Alice Manfield, or ‘Guide Alice’ as she came to be known, was born in 1878 in Buckland Valley in the Alpine region of Victoria. Alice’s parents, James and Jane, lived with their nine children in the Eurobin Falls Valley where they ran a guesthouse called ‘Buffalo house’.

buffalo house[Two unidentified women, whole-length, standing in front of wire fence, house in background with sign reading Buffalo House, Mount Buffalo, Vic.]. By photographer Alice Manfield; H2003.97/235

The Manfields’ guests were keen to experience all the magic of the mountain: its unique geology and botany, rugged beauty and spectacular views.

pulpit rockPulpit Rock, Mount Buffalo, [Vic.] By photographer Alice Manfield; H2003.95/48

Alice’s father and brothers would take their guests up the mountain on packhorses, where they would camp over several nights and visit local attractions such as waterfalls, caves and lookouts like the Horn.

waterfallEurobin cascades, [Mount Buffalo, Vic.]. By photographer Alice Manfield; H2003.95/24

Alice’s childhood was an unconventional one. According to Melbourne naturalist Charles Barrett, she led a ‘strange, romantic life.’  Playmates were in short supply, so Alice found companionship in nature instead.

guidealice 3City shoes and mountain boots. By photographer Alice Manfield; H2000.92/19

Her first trip up Mount Buffalo was a life-changing event.

‘From then on,’ Alice wrote in her diary, ‘mountain climbing and the stillness of the mountain top seemed to take hold of me, and at every opportunity, I would accompany my brothers…’ .[1]

In time, she became a talented naturalist. She knew the names of all the mountain’s flora and fauna. She knew where to find the caves and the wildflowers, and she could imitate the calls of the native birds.

guidealice1[Guide Alice, Mt. Buffalo] ; H2003.95/11

Once she was old enough, Alice began to work as a mountain guide like her father and brothers. Climbing the mountain was hard physical labour, so Alice designed her own ‘trouser suit’ for the task. She took her design to a tailor’s in Melbourne who made it for her. The suit became a trademark of Alice’s persona as ‘Guide Alice’.

Alice’s reputation grew, but not everyone was impressed. Women’s groups in particular were vocal with their criticism. They denounced Alice’s costume, claiming that she was ‘spoiling’ herself by adopting masculine attire.

guidealice2Buffalo Mountains – advertisement for conducted tours by Guide Alice; H2003.95/1

It was a different story back at the Mount Buffalo chalet, where Alice’s suit was better received. Guests were enchanted by their bright, plucky hostess, and the chalet’s visitor’s book contained many testimonies to Alice’s kind personality and lively sense of humour.

guidealice 4[Mrs. Tewkesbury, c. 1890] By photographer Alice Manfield; H2003.95/12

Not only was Alice a naturalist, she was also a photographer and an accomplished writer. She took many photos of the scenery on Mount Buffalo, and also of her guests.

washing[Washing in tubs and draped over fence posts, in bush setting, Mount Buffalo, Vic.] By photographer Alice Manfield; H2003.97/131

One of Alice’s most well known achievements was the series of photographs she took of a lyrebird family. Many nature photographers had tried to capture the lyrebird on film but it was notoriously shy. Alice came up with an ingenious solution.

She sat upon a rock for days at a time in full view of the lyrebirds, imitating the call of the Boo Book Owl: ‘Mo-Poke’. Gradually, the lyrebirds learnt to trust her until eventually, Alice was able to photograph them. To capture the male lyrebird, Alice went to extra lengths, first concealing herself in the hollow of a tree trunk, then attracting him with the Mopoke call.

The resulting book of photographs was published to acclaim.

mt_buffaloRock face, Mt. Buffalo, Vic.]. Photograph by Alice Manfield; H2003.95/116

Guide Alice died on 14 July 1960. Her grave is in the Bright cemetery, at the foot of the mountains she loved so much. There is a bronze plaque there dedicated to her memory.

Postscript

The State Library Victoria has a large collection of photographs by Alice Manfield, all of which have been digitised and are available to view online.

References

[1] Hoy, E. (1965) Historiette of the Manfields who began their Mt. Buffalo saga when the Buckland was at its heyday in the early 50’s Harrietville Historical Society, Harrietville, Vic, p.8

 

This article has 9 comments

  1. Richard Overell

    What good article. Guide Alice has always been an intriguing figure and it was so interesting to read this piece on her, especially with its great illustrations. It all points to the research depths of the collections held in the State Library of Victoria.

  2. Lovely to read this article especially as she is a distant cousin and we have recently

    returned from Harrietville after a very memorable family reunion.

  3. Great to see this, I’ve always found the stories and photos of my great grandmother fascinating!

  4. I grew up in Bright. Our year 9 or 10 class made a magazine about local icons etc in approx 1992. I chose Guide Alice. I went to wangaratta to interview her daughter Genevieve Bowomgarden (sic) who lived behind the large Catholic church in a unit. I used x2 cassette tapes to record her interview. Genevieve told me how she would sleep out in logs with her mother in order to see Lyrebirds. She made the calls of the birds. The State Library requested a copy of my article, but I never got around to it. But I was “formally” invited by the libary to the chalet at the opening of the memorial dedication about Alice. She remains my hero today- 30 years after I first heard her story.

    • Hello Sarah Kinstler,
      Do you still have those tapes? They would be gold to an oral historian!
      I am trying to learn as much about Guide Alice as I can and wish I could have interviewed her daughter Genevieve.

  5. It’s great to see Mt Buffalo get some coverage. An even more radical and innovative woman on Buffalo was Alice Manfield’s contemporary, Hilda Samsing. Samsing was a First World War nurse who took over the lease of the run down Buffalo Chalet in 1919. She repaired and renovated the building and marketed it in innovative ways. To boost business in the quiet winter season she imported skis and hired an instructor. It’s fair to say that she provided the boost that made skiing take off as a popular sport in Victoria. She was so successful at turning the Buffalo Chalet from a loss maker into a highly profitable business that the railways lobbied the government not to renew her lease, so she was thrown out and the railways took over as the new landlord in 1925.

    Not to be deterred Samsing formed a syndicate to build a rival to the Buffalo Chalet on nearby Mt Feathertop. They built a basic guesthouse, the Feathertop Bungalow as a pilot for a far grander Feathertop Chalet which was to be twice the size of the Buffalo Chalet. However the railways were threatened by the new competitor and they managed to get the lease of the land the Bungalow was built on terminated. They then bought the Bungalow for only 8% of what it had cost to build 3 years earlier and ran it as their own hotel until it burnt down in 1939.

    Hilda Samsing was a brilliant hotelier at a time when there were few women in such positions and she did far more to establish skiing as a sport in Victoria than anyone else, but she is almost forgotten now.

  6. Some time ago I think from memory around 1984? I went to Mt. Buffolow with a team of St.John first Aiders to assist in the fire fire fitting eforts on the mountain.
    We were stationed at Popunka at the time.
    I remember this magnificant old building on the mountain.
    I went back to this building in 1998 when I was working at Mytlford.
    It had fallen in to disrepear and was about ready to be pulled down.
    Since then the Parks people have set about restoreiong it.
    I will be going back up this summer to see how they are going
    The views form the front of this building down the Ovens valley are equal to any in the world

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