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A tribute to “Guide Alice” Manfield

Thu 22nd Apr 2021

Portrait of Alice Manfield in her own custom designed mountain suit. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria
Portrait of Alice Manfield in her own custom designed mountain suit. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria

Alice Manfield, or 'Guide Alice' as she became known, was a well respected mountain guide, photographer, amateur naturalist and early feminist figure. Her pioneering efforts at Mount Buffalo, Victoria during the 1890s to 1930s led her to become a tourist attraction and helped establish Mount Buffalo National Park.

Early Years

Alice Manfield was born on the family farm, Nailsea in Buckland Valley southeast of Mount Buffalo in 1878. Daughter to James Manfield and Jane, she was one of eight children.

Alice's father was a coal miner who arrived in Victoria from England during the Victorian gold rush of 1854. Using the earnings from gold mining he, along with his brother, purchased a piece of land in Buckland Valley which they eventually returned to 10 years later to begin farming the land.

Mount Buffalo became noted by Government botanists for its special geology and botany which soon attracted a small stream of tourists to the area. This only grew when a railway extended to  Myrtleford and then on to Bright in 1890, allowing travellers from the main township to be within reach of the picturesque Mount Buffalo.

Guide Alice Mount Buffalo, around 1912. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria
Guide Alice Mount Buffalo, around 1912. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria

In 1888, a tender to build a hotel at the start of a new track up the mountain was issued and Alice's father won the bid. Fast forward two years and the Manfield's Buffalo Falls Temperance Hotel was opened. The Manfields became pioneers of tourism on Mount Buffalo, providing guests with transport between the hotel and the station. They would lead guests on a three-hour climb to the Buffalo plateau where they partook in camping trips and ventured on tracks accessible only by packhorse and foot.

Alice was only twelve when the hotel opened, and her eagerness to join the guiding trips developed her love and knowledge of the flora, fauna, and rugged Mount Buffalo landscape. She loved the mountain and in a diary entry she wrote 'mountain climbing and the stillness of the mountain top seemed to take hold of me, and at every opportunity, I would accompany my brothers…'

The beginning of the first chalet, c.1890 by creator Alice Manfield. Image care of Alice Manfield collection,  State Library of Victoria
The beginning of the first chalet, c.1890 by creator Alice Manfield. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria

Guide Alice

Alice started to lead tourists up the mountain solo as soon as she was old enough, serving as a calming influence to the adventurer's concern about the wildlife, getting lost and dangers on the mountain. Tourists were attracted to her enthusiasm and knowledge, this coupled with her skills as a naturalist and photographer meant she quickly became a sought-after guide and was fondly referred to as Guide Alice.

The guiding Alice did involved hard physical work; and the complete lack of active clothes designed for women meant Alice was forced to design a trouser suit herself. The outfit included long trousers, a strong buttoned jacket, and puttees (strips of cloth wound around the calves). Women's groups who would only be seen in dresses, were quick to criticise her saying she was 'spoiling' herself by adopting masculine attire. This didn't seem to bother her and she became a tourist attraction in her own right nonetheless.

Ad for tours by Guide Alice at Buffalo Mountains, Victoria. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria.
Ad for tours by Guide Alice at Buffalo Mountains, Victoria. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria.

The Manfields eventually built a second hotel, a small chalet near Bents Lookout, naming it Granny's Place. Guide Alice took to running Granny's Place, happily spending long periods of time there, embracing all that mother nature had to offer - even if that meant snow up to 2.4m deep, at which time she had to enter the chalet via the chimney!

In 1898 the Victorian government declared 2,880 acres of land on the plateau as Mount Buffalo National Park and by 1908 a road opened to the plateau. In a male dominant gathering, Guide Alice was photographed holding the ribbon at the road's official opening.

The opening of the road to the Chalet, 1908. Image care of Alice Manfield collection,  State Library of Victoria
The opening of the road to the Chalet, 1908. Image care of Alice Manfield collection, State Library of Victoria

Later years

Mount Buffalo becoming a National Park and the construction of roads meant an increase in tourism. In 1910, the Public Works Department built a government owned guesthouse close by the Manfield's chalet. This appealed to the more reserved-type of tourist, while the Manfields offered a more adventurous experience. Guide Alice remained in demand until well into her fifties, and continued her service as mountain guide. She eventually retired in the 1930s, and passed away in 1960 aged 82.

Rest in peace, Guide Alice Manfield.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Manfield 
  • https://riparianalbury.com/2017/09/26/a-strange-romantic-life-guide-alice-on-mount-buffalo/ 
  • https://blogs.slv.vic.gov.au/such-was-life/guide-alice/