Over 110 years old, picturesque Mount Buffalo Chalet sits atop a plateau in the Mount Buffalo National Park. Surviving bushfires through the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, this grand old lady provided a leisurely holiday escape for all manner of Victorians for almost 100 years. Now closed, the chalet faces an uncertain future.

Photo of Mount Buffalo Chalet, a large building with gables and a verandah. People walk up the long path  to the verandah. Eucalypt trees in the foreground.
The Chalet, Mount Buffalo, [Between 1945 and 1956]; H91.50/223
Photo of Mount Buffalo Chalet surrounded by dense trees. Large rocks in the foreground.
The Chalet, Mt. Buffalo, Vic, [between 1920 and 1954?]; H32492/139

With its elevated location, it’s easy to see why the chalet has been called “the island in the sky”. On a cloudy day, you can look through a gap in the wafting clouds down to the verdant pastures of the Buckland Valley. You feel as if you are above the earth and its doings. The Gorge lookout offers panoramic views of the filmy blue mountains and the scenic Buckland Valley. In winter, the air is crisp in the snowy, other-worldly landscape. The huge old chalet, with its cream walls, green roof and gables invites you to stay a while in these peaceful surrounds. It’s little wonder that Victorians made the chalet their favourite winter and summer retreat for decades.

Gorge view, Mt. Buffalo. [ca.1930 – ca. 1950]; H92.301/232

In the 19th century, squatters and miners were attracted to the Mount Buffalo area for its rich pastures and reports of gold in the Ovens River. The fame of the Mount Buffalo Plateau spread, bringing tourists to experience its natural beauty, rock formations and alpine flora.

In August 1890, a party from the Alpine Club made the first winter ascent of the Horn, Mount Buffalo’s highest point. Their enthusiastic reports of the beautiful winter scenery encouraged interest in winter tourism. In 1910, a government chalet was built at a cost of 3,195 pounds, using Mountain Ash milled on the plateau near Lake Catani. In 1912, the North Wing was added to the original structure and the South Wing was built in 1914, complete with a billiard room. Between 1921 and 1923, improvements were made, including additional bedrooms and bathrooms in the South Wing, electric lighting, effective heating, a new drying room and laundry and better staff accommodation.

The chalet was leased until October 1, 1924, when Victorian Railways took over the management. The Railways constructed an additional wing to house a new dining room, kitchen and cafe, with the old dining room converted into a ballroom for dances, concerts and other social activities. In 1929-30, the chalet was painted inside and out, and other improvements made. Between 1936 and 1937, the buildings were extensively altered. The South Wing was extended to provide more single bedrooms and a second storey was added to the main building, providing eight rooms with self-contained bathrooms.

In 1954, the first ski lodge was built at Dingo Dell, providing skiers with a large dining room and overnight storage for their skis.

Mt Buffalo Chalet in the snow. The roof, path, ground and trees are covered in snow. Several people stand in the foreground.
The Chalet Mount Buffalo National Park Victoria Australia, [ca. 1940]; H94.127/1

Victorian Railways organised economical package holidays at the chalet, which included transport by train and bus, accommodation and all meals. Chalet holidays were popular with a wide range of guests: skiers, honeymooners, families and pensioners. After World War II, European migrants were frequent guests, appreciating the mountain charm and old-fashioned service provided at the chalet

Staff at the chalet made every effort to make the guests’ stay comfortable. They could enjoy all the activities on offer, or simply relax in the peaceful, scenic surrounds.

Young skier at the Chalet, Mt. Buffalo, [May 1948]; H91.330/1471
Three young people, a man and two women, stand in front of a wire fence at the lookout, Mount Buffalo. They wear walking clothing.
Holiday makers at a lookout Mount Buffalo Victoria, [Between 1930 and 1940?]; H2019.76/4
Four women on horseback pose for the camera on a road at Mount Buffalo. Rocks and trees behind them.
Holiday makers at Mount Buffalo Victoria, [Between 1930 and 1940?]; H2019.76/8

Guests enjoyed the communal environment, with group activities in the ballroom, a drawing room with grand piano, a billiard room, lounge and cafe. Summer leisure activities included guided walks, horse riding, tennis, billiards and table tennis. A swimming pool was later added. Croquet on the elegant lawns was another popular past time. In winter, skiing was supreme, with onsite ski hire, instructors and transport to the Dingo Dell ski run. Evening activities included dances in the ballroom and films on Sunday nights. Nearby Lake Catani was an easy walk from the chalet, popular for swimming, fishing and ice skating in winter.

Organised day trips by car or bus to the Buckland Valley, the Kiewa Vally and Mt. Hotham gave guests a taste of wonderful alpine scenery.

Couples ballroom dancing in the Ballroom, Mount Buffalo Chalet.
Mount Buffalo Chalet in Mount Buffalo National Park, Victoria, [Between 1938 and 1949]; H2017.209/3
Three people playing billiards. A woman aims a billiard  cue stick at a ball on the pool table while a man watches, holding a cue stick. Another woman watches.
Woman playing billiards at Mount Buffalo Chalet, man and woman looking on, [ca. 1945-ca. 1956]; H91.50/288
Two men and two women  sit on chairs and a sofa in front of a large window in the drawing room. The view shows large gum trees and mountains in the distance. One woman reads.
Drawing Room, Chalet, Mt. Buffalo, February 1946; H91.330/4557
Guests enjoying Christmas activities in the ballroom. The room is decorated with Christmas decorations.
A barn dance for the guests at Mount Buffalo Chalet, with Sam Haddad in centre,1956; H92.250/1159

Catering at the chalet was superb. Substantial meals were served in the formal dining room, where guests could meet others at their designated tables, complete with silver service and linen table cloths. On Sundays, a high tea of scones, jam and cream was served. Daily newspapers and a library were available. A café near the dining room was a popular rendezvous for morning and afternoon tea.

The  dining room, with round tables and high wooden chairs. The tables are covered in linen table cloths with  drinking glasses and serviettes. Large windows with curtains in the background.
Dining Room, Mt. Buffalo Chalet, ca. 1945- ca.1954; H91.50/287

Even during the Depression years of the 1930s, the chalet was popular. Between October, 1924 and 30th June, 1930, 27,609 visitors stayed at the chalet.1

In the 1950s, patronage remained high: in 1952, the daily average number of guests in residence was 162.2

Mt. Buffalo, [Circa 1945?]; H90.140/444

Away from the fun of holiday activities, the chalet had a more mysterious side. Many staff members experienced paranormal activities: loud noises emanating from empty guest rooms; the sound of footsteps in the empty ballroom and other eerie incidents. Living onsite, staff learned to live with these unsettling experiences.

In July 1993, the Victorian Railways relinquished control of the chalet and it was managed by private leaseholders. The chalet’s timber construction makes it vulnerable to fire, exacerbated by its location in a densely forested location. In December 2006, the nearby Cresta Valley Lodge, formerly known as Tatra Inn, was destroyed by bushfires. Firefighters prevented the same fate from befalling the chalet, but it was a dangerous situation. The chalet’s operators were forced to close in 2007, due to lost trade. Occasional tours of the grand old building are conducted, but the chalet has not yet re-opened for guests.

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Further reading

Mt Buffalo Chalet & Mt Buffalo National Park: a short history, 199-?, Mt. Buffalo Chalet, Mt. Buffalo National Park

Parks Victoria, 2022, The Gorge and Mount Buffalo Chalet, <https://www.parks.vic.gov.au/places-to-see/parks/mount-buffalo-national-park/things-to-do/the-gorge-and-mount-buffalo-chalet>

See our blog on Guide Alice and our video (above)

Victorian Railways, 1925, Report of the Victorian Railways Commissioners for the year ended 30th June, 1925, Government Printer, Melbourne, pp 37-38

Victorian Railways, 1930, Report of the Victorian Railways Commissioners… 30th June, 1930, Government Printer, Melbourne, p 45

Victorian Railways, 1936, The Chalet, Mt. Buffalo National Park…Victoria: information for guests, October 1936, Government Printer, Melbourne

Victorian Railways, 1952, Report of the Victorian Railways Commissioners… 30th June, 1952, Government Printer, Melbourne, p 30

References

  1. Victorian Railways, Report of the Victorian Railways Commissioners for the year ended 30th June, 1930, Government Printer, Melbourne, p 45
  2. As above, p 30

This article has 7 comments

  1. Thank you so much for your story and extensive resources. I used these in researching my upcoming historical fiction time slip, based at Mt Buffalo and The Chalet and featuring Guide Alice Manfield. Hopefully we’ll see the Grand Old Lady filled with people again one day.

    • Barbara Carswell

      I’m glad you were able to use the references for your historical fiction time slip work, Helen. It sounds fascinating! The Chalet is the perfect setting!

  2. I recently visited Mt Buffalo and also walked around the beautiful Chalet. Many other visitors were doing the same and I had a few conversations with other tourists. We were all disappointed that this beautiful asset of Victoria is deteriorating before our eyes.
    Such a lot of history is going to be lost if this magnificent Chalet is not going to be enjoyed by future generation. Hoping that funding will be given to restore and open up to the public again.

  3. Mt Buffalo Chalet Story good to see. I have a nice 1930 high quality photo to give you.
    Chelsea Mayor of 1928 1929 David Bowman showing front gate with Chalet in background with David in the background.
    Also a nice 1929 photo of Chelsea main street.
    How can I get them to you by email?

  4. i have never heard of this chalet, and live in melbourne, i would dearly love the national trust to do this up and reopen it, i would love to stay there, summer or winter

  5. Valerie and Kim Chipman

    Our parents used to holiday at Mt Buffalo Chalet every year during the ’40s and 50’s Dad saved up for their yearly trip by saving threepences in a beer bottle which we used to count out on the kitchen table. The beer bottle produced around eighty pounds which went toward their expenses. The Chalet was so popular that rooms were allocated by ballot

    In 1963 my child bride and myself honeymooned at the Chalet in an en suite room which was “very posh”.
    At risk of being accused of plagiarism, ” travelers will not see the likes of this again.”

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