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Snowy Salvos plough on each winter

Snowy Salvos plough on each winter

Snowy Salvos plough on each winter

Major and Mrs Gordon Fletcher with the very first Snowy Mountains Field Unit. Photo courtesy of The Salvation Army Australia Eastern Territory Heritage Centre.

By Lauren Martin

The Salvation Army has had a presence in the NSW Snowy Mountains since the late 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that we found our niche in supporting migrant workers. The Army arrived in Cooma in the form of Captain H.B Steven, who made an entrance with his travelling ministry caravan, the Cavalry Fort “Aggressive”. He pitched a tent in the middle of town and, according to an article in the now defunct Salvation Army publication Full Salvation, dated 1 October 1892, “set the work going with swing. Converts rapidly increased in number, and ... the fire spread ...”

Despite early enthusiasm, the work didn’t last and it wasn’t until the 1950s that it rekindled, due to the commencement of the Snowy Mountains Scheme which brought 100,000 workers from 30 countries into the area to build dams, roads, bridges and power stations. The Salvation Army deployed a Field Unit – a motor vehicle designed for outback ministry. Major and Mrs Gordon Fletcher – the “Snowy Salvos” as they were known – travelled from camp to camp, offering workers practical and emotional support.

Conditions were tough and in a newsletter written by the pair in September 1955, they record: “Caught in blizzard two miles from Happy Jacks. Put on chains. Snowplough came out but bogged with snow over wheels. Turned back and tried to reach Adaminaby but couldn’t make it ... Have been waiting three days and no vehicles have come through. We have food and kerosine for another three days and we are melting snow for water ...”

Struggling to afford three meals a day, they rely heavily on the servant heart of the Salvos who open the doors of the Jindabyne Community Centre to serve hot drinks and a three-course evening meal.

Sixty years later, the influx of foreign workers continues, although on a much smaller scale. Every year, hundreds of foreigners holding working-holiday visas arrive at the ski fields and in the surrounding towns. And, like those before them, they can still rely on The Salvation Army for support. The Salvo Snow Mission takes place during the winter school holidays, which run from the end of June into July. It’s the start of the ski season and often there’s not enough snow to attract large numbers of tourists and therefore not enough employment for seasonal workers. Struggling to afford three meals a day, they rely heavily on the servant heart of the Salvos who open the doors of the Jindabyne Community Centre to serve hot drinks and a three-course evening meal.

Last year, workers and volunteers at the Salvo Snow Mission supported struggling workers from about 20 nations. While it’s a far cry from the very first Cavalry Forts, it’s the same love and support that The Salvation Army is known for the world over.

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