As written by our Co-Founder and Life Member Bernard (Bernie) Armessen and as told to his granddaughter Michelle Knight

In February 1961, after a meeting of Master Builders at the Club in Charlotte St, George Phillips, an old builder and cross-country skier, approached me and said “Bernie, why do we have to join another club whilst we are in a better position to build our own. We have good contacts with suppliers, sub-contractors, labour and we have the experience.” He made sense and I agreed to give it a go. At that George went to the office, got two blank receipt books and we proceeded to charge every drinker at the bar 5 bob to join our new ski-club. That night, at 11pm, the “Illawarra Master Builders’ Alpine Club” was born.

The name was a bit long to say and write so, a year later, we used the initials as acronym I.M.B.A.C as we call it today. Most of 1961 was spent studying the feasibility of the project. George (President) and I (Treasurer) had many trips to Caltex House in Sydney where the National Parks and Wildlife Service was situated. We selected two sites of 13 beds each and started designing a 26 bed ski lodge. While I occupied myself with technical points, George was busy drafting a constitution and share allowance.
We came to the conclusion that the lodge would cost 13 000 pounds to build and furnish needing 135 senior members to pay for it and patronise it.

And this being done, George went back to golf (he had been NSW champion), and I became President. Our secretary had died so a new member skier, Margaret Feneley, was elected Secretary and a social member John Domsala was elected Treasurer and Social Organiser. Until then our membership had been mainly social. We had to create new skiers because Illawarra and Snow Country Clubs had enlisted the few skiers that existed in the Illawarra.

John, Margaret and I set out to do just that. We had bus trips to the snow, sand skiing on Windang dunes and water skiing in Nowra. I gave countless talks to service clubs showing films. That occupied the best part of 1963.

Our big break came with John’s idea that we should start Sunday night barbecues and dances. In those days Sunday was for church: no sport, no races and, perish the thought, no dancing. Sunday nights the town was dead. We changed all that.

John and his daughter Kay organised the show in the ballroom of the new Master Builders in Church St. The first night we had 60 people, it soon passed 200. The dance craze was the stomp and the racket was infernal.

Hill, believers and non-believers alike, not interested in skiing or stomping, complained about the lack of sleep to the council, the MP’s and the police. One night we had 600 and had to close the club doors to the queue outside but not before we had to let in a squad of licencing police who had no problem in finding a few underage little darlings who were washing down their steak sandwiches, in between stomps, with the demon drink. That was the end of our gold mine.

However it had left us with a healthy bank account, supplemented by the subscriptions of new members, attracted by all the publicity.

By the end of 1965 we were still short of 50 members and the Master Builders Club, who had forgiven us for the troubles they had had with the Licencing Board, agreed to go guarantors for us with the CBA to make up the shortfall and by March 1966 we were ready to roll only to find that no work was permitted to start on the snow field after the first of March and we had to show proof that we had 22,000 pounds available.

It was back to Caltex House for George and I with our costings to show why we could do it cheaper. It took us two days of talks with their architects to convince them that we could do the job. They agreed to let us start as long as we paid the building fee on 22,000 pounds. We started mid-March – so did the blizzards that gave us hell throughout building. We poured the concrete foundations at the end of March. Ernie Brown and Lance Kenna from Thirroul did all the carpentering, Ray Dent the roof, plumbing and drainage, George Taylor the electrical work, Max Gray the painting and the small jobs that go with building work. The first weekend in June – 9 weeks after laying the foundations – we had a big working bee, the curtains went up, and the carpet was down.

A big thank you must go to Snow Country for lending us their lodge to house our workers. Meals were taken at the hotel (mainly stews).

When we started work, news came around the hotel that Utah Constructions had finished Guthega Dam and were about to start Jindabyne Dam under another company. For that they had to liquidate their assets at Island Bend. Quick phone calls that night to Margaret and John gave me permission to go investigate. I arranged to see the engineer in charge who took me to Island Bend to see their staff quarter’s furniture. It was new or near new in perfect condition. I gave him an order for mattresses, blankets, wardrobes, chairs, tables, lounge chairs, kitchen and laundry equipment etc., all going for a song. I could sing in those days but I gave him a cheque for it that would have made Arthur Daly blanch, it was so cheap!

The carpet was the last hurdle. No ski lodge had carpet so we had made no provision for it but the ladies thought it would be a nice finishing touch.

So Margaret said “If we haven’t got the money, let’s run a 200 club with a new Holden car as first prize.”

Such was the euphoria of the time that it was a sell-out. Dwyers gave us a good price on a new car and an acquaintance of Margaret’s, after a quick look at the plan, said he’ll lay the carpet for the profit we were to make – 800 pounds! We made 810 pounds but the poor fellow had the shock of his life when he went to measure but to give him his due, he kept his word like all other suppliers and subbies. Those were the days when important decisions were sealed with a handshake.

To come back to the working bee: 2 pan technicians delivered the furniture from Island Bend and, at last, after an exciting 5 years, the dream had become a reality.

The following Saturday was the start of the 66th snow season. The lodge was booked out and Mr Tom Lewis, then Minister for Lands, was there to officially open it. We were all exhausted but we found enough strength to enjoy the night party with the Minister, joining the club spirits by helping to wash the dishes – long enough to get his photo taken.

1966 was a good snow season so after a couple of weeks rest we worked out what to do with our new toy. If I can paraphrase a song of the period.
“Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We skied and danced forever and a day”
We sure did!!!! Fuelled by Griffith Vino from Guido and Borgo! By today’s standard it was a bit rough but it served a purpose. In 67 or 68 we had a big scare that threatened to close the resort. Water pollution. People were sick all over the place and the Jindabyne chemist could have retired off the money he made selling Kio Magna to skiers with the trots. But there were no reports of vino drinkers being affected – at least not by water pollution.

In 1969, Margaret Feneley, John Domsala and myself relinquished our positions in the committee, Max Gray became President and the rest is history.

And history will tell that the thing that made IMBAC so successful was the professional manner in which the early committees under presidents like Max Gray, Ray Dent, Steve Kristoff, Bruce Etheredge, Dick Johns, Roger Davis etc., ran the lodge.

The ladies played a big part. If I can name but two beside Margaret it would be Peggy Norman and Hazel Etheredge who gave a lot of time as booking officers and social organisers. Eric Norman did his bit with his lodge maintenance. Max Gray as our first club captain started the junior training, followed by my son Philippe.

The two of them spent many weekends ferrying car loads of kids to the snow (some were even bus trips). The cost of the training and trophies was borne by the Master Builders Club in their yearly budget for sports. With age the memory fails and I am sure I should have mentioned somebody else and I apologise.

The loan from CBA was promptly repaid and successive profits used for renovations, extensions etc., to make the lodge as comfortable as it is today for your convenience. It gave a lot of joy to three generations and if the snow keeps coming, three more generations will benefit.