MT. USEFUL


Grid Reference DU 562277
Department DEPI
Work Depot Heyfield
Region Gippsland
Grading Primary
Elevation (ASL) 1434m
Height 20m
Construction Steel
Cabin size 2m x 2m
Public access to site Yes
In use since 19?? - 1960?
1960 - current
CFA Region 10 - Eastern

There is an unconfirmed rumour that the original tower was a single pole tower.
Another wooden tower was built but this was a four post one. The timber was cut about 10km away and had to be snigged the entire way. The current steel tower was built in 1960. Due to the tower's remoteness, the towerman camps on site.
Mount Useful was once known to the locals of the area as the "Loo with a View", because the front door of the longdrop toilet opened to the east giving "the thinker" time to contemplate incredible views to as far as Bairnsdale and Lake King, 100 km away.
The current cabin (see thumbnail photo below) was installed in 2002
Photo and above information supplied by Ray Lucas (on top of tower)

The following extract is taken from notes supplied by Phil Cheney. Phil is the son of Noel Cheney, who manned Mt. Useful in the mid 1960's.
Noel read about the job in a copy of Davis's Forest Fire Control and Use that Phil had lying about.
Geoff Brisbane was the district Forester in Heyfield. "Just report the smoke as you see them" was his instruction for Noel's first day. As the inversion lifted in the Latrobe Valley Noel dutifully reported in on the Yallourn power station, the briquette factory stack, the A.P.M. Mill, and the Traralgon cement works. There was no comment -- that was training, test and examination. Noel and Pat loved the peace of the mountains and the somewhat primitive facilities presented no problems. Pat was a keen gardener at home and liked to walk around the forest between Useful and Mount Skene. Both were keen readers.
After a surprising chilly start, the 1964/65 fire season was severe. There were numerous dry lightning strikes and in early March several fires broke away under extreme fire weather. Large areas were burnt in Gippsland including more than a hundred thousand hectares in the Heyfield district. The summer was full of activity for the tower men. When visibility was restricted by the extensive pall of smoke they were kept busy relay messages for firefighters. "Hey Brissy can you get a bulldozer up Billy Goat bluff?" "Not unless you're a Billy goat" was Brisbane's curt reply. Noel was impressed by the efficiency of the man. He said later that he managed to get miles of fire trail established during the fires (fall-back positions) that he had struggled to have approved on the pre-suppression budget. Now Mount Useful became the hub of activity. Supplies for firefighters were delivered from town. Firefighters flew in helicopters to welcome cups of tea, all of which was pretty exciting for Noel and his wife Pat.
Noel and Pat were not the only husband and wife teams in the Heyfield district. There was another couple on the tower at Mount Skene -- only they were much younger. On the warm days the young lady liked to sun-bake naked beside the tower that was little more than a cabin on the Mountain top. Foresters would try to catch her out in the open by sneaking the helicopter at tree top level up the valleys and popping out unexpectedly over the ridge creating a frantic scramble to retain a little modesty.
The next summer was not quite as pleasurable as the first. Pat had an accident when driving down the mountain for supplies and left Noel to stay with her sister while she recovered. She skidded in the loose gravel on a sharp corner and went over the edge and 30m down the rocky slope until the car was held up by a tree. Although badly shaken and with a serious gash to her head she soon realised that it would be a long time before she was found down there. She struggled out of the wreckage and with a towel wrapped tightly around her head to stem the bleeding she set off and walked some 15 km down the mountain road to the Licola road.
There were hardly any fires, no visits, no firefighting action to monitor and, all in all, the job was a far cry from the excitement the previous season. Heavy snow over winter had finally flattened the rustic dunny (toilet) at Mount Useful and Noel used the down time to rebuild it and carry out other maintenance and repairs to the cabins at Useful and Skene.
Noel Cheney died of a heart attack in May1967 after his third year on the Mountains. Geoff Brisbane told Phil that he suspected something might have been wrong when he climbed the tower one day with Noel and noticed he was a little dizzy at the end. Regrettably he was a man who cherished his independence and the thought of being incapacitated repulsed him so he told no one and took no precautions.

Please click on thumbnails for enlargements

Watercoulor of Toilet
at Mt. Useful
by Noel Cheney
17-12-'64
Noel Cheney on
top of the world!
Snowstorm in January 1965
(mid-summer!!)
Living quaters in 2002
Supplied by Ray Lucas
New living quaters since 2004
Supplied by Ray Lucas

First three photos are supplied by Phil Cheney.


Inside the cabin in 1971
Supplied by Dick Noble
Cabin in 2006
Supplied by Ray Lucas


Please click here to read Ray Lucas's blog. He tell us about the work he does and what grows and moves around Mt. Useful.

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