Visiting the Victorian high country where parts of the iconic Australian movie ‘The Man from Snowy River’ were filmed was always going to be a special day with one of my big sisters.
There’s a timber cabin on top of Mount Stirling called Craig’s Hut, which was the childhood home of the movie’s lead character – Jim Craig, who was played by actor Tom Burlinson.
In the car on the way home, I asked my sister what she thought when she went inside the hut.
“I didn’t go inside,” she said. “I didn’t want to spoil it.”
To appreciate where she was coming from, you need to understand the connection we have to that movie – a horse movie set in the beautiful Australian bush.
My siblings and I grew up riding horses on the farm in Western Australia and we can all remember the day we sat down as a family to watch The Man From Snowy River for the first time. It was simply stunning.
The horsemanship, the title character’s daring ride down the mountain, the sweeping high country scenes, that tender horseback kiss, the poignant refrain of the theme music. They’re all deeply etched in memory.
Or is that just because, like many other Australian fans of the movie, we’ve watched it dozens of times over the years?
It perhaps holds a particularly significance for my sister – two years older than me – because she’s gone on to become an accomplished horsewoman in her own right.
She established a stud farm where she breeds and trains horses, and she and her ponies are award-winners in carriage driving shows.
It was another horse-related Australian icon that drew her to Melbourne this week – her first visit to the Melbourne Cup.
The day before that famous race, we drove three hours to Mt Stirling, took the car as far up the mountain as we could go, then hiked the final few kilometres along a track that can only be accessed by four-wheel-drive.
As we walked through the bush past wombat holes and over fallen trees, we recounted lines from the movie. Things like: “You can bid the mob good day” and “Glory be, would you look at that!”
It reminded me of the day we first saw the movie as kids. After the final credits rolled, we bolted down the paddock to saddle our horses.
On horseback we thundered down our big hill, splashed across the creek and jumped over logs. As we rode, we recited movie dialogue, cracked pretend whips and hummed the theme tune.
As an adult, I have visited the site on Mt Stirling once before, during a two-day trail ride that included camping overnight in a swag.
Over an open fire in a real mountain hut, another guest on the horse trek recited from memory the Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson poem, The Man from Snowy River, that inspired the movie.
It was a stirring moment, which formed the perfect prelude to our visit to Craig’s Hut the next day.
We awoke to a mountain that was shrouded in thick mist like a scene from the movie. But when we arrived at the clearing on horseback, all that was left of the hut was the fence rail and brick footings.
It had burnt down in a bushfire on the mountain in 2006, in the year before I got there. Since I had waited decades for that moment, I took photos anyway.
The hut we saw this week is apparently the third version. It seems that the first one, built in the early 1980s for filming, was just a flimsy set so a sturdy replacement was built on the site in 1993. After that hut burnt to the ground, it was rebuilt and reopened in January 2008 – presumably because authorities understood the strong tourism potential.
However not everyone who visits is there because of the movie.
As my sister stood enjoying the famous scene, two men with Australian accents came past and one asked the other: “So what’s the deal with this hut anyway?” The other man playfully slapped his companion on the back of the head and said: “It’s from The Man from Snowy River, stupid.”
The fact that it was a replica hut did not detract from the moment nor from the memories for my sister and me.
While I couldn’t wait to step behind the scenes and see what it was like inside, she wanted to keep some of the movie magic alive.
As she explained in the car: “I knew the inside would be different so I didn’t go in, but from the outside it was just as I remember it.” Simply stunning.