Thanks to a partnership between two locals from Mansfield, Vic, travellers can combine the adventure of horseriding in the high country with the comfort of a mountain chalet.

Story By Tim Dub

In the tapestry of Australian myths and legends, the Victorian high country looms large, with tales of courageous mountain horsemen and defiant bushrangers woven throughout our history. The Man from Snowy River captured the colony’s imagination when Andrew Barton (‘Banjo’) Paterson penned his iconic verse in 1890 and prophesied that ‘The Man from Snowy River is a household word today/And the stockmen tell the story of his ride’.
Just as the 1982 film followed in the hoof prints of The Man from Snowy River and his fearless horse, so too does Mansfield local Michael Watson provide an authentic insight into the mountain horseman’s world, leading small groups on horseback through this beautiful high country region on Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides. “There’s great job satisfaction for us to share this very special part of the world,” Michael says. “It is a fantastic experience.”
A sumptuous holiday home set 800 metres high on the ranges, Merrindie Mountain Retreat offers guests a rarefied overnight haven, with an exquisite meal and a comfortable bed the perfect antidote to a day in the saddle. The first sight of the chalet-like Merrindie quickens the pulse with the anticipation of arriving somewhere special indeed. The winding approach road threads over a hill to reveal a sweeping panorama in which Merrindie sits centre stage, just beneath the summit. Behind are the mountains of Victoria’s Alpine National Park.
Michael, whose family has been around Mansfield for 50 years, is considered a newcomer to the area compared to Charlie Lovick, the bearded mountain cattleman who heads up the High Country Cattle Drive for Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides. Charlie’s ancestors were among the first settlers and, with the arrival of his grandson, he can point to seven generations of his family who have lived locally. Charlie was accredited as ‘Master of Horses’ on the set of The Man from Snowy River and taught lead actor Tom Burlinson to ride in the film’s famous gravity-defying hill descent.
The movie, inspired by Banjo’s famous poem, features a determined youth who, though treated unjustly, proves his worth with his exceptional horsemanship and great courage. While Michael may not be able to exhibit all of the character traits of a movie hero, he gives his tour groups something even greater: a real taste of the high country. The horses trek along bridle paths established more than 150 years ago, the methods used to muster and drive cattle are unchanged and the camaraderie and values of these hardy mountain dwellers are those that were forged in the same pastures discovered by their ancestors, places that only locals of the high country can call home. You can ride with them or join them by four-wheel-drive or helicopter and, if you meet Charlie, you can ask him how they filmed that fearful descent. He knows, but don’t expect him to tell you. Nor will Michael.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010