Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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College Group Donna Buang and Ben Cairn, 1935.

College Group Donna Buang and Ben Cairn, 1935.


The Geelong College Exploration Society was established in 1947 as an outcome of the College trip to Mt Conner in Central Australia. The Society was an offshoot of the Ramblers Guild with specific objectives including scientific research and the preservation of flora and fauna. It had, as its President, the School Principal and included a wider membership than only Geelong College students or staff.

Soon after its formation, members of the Exploration Society completed the first successful climb of Federation Peak in Tasmania in 1949. In 1961 an expedition to the Flinders Ranges was notable for the erection of a cairn at the derelict town of Beltana to commemorate the Smith of Dunesk Mission and the work of former Principal, Reverend Francis Rolland before his appointment to the School. The Exploration Society has continued in a modified form to the present day and many outdoor adventure activities have occurred under its label.

In October, 1936 John Bechervaise, first Warden of the 'House of Guilds' described in near mystical terms the recent Geelong College deep winter hike to Lake Tarli Karng, then an elusive, seldom seen reflection deep in the heart of Victoria’s High Country. The hike was an adventure requiring resilience, determination and personal responsibility - qualities encouraged in an outward looking school reflecting the inspired and visionary leadership of its Principal, the Reverend Francis Rolland.

The Rev Francis Rolland had been appointed Principal of the College in 1920, a non-teacher sought out by the School Council while still overseas. The minutes of the College Council later recorded that when he started the College’s 'fortunes were at low ebb. Enrolments, finance, staff, scholarship, sport, school spirit – all were in a poor state' . By the late 1920s however confidence had returned under his leadership. With the return of vitality to the College came a new vision, symbolised in 1935, with the establishment and philosophy of the House of Guilds.

During this period John Bechervaise had joined the school. In 1935, when he became the first Warden of the new House of Guilds, Francis Rolland is reported to have told him that students were to receive assistance in any project ‘from writing a sonnet to building a steam engine.’

Among the very first groups within the House of Guilds was the Ramblers Guild which, in its formal association, went far beyond the usual boarders’ Saturday and weekend outings, then a regular feature of College life. Commenting on the first anniversary of the Ramblers in May 1936, the School magazine Pegasus, recorded the successful completion of a variety of trips under Guild Masters Cooke and Stretton, including their first to Lorne, Wilson’s Promontory and Deal Island. A traverse of the Baw Baw Plateau from Warburton to Walhalla followed soon after. During winter 1936 students from the College completed one of the first winter trips to Lake Tali Karng - part of a continuing attempt, then popular among walking clubs, to unravel the mystery of whether the lake froze during winter.

The war years from 1939 to 1945 limited the activities of the House of Guilds. Materials shortages, rationing - particularly petrol and the enlistment of many able staff in the armed forces reduced the Ramblers outings. Such was this decline that in June 1945 Pegasus reported dismally that the House of Guilds had been expected to close when Mr Westbrook left at the start of the year. The appointment as warden of John Bechervaise however, newly returned from, as Francis Rolland described it 'a joyous vagabondage' in England, in mid-year awakened a new vigour, enthusiasm and direction in the House of Guilds.


Leaving Rodondo Island, 1947.

This sense of excitement was clear in 1946 with the first trip to Tasmania’s Lake St Clair and the Levern Gorge, closely followed by the first attempt to land on Rodondo Island in Bass Strait. In January, 1947 the second successful Ramblers trip to Rodondo occurred - a trip which was to catapult the Geelong College into the history of adventure through the first known landing and scaling of Rodondo Island.

Publicity from the Rodondo Island trip assisted the purchase, with assistance from the Herald Sun newspaper, of the infamous “blitz buggies” 'Bucking Bertha' and 'Leaping Lena', ex-army trucks which were to be the mainstay of the Society’s overland adventures for the next few years.

In 1947, the College mounted an ambitious expedition to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) and members climbed Mt Conner. This pioneering Central Australian Expedition became the catalyst for the formation of the Geelong College Exploration Society. The Society was an offshoot of the Ramblers Guild with membership and objectives distinct from those of the student focused Ramblers Guild. With the School Principal as President, the Exploration Society was a wider group open to all past and current members of the College. Its objectives included scientific research and the preservation of flora and fauna.

Exploration Society members completed the first successful climb of Tasmania’s Federation Peak in 1949 - a feat that was celebrated in a return College Exploration Society trip to Tasmania in 1999 with three original members, Fred Elliot, Bill Huffam and Alan Rogers.

In late 1949, John Bechervaise left Geelong College to become co-editor of the magazine Walkabout. He continued to pursue an active career of writing and photography and led several Antarctic expeditions in the 1950s. He later taught at Geelong Grammar School. 'Fred' Elliott also participated in Antarctic expeditions before returning to Geelong College to become Warden of the House of Guilds from 1972 to 1990.

The Exploration Society continued its adventurous pursuits with a series of wide ranging expeditions. Notable adventures included Wilson’s Promontory in 1949, Kiewa and East Gippsland in 1950, the Grampians in 1951, Nullabor Caves and the Flinders Ranges in 1952 and the Mallee in 1953. An expedition to the Flinders and Gammon Ranges in May, 1961 was particularly memorable for its erection of a cairn at the derelict town of Beltana to commemorate the Smith of Dunesk Mission where the Reverend Francis Rolland had served before his appointment to Geelong College as Principal.

The Geelong College Exploration Society continued to flourish building upon the work of a multitude of dedicated and adventurous individuals. It no longer possesses the scientific and environmental objectives of its founder - its focus now is primarily as an adventurous trekking group. Recent expeditions have included Western Australia’s Bibbulmun Track, Central Australia’s Larapinta Trail and Tasmania’s South-West Track. Revivals under the leadership of Fred Elliott in the 1970s and Phillip Taylor in the 1990s have ensured that the Society continues to build skill, character and resourcefulness in all who become involved in its spirit of adventure and journey ‘beyond the ends of roads’.


College Group Bibbulmun Track, WA in 2002.

Ramblers Guild and Exploration Society Expeditions from 1935 to 2008

1935 Easter Lorne, Vic
1935 July Mt Donna Buang, Ben Cairn
1935 September Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1936 January Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1936 January Deal Island, Tas
1936 Easter Baw Baw Ranges, Vic
1936 July Mt Buller, Vic
1936 September Tarli Karng, Vic
1936-7 Dec/Jan Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1937 Easter Otway Ranges, Vic
1938 March Airey’s Inlet, Vic
1938 Easter Lorne, Vic
1938 July Mt Donna Buang, Vic
1938 September Mt Buller, Vic
1938 Bacchus Marsh, Vic
1939 Easter Cape Otway, Vic
1939 September Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1940 Easter Lorne, Vic
1940 May Grampians, Vic
1941 Easter Cape Otway, Vic
1945 July Lorne, Vic
1945 September Mount Buffalo, Vic
1946 January Tasmania
1946 Easter Lorne, Vic
1946 July Mt Buller, Vic
1946 September Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1946 Rodondo Attempt, Vic
1947 January Rodondo Island, Vic
1947 May Anakie, Vic
1947 July Mount Buller, Vic
1947 September Cent. Aust., Mt Conner, NT
1948 January Snowy River, Vic
1948 May Otways, Vic
1948 May Tarli Karng, Vic
1948 September Ayers Rock, NT
1948 September Howqua River, Vic
1949 January Federation Peak, Tas
1949 May Wilson’s Prom, Vic
1950 January Kiewa and Yallourn, Vic
1950 May East Gippsland, Vic
1950 September Anakie, Werribee Gorge
1951 January Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1951 September Grampians, Vic
1952 January Nullabor, SA
1952 May Grampians, Vic
1952 September Flinders Ranges, SA
1953 September Mallee, Vic
1954 Ayers Rock, NT
1955 Easter Lerderderg Gorge, Vic
1959 May Wilson’s Promontory, Vic
1960 May Birdsville Track, SA
1961 Easter Cape Otway, Beech Forest
1961 May Flinders Ranges, SA
1961 December Lerderderg Gorge, Vic
1962 May Freycinet, Tas
1962 Dec Lerderderg Gorge, Vic
1962 Hinchinbrook Island, Qld
1963 April Lake Tali Karng, Vic
1963 Dec Mt Howitt, Vic
1964 Jan Flinder’s Island, Tas
1964 Mar Jamieson River, Vic
1964 May Grampians, Vic
1964 Sep Wilson’s Promontory
1964 Dec Grampians, Vic
1965 May Snowy River, Vic
1966 Apr Otways, Vic
1966 Dec Murray River, Vic
1966 Dec Lake Tali Karng, Vic
1966 Dec Sunset Country, Vic
1966 Dec Darling River, NSW
1966 Dec Moroka River, Vic
1967 May Moroka River, Vic
1968 Jan Nadgee, NSW
1968 May Grampians, Vic
1968 Dec Grampians, Vic
1969 May Mallee, Vic
1970 May Howqua River, Vic
1970 Dec Rodondo Island,Tas
1971 Dec Cradle Mountain,Tas
1972 Not Listed
1973 Not Listed
1974 May Cumberland River, Vic
1974 Aug Grampians, Vic
1975 May Aire River, Vic
1975 Aug Grampians, Vic
1976 May Grampians, Vic
1977-1997 Not Listed
1998 Federation Peak, Tas
1999 Jan Federation Peak, Tas
2000 Strzelecki Desert, SA
2002 Bibbulmun Track, WA
2003 Kokoda Track, PNG
2004 Larapinta Trail, NT
2006 Bibbulmun Track, WA
2006 Heysen Trail, SA
2007 South-West Track, Tas
2008 Croajingalong, Vic

Sources: Beyond the Ends of Roads Ad Astra.
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