Kevin Winch was 27 years of age and “full of beans” when he conjured up the idea for a rather novel event to promote his home town of Mount Beauty.
It was 1968 and the local plumbing contractor and a group of like-minded businessmen decided to get together to “drum up business”.
Mr Winch, Keith Pearce, Jim Greaves, Peter Barton, Greg Benstead and Kevin Shoebridge met at the Meriki Motel and formed The Mount Beauty and District Business Association.
“The biggest topic of conversation was how to attract more tourists to the area,” Mr Winch recalls.
“Between then and the next meeting, about a month later, a concept germinated in my mind.”
His idea to capitalise on the region’s well-known landmark, Mount Bogong, met with resounding approval at the association’s next meeting.
Now Mr Winch and his wife Elly still don’t agree on who came up with the name but the “conquestathon” was born.
It’s a strenuous stroll, walk or scramble up and down Victoria’s highest mountain on the Victorian Labour Day long weekend in March – and 2019 marks the 50th anniversary since the event was first held.
Mr Winch fondly recalls those early heady days promoting “The World’s First Conquestathon” scheduled for Saturday, March 8, 1969.
The event attracted 157 participants the first year (and quickly followed with 257 entrants the following).
With operational details well in hand, a proposed route mapped out and a caravan set up at the start line the evening before, Mr Winch recalls he very nearly let the whole show down.
“Early on the big morning, I drove my Land Rover up the Eskdale Spur as far as possible then started walking to the summit,” he says.
“However when I got above the tree line and looked across to the Staircase Spur where the hikers would be coming, I was shocked to see there was a speedy climber about the same elevation as me.
“Given my job was to be at the checkpoint before any participants I had to hop to it and only just made it.”
One entrant in that first event was a standout – Miss Mary Egan who, at 74 years of age, appeared to effortlessly scale the Staircase Spur and clamber back down the Eskdale Spur unassisted.
At 80, she was still participating in the event, Border Mail records show.
Another bloke “just took off with no food or water and literally ran the whole way up and back” in less than two hours, according to Mr Winch.
Sponsorship for prizes – it was a thing even back then – was readily supplied by Jeff Henke, the owner of Maloney’s ski shops at Falls Creek and Melbourne.
The inaugural event finished with a barbecue at the picnic area by the river near the Tawonga Caravan Park.
“They were great days and everybody seemed to enjoy the whole thing,” Mr Winch adds.
The event was later adopted by the Upper Kiewa Valley Lions Club and grew to such a magnitude numbers had to be capped at 700.
And while there have been a few gap years when the event did not run, Mr Winch hopes the 50th anniversary of its inception will be widely celebrated for the 2019 occasion.
The 20-kilometre round trip includes a 1300-metre vertical climb and while it’s not a foot race, official times are now recorded.
- The 2019 event will be held on March 10 – for details on start times or entry visit the Mount Beauty website.