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Emily Chambers on ski slopes

Hitting the slopes

Margot Riley
A young woman’s alpine adventure in the 1930s sent her headlong into romance. 

Thoroughly modern Miss Emily Chambers of Burwood, NSW, was always eager to try the latest fad, whether it was wearing short sleeves to the office at the Mutual Life Company in Martin Place, marching with the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club, dancing the Charleston on weekends, skating at Sydney’s George Street Glaciarium, or skiing.

With fun, adventure (and perhaps love) on the agenda, Emily and a friend (also named Emily — the other half of the ‘Two Ems’) packed their ski gear, paid their £20 and joined the Public Service Ski Club on a 10-day stint at the snow. Their stay at the Hotel Kosciusko at Diggers Creek near Jindabyne, from 1 to 11 August 1930, coincided with a heavy snowfall. The mountain resort became a winter sports’ paradise, ensuring the novice skiers enjoyed the best conditions for their first alpine excursion.

Emily’s photo album from this trip captures all the energy and enthusiasm of a young woman experiencing a visit to the snow courtesy of the relatively new industry of commercial tourism. Thirty-six black and white snaps record skiers on the Kerry Course (named for alpine pioneer and photographer Charles Kerry, the father of Australian skiing) and the Grand Slam run, a cross-country ski race, ice skating and a picnic in the snow at Dainer’s Gap with lunch carried on a horse-drawn sleigh.

Emily’s search for love was equally successful. Victorian Ski Club stalwart Gordon Mailler Brown was also holidaying at Kosciuszko.

Photograph album of Kosciuszko, 1-11 August 1930 / Emily Chambers

The couple took to each other straight away; the champion ‘ski-runner’ (as skiers were then known) was soon giving the pretty learner a few tips, coaching her to first place in the Ladies’ Alarm Race on the picnic race day, before the annual snow carnival and fancy dress ball on the last evening.

Returning to Sydney, the holiday romance blossomed into a long-distance relationship. That summer Emily travelled by ship, with her sister Isabel, to meet Gordon’s family; his father ET Brown was founder of the Brown-built Steel Equipment Company, Australia’s first manufacturer of all-steel office furniture. In January 1931 the girls flew back to Sydney on the ‘Southern Sky’, part of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith’s short-lived Australian National Airway’s fleet. Emily’s collection also contains souvenirs of this early experience of commercial air travel, including her own photographs and ephemera (tickets, timetable, sick bag).

Gordon and Emily were engaged in May and married later in 1932. The couple had three children and spent many happy family holidays (both summer and winter) in the alpine regions of Victoria and NSW, all photographed by Emily. Ironically, however, it was Gordon’s passion for alpine pursuits — inherited by son Alan who later participated in the 1947 Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition — that would eventually drive the couple apart. Gordon and Emily divorced in 1966, and Emily died in 1977.

Presented to the Library by Emily and Gordon’s daughter, Lynette O’Neill, in 2014 the collection includes two albums of photographs and associated ephemera. Together, they provide a wonderful record of one Sydney woman’s encounters with emerging modern lifestyle trends in Australia between the wars.

… they say, that up at ‘Kossie’ There’s lots and lots of men So who knows what the future Holds in store for little ‘EM.’

Anonymous Poem, c. 1930

Photograph album of Kosciuszko


Margot Riley
Curator, Research and Discovery

The author is grateful to Lynette O’Neill for providing information for this article.

This article first appeared in SL magazine, Winter 2015.