“Mum would prop one of us on a cushion on her horse and Dad would grab the other one. We went all over the place, even up to Kossi…..”
This was one of Ted Taylor’s earliest memories of growing up in the Snowy Mountains where transport was by horseback, schooling was by correspondence and real-life experiences, friendships were forged through blizzards, and community was as strong as the freezing winds that blew across the mountains in the depths of winter.
Born in 1936, Ted was the second son of Tom and Mollie Taylor and brother of Don, two years his senior. Ted’s grandfather, William and his grandmother, Sarah moved from Queanbeyan to ‘Coolamine’ in 1908 where he managed ‘Coolamon’ for the Campbell’s from Duntroon.
‘Coolamon’ was first grazed around 1830 by Terence Murray and this tradition of sheep and cattle grazing on the alpine summer grasses continued until the late 1960’s when the National Parks and Wildlife Services halted this practice to ‘prevent environmental damage by stock’.
While youngsters, Don and Ted learned first-hand about the unique alpine ecology, watched their father invent new-fangled, labour-saving gadgets and contributed to the day-to-day and seasonal commitments of stockmen in the mountains.
Their mother, Mollie originally hailed from near Trangie but, after meeting Tom, remained in the mountains for the rest of her life. Just after Ted’s birth, they lived in Spencer’s cottage – one room, dirt floor. “Mum used to mix up cow manure and boil it over the fire, then she’d paint it on the floor with a tussock broom. When it dried, it was hard as concrete and you could sweep it”.
“That would last about two weeks, depending on the weather then she’d do it all again, but it worked anyway. Mum reckoned they were the happiest days of her life living at Spencer’s Hut”, Ted recalled in ‘Reflections of Ted Taylor: Man of the High Country’ edited by Judi Hearn.
Horses provided friendship, speed and another four legs to traverse the stunning mountains and Ted learned to ride at the age of four on old Tooty who rarely went faster than a slow walk. He graduated to ‘good, free-going ponies who would stop and wait if you fell off’ and his reputation as a fine horseman was forged as a teenager.
Ted learned his stock skills from father Tom whose reputation was unprecedented with plenty of practice every summer when the mobs arrived to graze. Once the mobs had been droved back to the low country, burning was undertaken in carefully selected locations.
“In May the fires would take out the dead vegetation and small shrubs that prevented grasses growing. The burns in September were to reduce fuel loads so summer fires wouldn’t be as deadly as they have become”, Mr Taylor recounted.
The Taylor's relationship with ‘Currango’ commenced in 1943 when the Kozciusko State Park Trust was created and Tom became its Head Ranger. This was an era of endless visitors, one being the journalist, Alan Reid from Canberra and his sons Dougal and Alan junior who spent most school holidays there.
The Taylor and Reid boys became firm friends even though their occupations took them in different directions. In 1955, Ted joined the Snowy Scheme as a contractor providing horses for the surveyors, in particular, Major Clewes who did the pioneering work siting the dams. “It taught you to get along with people from all walks of life , to work and live with them and to form a mateship which would last for years”.
After leaving the surveyors, Ted went on to use machinery on the construction side and continued until the scheme was completed in 1974. “A lot of the blokes were older than me but it’s great to look back on the Snowy Scheme and know I was part of it”.
Ted and Helen returned to ‘Currango’ as caretakers of the historic homestead and outbuildings for many years and, again, the famous Taylor hospitality was extended to hundreds of visitors each year wanting to experience the legendary Snowy Mountains and learn from the people who lived there.
The management of the Kozciusko National Park by National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) became a source of concern for Ted as policies executed by NPWS counteracted the practices of generations of people who had more than one hundreds years of combined lived experiences in these unique conditions.
“We weren’t consulted about their new ideas and, without periodic grazing to keep certain plant species under control, the timbered areas kept expanding and changing the very nature of the high plains”, he explained.
“Then came the establishment of ‘wilderness’ areas where nobody was allowed and it’s here that all the feral weeds and animals continue to breed and grow with no control mechanisms at all. I, and many others, kept telling the Parks this is a disaster waiting to happen”.
Ted’s concerns manifested in the most horrific way – the massive and fatal bush fires of January 2003 which razed thousands of hectares of the Kozciusko National Park, killed four people and destroyed more than 500 hundred houses in Canberra.
He recalls seeing from the Currango homestead, a huge mushroom cloud towards the Australian Capital Territory, similar to the formations associated with a nuclear explosion.
“It must have been thousands of metres in the sky over the top of Canberra and formed because the heat of the fire had risen so high it caused an ice-cloud which reached the stratosphere. According to a scientist, this would have been the moment the fire-storm hit the western side of the city”.
“Seventy-one per cent of the Kozciusko National Park, 522,000 hectares, was needlessly burned by this wild-fire…..the country we had been caring for without any such destruction because we knew the country”.
“This was preventable and the destruction is shameful yet few changes have been made as a consequence of this unmitigated disaster. Not only for me but for all the people who’ve grown up in the mountains and created our lives and heritage here, it is sickening to be treated like imbeciles in country we know intimately”.
“The arrogance with which we are treated is humiliating when all we mountain people have ever wanted is to look after this area as we have, successfully, for more than a hundred years”.
Ted’s last years were spent hooked up to a kidney dialysis machine three out of every seven days in Wagga Wagga until he successfully campaigned for a permanent dialysis unit for the Tumut Hospital.
He is survived by his wife, Helen and children Kim, Marden, Jill and Fiona.
A memorial service will be held at the Church of England church, Tumut, at 11.00 on Tuesday, 28th March, 2017.