Northern Beaches-based couples who square danced together in the late 50s.

I’ve never thought to fact-check this – but, as my mum tells me, only two of the original eight members are still alive (or three – she isn’t sure). Now seems like the right time to research our ski club’s rich history, and document the people who brought it to life.

The current Caloola website, created by my dad.

Through this project, I’m hoping to digitise Caloola’s history. My own dear dad created a website for members a few years ago, but it is under-utilised by the membership – nearly all of whom have decided they prefer the Facebook group. I would love to create a new website that is more accessible and appealing to members, and one that contains a more thorough history of the club.

From the moment I considered approaching Caloola for this project, I’ve been incredibly excited about the ways I can contribute to the organisation that has been such a vital part of my own life – and I’m now very keen to dive in headfirst and get started.