Sure, terrain and snow matter, but the soul of a mountain comes from the people that make it what it is. Snow Action’s Travel Editor Dave Windsor talked to a selection of the characters who put the soul into Victoria’s #1 ski resort, Mt Buller, including 74 year old George Aivatoglou, who is gearing up for season 51 at Buller this year with no intentions of slowing down!
When did you arrive in Australia and come to Buller?
After doing the compulsory army service in Greece I told my father that I’m going away. I told him that I was thinking of going to Germany. But he told me that Australia was a better place to go. I didn’t even know where it was, so he told me to go buy a map and see where it was. So I went and bought a map of Europe and couldn’t find it. So he told me to go buy a map of the world.
He told me that when he was a little boy there were a lot of Australian soldiers in Greece and they were very nice people, so he told me that that’s where I should go. In those days they were looking for plumbers and carpenters and advertising in Greece, so I went to the office and put my name down. And we had English lessons two hours per week, so we couldn’t learn too much.
Anyway, after about 6 weeks the ambassador was coming down to do some interviews, and my teacher didn’t want me to go because I hadn’t learnt enough. But I was determined and my father told me that he will only ask a few questions about what I wanted to do in Australia, so I must remember some answers. I sneaked into the interview and my name was first, and he asked me two questions: “What do you do?”, and I responded “I’m a carpenter, I go to Australia to build houses.” Then he asked me my age, I said “24” and that was it.
So I arrived in 1962, and my first three nights I was sleeping in the toilets at the pier and one of the guys on the boat, who I didn’t know, recognised me and he took me in and tried to find me a job. And they found a job in the paper for carpenters to help build the Auski ski lodge on Mt Buller. They rang up the company and introduced me to them and I came up here to work on the building. In those days we had to travel through the Black Spur to get up to Buller, which was a long trek.
I got on very good here, and the work was good and I stayed. I helped out all over the mountain with maintenance and washing dishes, making coffees or pancakes, I did all sorts of jobs. I was so happy to be working and the people were really great.
I came to Australia to work, not to get the dole or the pension, and I’m still working. I came with my little suit case and box of tools – and I’ve still got it. I didn’t know anyone here and I just worked hard.
So you stayed up here since arriving in Australia
Mt Buller has been very good to me. I’ve met a lot of lovely people here, including my wife Margaret, and we are now three generations here with my son Robert and daughter Lia and our grandchildren.
I don’t ski very often here though, as I look after the business, we have a lot of customers, a lot of stock, a lot of tuning and we need to boost sales.
We work 7 days a week during the season and do all the work necessary for the business. With our short season I can’t ski as much of course. Winter is the time to look after the customers.
Every year has been really good. We have so many repeat customers and I always make time to catch up with them. I think Buller will get bigger and better too as the next generation of kids become the new customers of Buller. And lots of them are coming skiing for the first time from places like China, India, Pakistan, even Afghanistan.
Like I said, I came straight from the boat to help build Auski ski hire and stayed on. In 1963 I served Prince Charles when he came with Timbertop. In 1968 I went to work as a manager with Molony’s Ski Hire, and eventually took it over. In 1992 we expanded and started a new shop and stocked it with new skis and everything. We had to go to Melbourne for the day and on the way we got a phone call that the building had burned down. This was a very tough time for us, but we managed.
And I guess it’s all about service?
We employ mainly local people and we want them to concentrate on good service and keeping the customers happy. We have two Chinese girls now that speak Cantonese and Mandarin and it’s been great having them speak with our Chinese customers. It’s all about service. We have a range of skis for hire, from basic through to premium. It’s very important to have a big range and give people choice. We are our own boss so we can make decisions quickly and we can be flexible with our guests.
Ten years ago we started with mountain bikes, but eventually we got out of it because we spend so much time and work so hard in the winter that it was too hard to work all year. Usually in Summer we will go to Europe – we like to ski in Austria and France and we’ve been to Italy as well. We love to travel on the trains, it’s very beautiful.
Anyway, I’m only 74 so I’m still really young. I’m still fit and want to keep working hard. µ