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Bonzer Words!: Guide Alice

Paula Wilson tells of Guide Alice who was instrumental instrumental in making the magnificent Mount Buffalo in Australia accessible to all.

It was 1824 when explorers Hume and Hovell came upon Mt Buffalo. Rising 1695 metres above sea level they thought it resembled a buffalo and named it so. Situated in Victoria's high country Mt Buffalo is nowhere near Australia's highest mountain but it was surely an impressive sight to the two explorers.

Hume and Hovell gave the mountain the name we know it by but it had long been an important place for local Aboriginal people. They would gather there each summer to among other activities feast on bogong moths.

It did not take long for other Europeans to follow Hume and Hovell and Mt Buffalo is now a popular destination for tourists and snow lovers. There are many tracks on the mountain one of which is called the Gorge Heritage Walk. It is of average distance as walking tracks go, 2.5 kilometres. Along the way there are signs telling about the life of one the mountain's favourite personalities known, affectionately, as Guide Alice.

Alice's father, James Manfield, came to the area with his brother Samual looking for gold. He later farmed land in the nearby Buckland Valley. His farm was called Nailsea and it was here that Alice was born in 1878.

With more and more people coming to the mountain James would act as guide leading them up to the summit. In the late 1880's the family built a chalet called Granny's Place on the rugged slopes. Alice was taken with the whole experience of the mountain. She would trek all over becoming familiar with the terrain and wild life. There were no marked tracks and the only way up was by foot or horseback. This is where Alice's knowledge became invaluable.

Visitors wanted to see more and in the 1890s Alice obliged them. Not only did she take them to the plateau but also conducted expeditions where they could discover the mountain's natural fauna and flora. Alice spent hours studying the mountain and surrounding countryside, which she recorded in her photographs. Her research eventually led to the 1924 publication of a book on Mount Buffalo's lyrebirds, and The Alice Manfield Collection (photographs) that is now housed at the State Library of Victoria.

Conditions on the mountain were pretty rough and not the place for fashionable clothes. Alice was well aware of the perils that the wrong attire could cause so she designed herself an outfit that was not the norm for the era. Consisting of comfortable trousers and a serviceable buttoned up jacket it made movement a lot easier as she scrambled over rocks and through bushy areas. It is interesting to notice that despite ignoring convention with her clothing in one photo Alice can be seen wearing shoes with, albeit chunky, a reasonable sized heel.

Alice's father erected a second building, the Temperance Hotel, and when he died in 1890 Alice and her mother took over the running of it. All the time she continued to be a guide for visitors.

The Mount Buffalo National Park was established in 1898, it covered 1166 hectares of the mountain region. Due to increasing popularity a road was built to the plateau and in 1910 the Victorian government erected the Mount Buffalo Chalet.

In 1917 Alice married her distant cousin John Edmund Manfield, a ranger with the Parks service, and they had one daughter, Genevieve. Influential people such as military commander Sir John Monash, and the proprietor of the Age newspaper David Syme were regular visitors to their home. As was the famous Australian artist Arthur Streeton.

Alice continued to act as guide well into the 1930s. Throughout her lifetime she was instrumental in making the magnificent Mount Buffalo accessible to all. She was 82 when she died on 14 June 1960. Thirty-five years after her death, and 171 years after Hume and Hovell, the National Park was extended in 1995 to include the entire mountain.

Paula Wilson

Paula writes for Bonzer magazine, Please visit www.bonzer.org.au


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