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Matthew Higgins: projects

Matthew Higgins, formerly a senior curator at the National Museum of Australia, has been researching, writing about, talking about, walking and skiing the Australian high country for two decades.

Rugged Beyond Imagination

As a Research Fellow at the National Museum's Centre for Historical Research, Matthew wrote a book on the history of the ACT high country, with an emphasis on people's relationship with the mountain environment. The project offered an opportunity to conduct further research and draw material together into a book aimed at the general public.

'Australia has precious little snow country and it is in the mountains that we see a really distinctive relationship between people and the Australian environment,' Matthew said. 'The mountains helped to shape people's lives in a whole range of ways'.

While many books have been written on the New South Wales and Victorian alps, few have focused on the ACT high country. Rugged Beyond Imagination concentrates on the post-settlement period and covers themes including: grazing, brumby running, surveying the ACT-NSW border, fire and forestry, water harvesting, science and skiing.

Rugged Beyond Imagination focuses on the Namadgi-Tidbinbilla area. It also covers other places in the ACT and NSW, which have a historical relationship to the core area, including parts of Kosciuszko National Park. Matthew draws on dozens of oral history interviews he has conducted since the late 1980s, using the prism of individual experience to help to tell a broader story.

Rugged Beyond Imagination is published by National Museum of Australia Press. The book includes historical photographs and contemporary images – many taken by Matthew before devastating bushfires swept through the area in 2003.

Buy Rugged Beyond Imagination from our online shop

pdf Download the mail order form for Rugged Beyond Imagination (PDF 1002kb)

Shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year Award. See ACT Chief Minister's media release.

Matthew Higgins, in red, leads a tour of the Bobeyan Valley, near Canberra.
Matthew Higgins, in red, leads a tour of the Bobeyan Valley, near Canberra. Photo: George Serras.

High Stakes

Australia's snow country occupies a tiny part of the nation's landmass, yet it is highly significant. In this short film Matthew Higgins explores the Snowy Mountains in winter. Join Matthew on a cross-country ski trip as he visits historic huts, tells about natural heritage, enjoys the aesthetic power of the white peaks, and ponders the threat of climate change. Will Australia lose its snow country? If it does, what will be the impacts, not just on skiers, but on whole species, and even on our food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin?

Flickr tile - Murray Meandar images
Flickr tile - some images from Murray Meander

Murray Meander

As part of the Museum's development of Australian content for the Water: H20=life exhibition (December 2009), Matthew Higgins undertook extensive research on the Murray River. The research  highlights 'the Murray's natural, historical, Indigenous and other values [as] key parts of the Australian story'.

He documented this research in two Flickr sets:

Assisting Namadgi projects

In January 2010 Matthew assisted with a new walking track project in southern Namadgi National Park. Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett announced in 2009 a package of $68,000 for an interpretive walking track linking historic Brayshaws, Westermans and Waterhole huts in the southern part of the park. The walking track, which visits a number of sites highlighting rural life in the mountains, will include interpretive signage, boardwalks, bridges and basic visitor facilities.

Matthew joined ACT Parks and Conservation Service staff Louisa Roberts, Lois Padgham and Dave Whitfield, ACT Heritage Unit's Linda Roberts and Anna Gurnhill, and the Kosciuszko Huts Association's Richard Stanley for fieldwork to look at the route and discuss the nature, location and content of signage for the track. Matthew has used the walking route many times in the past with bushwalking groups and students. The new track promises to bring Namadgi's rich cultural heritage further within reach of the general public and will make a contribution to people's enjoyment of the Australian Alps as a whole.

The group discusses interpretive signage at the Grassy Creek stockyards.
The group discusses interpretive signage at the Grassy Creek stockyards. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

Related links

The Snowy Mountains
Matthew discussed skiing history, mountain huts, climate change and his film High Stakes with Michael Cathcart on ABC Radio's Bush Telegraph, 16 August 2010.
Visit the ABC's website to listen to the program

Corryong and the Man from Snowy River
Matthew Higgins's book Rugged beyond imagination has a chapter 'Hoofbeats through snowgums'. It is about the horse culture in the high country and the practice of catching wild horses known as brumby-running.
View a slideshow of photos taken by Matthew Higgins at Corryong

Friends magazine article on Canberra's water supply
pdf Cotter Comfort (PDF 2123kb)
Friends magazine, Volume 21, No 2, June 2010

Remembering Elyne Mitchell at Towong Hill
The late Australian author Elyne Mitchell (1913-2002) is best remembered for her Silver Brumby series of novels for children. Matthew Higgins visited Elyne's son John on the family property Towong Hill in the Upper Murray in April 2010.
View the collection highlight on Elyne Mitchell's typewriter
View a slideshow of photos taken by Matthew Higgins at Towong Hill

Alps across borders
Matthew spoke at the Cultural Heritage Skills Workshop held in the Victorian high country in March 2010. The workshop was organised through the Australian Alps Liaison Committee (Cultural Heritage Working Group).
View more about the Cultural Heritage Skills Workshop

The South East chapter in Canberra's history book
Matthew Higgins discussed the upcoming centenary of Canberra in 2013 on ABC Radio's Breakfast with Ian Campbell, 11 March 2010.
Visit the ABC's website to listen to the program

Rugged Beyond Imagination
Matthew Higgins spoke about his book with Michael Mackenzie on ABC Radio's Bush Telegraph, 26 November 2009.
Visit the ABC's website to listen to the program

Mountains of history around Canberra
Matthew Higgins talked about his book and the Namadgi mountain region on ABC's Stateline, 12 June 2009.
View the Stateline video

Heritage walk
Matthew Higgins led a small group of people on a cultural and natural heritage walk in the Namadgi National Park in April 2009.
Visit the Flickr website to view photos taken during the walk

Friends talk
Matthew Higgins spoke to the Friends of the National Museum on 15 April 2009 about the themes of his forthcoming book Rugged Beyond Imagination.
audio_w15 Download the audio and read the transcript

ACT Border history
Matthew Higgins spoke about the ACT's border history with ABC Stateline's reporter, Craig Allen, 11 July 2008.
View the ABC News video
Read the Stateline transcript

Pictures of the region
View a slideshow of images taken by Matthew Higgins of the region

Mount Franklin Chalet holds many memories for Canberra ski enthusiasts
Matthew Higgins discussed the loss of the Mount Franklin Chalet in the January 2003 bushfires with staff from Namadgi National Park and members of the Canberra Alpine Club, 4 April 2003.
Read the Stateline transcript