Visitors to the Blakeney Lodge aged care facility in Tumut will be delighted to see local history on display with two newly-painted murals on either side of the front door.
The adjoining murals were painted by local artist Bev Dennis over the ‘Covid-19 break’ when Blakeney Lodge went into lockdown. Once they have been lacquered to protect from damaging weather conditions, they will be complete.
To the left of the door a bright, lively painting depicts native animals such as cockatoos, galahs and the critically endangered corroboree frog.
To the right is a large painting showing Miller’s Hut located on Long Plain, and Vickery’s Hut on Jounama Creek, as well as the sprawling, iconic Snowy Mountains. These huts, and other similar ones, were built when farmers used to hold cattle in the mountains for six months in a year and needed a place to stay whilst doing so.
Cecil Miller, who was a resident at Blakeney’s Lodge and lived to the age of 103, is painted next to Miller’s Hut. There are sheep in the background, and a post demonstrates how close the fires got during the 2019-20 bushfires. Cecil’s horse is also painted in the corner.
Vickery’s Hut has been immortalised in the mural, having been burnt during the fires this summer.
The murals were painted thanks to the financial support of the Blakeney Lodge Auxiliary, the Miller Family, and the Vickery Family.
Cecil Miller’s family says that the mural acknowledges the horsemen who built the huts in the high country and tended the flocks during summer, whilst the women cared for the farms and children.
Cecil, who spent his last years at Blakeney Lodge, is depicted outside Miller’s hut in the mural. His father Theo and Uncle Billy Miller took up a government lease on Long Plain following World War II and carted tin from a demolished shed at Sandy Gully to build the hut.
They would drove the sheep up in the spring and stay for about six months until late May, when the snow threatened. Before leaving with the sheep, horses and dogs and following the example of local tribes, they would set many small fires to burn off the last of the summer growth. New spring grasses would emerge after the thaw.
Henry Vickery came from Daylesford, Victoria in the 1860’s to the Snowy Mountains. Jack Vickery and his sons Ross and Noel built Vickery’s Hut, near Miller’s Hut, in 1939 using local timber. They traditionally grazed Hereford cattle on their lease in the mountains. Mary Vickery, Jack’s wife, also spent her last six years at Blakeney Lodge.
“Precious few remain who can recall the stories,” Cecil’s family wrote.
“Long summers watching the mobs of stock, keeping the dingoes at bay whilst they grazed the rich pastures. Camping in the huts and droving the animals back down to the farms around Tumut and Adelong before the first snow in late May. Their resilience is to be admired.
“But like Clancy (of the Overflow), maybe we all ‘somehow rather fancy that we’d like to change with Clancy’ just to experience the richness of the mountains with a horse, some cattle and a campfire at night.”
On Wednesday, Blakeney Lodge residents Nancye Nuttall and Audrey McGrath sat outside and admired the mural, sharing some memories of the Snowy Mountains.
Mrs Nuttall used to bushwalk in the area, and Mrs McGrath grew up at ‘Lick Hole’ in a similar type of hut to those featured in the mural.
“The Lick Hole house was made of logs. Some were split and some were round, but they had cracks between them,” Mrs McGrath said.
“In the wintertime, we had to go along with a mix of mud … and other ingredients and lock up all the holes in the walls. And then in summertime we’d be poking them out.”
The tin huts didn’t have fully-concealed ceilings, so Mrs McGrath said that during winter when the frost began melting you would get wet, as the frost would drop through the roof.
Despite this, Mrs McGrath said her mother thought her time at Lick Hole was some of the best years of her life. She shared a story in which she, along with her siblings, convinced her mother to take a turn on their homemade billy cart.
“We finally got her on to it one day and we were ripping down around the house and coming around the corner, and there were all the ladies from the village,” Mrs McGrath laughed.
She said that her husband Ray would have been the last to hold a lease on Vickery’s Hut, the lease expiring in 1963 and the land soon becoming the property of National Parks.
Blakeney Lodge staff member Vicki Collins praised the mural, saying that it is important to preserve and highlight the history of the region so that it isn’t forgotten by future generations.