William Francis Waters, affectionately known as “Bill”, was born in Traralgon in 1897. In his professional life, Bill was a civil servant. Originally with the Department of Defence, he transferred to the Department of Trade & Customs in 1926, where he remained until his retirement in 1962. Bill was also a reasonably well-known explorer. In 1927, he was a part of the first party to cross the Bogong High Plains from West to East, and with the same party, made the first winter ascent of Mt Bogong the following year.
In part because of these treks, Bill was asked in 1930 to become Headquarters Commissioner for Rover Scouts. The Chief Commissioner of the time, Arch Hoadley, gave him a simple brief: Get the Rovers out of their Dens and back into the outdoors.
Over the next 35 years, Bill was dedicated to this mission. Particularly when it came to skiing.
In 1931, preparations for the first Rover skiing trips began, when Rovers practiced with homemade skis on the grassy slopes of Mooroolbark. Later that year, a party was taken to Mt Donna Buang, which was followed in 1932 by the first Rovering parties skiing the Bogong High Plains. The popularity of these winter parties would lead to the construction of the Bogong Rover Chalet within the decade.
After the Frankston Jamboree, over 600 Scouts took part in a hiking program in the area around Gilwell Park, Gembrook, which was organised by the Rover Section, who had to devise 37 separate routes, and methods to keep track of all parties and to provide them with emergency services. Unfortunately there were no detailed maps in this area at the time, so the Rovers went out and made them. These surveys were the basis of maps of the area for many years.
Bill also began the first Rover training courses specifically for Rovers, as opposed to Rover Leaders. Crews began to adopt his slogan of “No Rover Mate without a Certificate” and soon, the course would became so popular that it had to be restricted to Rover Leaders and incoming Rover Mates (now Rover Advisors and Crew Leaders respectively) only. Before long, the course was running in New South Wales and Tasmania, and from there it has spread across the world.
The 1940s saw a tough time for Rovering, as many men joined the 2nd Australian Imperial Force. Bill’s foresight in asking Rover Leaders to allow the elected Rover Mates to be in charge of the operation of their Rover Crews, with the RL only providing guidance, resulted in many Crews being able to remain in operation during the War. World War Two also led to one of the most interesting chapters of Rovering, and Scouting in general: the Rover Crews established in Prisoner of War camps. The most famous of these were the Changi Rover Crews, relics of which are kept on permanent display by Scout Heritage Victoria.
When the the war ended in 1945, many of the Rovers who served in Australia’s military forces didn’t come home. To provide for a useful memorial to their sacrifice, land on the slopes of Mt Donna Buang was purchased and the Warburton Rover Memorial Chalet was completed in ~1949, after the last of the wartime building restrictions began to ease – although, it had been complete enough by winter 1947 for small parties to begin using it.
Some of the other things that Bill pioneered were the annual Eumerella weekend that would evolve into Surfmoot, the Rover Fixture Card, a standardised Squire Training scheme was developed, the upper age limit of 25 for Rovers was introduced – a full 11 years before such a restriction was made at a National level, District Rover Crews were both experimented with and “consigned to the Stone Age of Rovering”, and the Hut Service Section was established. Unfortunately, 18 of the 20 huts assigned to different Rover Crews for maintenance in what is now the Yarra Ranges National Park were destroyed during the 1939 Black Friday Bushfires.
In 1961, the 7th World Moot was held at Yarra Brae, a 1000 acre farm, part of which is now owned by Scouts Victoria and known as Clifford Park. It was the first World event held in the southern hemisphere, and unfortunately the last World Moot held until 1991 – which was also run by Victorian Rovers, at Gilwell Park. The 7th World Moot concluded with the presentation of the Silver Wolf, the Scout Association’s highest honour, to the Moot Chief – Bill Waters.
Bill had promoted Skiing on the Baw Baw Plateau for many years, and as the village began to consume the mill that Rovers had been using for many years as a base for skiing, Bill began to campaign for consideration to be made for the Rovers to continue skiing at Baw Baw. In 1964, a site was allocated to Scouts Victoria and our Lodge was open in time for the 1967 season.
In addition to his Scouting, Bill was a leading member of the Melbourne Walking Club for over 40 years, he was a member of it’s committee from 1925 until 1968. Between 1934 and 1967 he was the Club’s Chief Leader, and was rewarded for his services with a Life Membership in 1947. Bill was also a regular contributor to the Club’s magazine, the Melbourne Walker, writing reports on his trips, and detailed histories of the areas he travelled through.
Bill was active in other areas as well, being Chairman of the Kinglake National Park committee of Management, a member of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, the Skiing Club of Victoria and a foundation member of Baden Powell Masonic Lodge, to name just a few. He also represented Victoria in Lacrosse.
Bill retired as Rover Commissioner in 1965, although he remained an active supporter of Rovering until his death in 1968 — a year in which he also spent three weeks at the Bogong Rover Chalet. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Investiture Point the closest place to the Bogong Rover Chalet at which you can see the summit of Mt Bogong, and is the traditional site of investitures into the Alpine and Bogong Rover Crews.
The National Rover Service Award, an award to recognise outstanding contributions by Rovers, Rover Advisors and Lay People to the Rover Section, has been known in Victoria as the WF Waters Rover Service Award since it’s establishment in 1982.
Bill Waters Rover Crew in Nunawading is also named in his honour. The Crew has been dedicated to the continuing promotion of skiing and hiking amongst Victorian Rovers.
For a more thorough account of Bill’s life, W.F. “Bill” Waters: A Biography, by Harry Stephenson, can be purchased from the Lodge, by contacting the Bookings Officer.