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Guide Alice and the Lyre-Birds of Mount Buffalo

By: Emma Gray, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 12 Nov 2012

This intriguing little booklet, published in 1924, is part of the Melbourne Ward collection in the Australian Museum Research Library. 

Guide Alice

Emma Gray © Australian Museum

The Lyre-Birds of Mount Buffalo (1924) was based on the work of Alice Manfield - a woman whose knowledge of nature, as well as her bush skills and eccentric sense of fashion made her a tourist attraction in her own right.

Guide Alice (as she became known) was born in 1878. In 1890, when Alice was twelve, her parents, John and Jane Manfield, opened a guest house at the foot of Mount Buffalo in Victoria's High Country. Alice, along with her parents and seven siblings, provided guided tours of the mountain, leading parties of guests up to the plateau and showing them the sights along the way.

Alice knew the area intimately, and as a young woman, she led tours and ran another outpost of the family’s hotel further up the mountain. Mount Buffalo is notoriously cold in winter and Guide Alice became known for her self-designed outfits to combat the alpine weather. Unusually for a woman, her outfits generally consisted of trousers, flat boots and puttees – strips of cloth wound tightly around the calves.

As well as a guide and naturalist, Alice was a keen photographer and developed an interest in the lyrebirds which made their home in the rocky outcrops of Mount Buffalo. She was one of the first people to capture a male lyrebird in full display on film, and probably the first to publish a photographic account dedicated to the lyrebird. Another pioneer in this area was Tom Tregellas, who published his lyrebird photographs and notes in The Emu (the journal of the Royal Australasian Ornithologists’ Union) in the early 1920s.

Guide Alice's booklet, The Lyre-Birds of Mount Buffalo was published in 1924 by Robertson and Mullens of Melbourne. It was designed for the tourist market – probably intended as a souvenir of a visit to Mount Buffalo. It contains seven of Alice’s own photographs of lyrebirds, and their habitat, as well as a studio portrait of Guide Alice in her mountaineering outfit.

Alice Manfield continued guiding into the her 50s. Her services were requested by many notable visitors to Mount Buffalo, including artist, Arthur Streeton. Guide Alice retired in the 1930s and died in 1960 at the age of 88.