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Kaaten, Sverre Andreas (1908–1991)

by Matthew Higgins

This article was published online in 2014

Sverre Kaaten, c1944

Sverre Kaaten, c1944

airforce service record file (A9300, item Kaaten S A (National Archives of Australia)

Sverre Andreas Kaaten (1908-1991), skier and businessman, was born on 26 July 1908 at Kongsvinger, Norway, third of seven children of Andreas Eberhardt Kaaten, timber merchant, and his wife Olga, née Lie. Sverre began skiing at the age of five and had jumping skis by twelve. He tackled Oslo’s famous Holmenkollen ski jump as a teenager. Hopes to study architecture were dashed by family financial problems, and instead he joined a paper-making mill. Aware of the existence of Australia’s snowfields and with an uncle running a paper business in Melbourne, he sailed for Australia in March 1928.

Soon after arriving in Melbourne, Kaaten skied at Mounts Buffalo, Feathertop, Hotham, Buller, and Bogong. His prowess was soon recognised in competition victories, and photos of him ski jumping appeared in the urban press. He excelled in the Australian ski championships at Mount Kosciuszko in 1931. In 1934 he set a new Australian jump record of forty-three metres. That year with George Aalberg he skied from Kiandra to Kosciuszko, a distance of approximately sixty-five miles (100 km), in a creditable fourteen hours and fifteen minutes. He met Ramah Shirleigh Parker at the Hotel Kosciusko during the 1931 championships; they married on 13 April 1933 at St Michael’s Church, Vaucluse, Sydney, with Church of England rites. They had no children. The couple settled in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, where Kaaten launched his own paper firm, Sverre Kaaten, Collins Pty Ltd, importing, among other goods, Scandinavian paper products.

Kaaten enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 February 1942 and served with the 2/11th Armoured Car Regiment. In August 1944 he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force. Commissioned in October, he worked as an equipment officer in stores and aircraft depots. He was demobilised as a flying officer in November 1945, having spent all of his World War II service in Australia. Following the war, he returned to his business, and was a regular member of the New South Wales ski team. President of the Swedish Australian Chamber of Commerce (1963-71), he helped found the Scandinavian Business Club and was twice its president (1975, 1979). He and Shirleigh enjoyed the good life, travelling and often appearing in the social pages of the press attending various Sydney nightspots—sometimes with overseas dignitaries—during the 1930s to the 1960s. One night in November 1935, driving home, he killed a pedestrian. He was later acquitted of manslaughter. In 1940 he was naturalised.

By the early 1950s Kaaten was competing less in ski championships and moving more into administration and resort development. He became vice president of the Ski Council of New South Wales in 1949 and was its president in 1953-54. During the 1930s and 1940s, he had complained about what he saw as the New South Wales government’s narrow policy on ski resort development. Now he actively developed the Perisher-Smiggins area. Together with a group of mostly expatriate Norwegians, he built Telemark ski lodge at Perisher in 1952—it was only the second club lodge in the valley. He established a transport service using ex-Bren-gun carriers, and formed a company to build a ski tow at North Perisher. In 1960 his firm, Perisher Valley Enterprises, built the first T-bar at Smiggins and developed the Alpine Gate Hotel; the following year he sold his Perisher interests to the developer Ken Murray and concentrated on his resort at Smiggin Holes. Frustrated by the Kosciusko State Park Trust’s tendering policies, he sold out to the consortium granted development rights at Smiggins, but sat on the new company’s board into the 1970s.

Known for his genial smile and as an energetic dancer, Kaaten was a vital man of strong opinions who left a lasting legacy in Australia’s snowfields. Though his desire to promote ski jumping in Australia was ultimately unsuccessful, his promotion of cross-country skiing bore fruit. A new triple chairlift at Smiggins was named for him in 1979, as was a shelter for cross-country skiers at Perisher in 1980. He and Shirleigh donated an annual ski trophy to raise funds for The Spastic Centre (Cerebral Palsy Alliance). In 1981 he published his memoirs, 52 Years of Skiing in Australia through Norwegian Eyes. Survived by Shirleigh, he died of bowel cancer on 23 July 1991 at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, and was cremated.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Kaaten, Sverre. Interview by Hazel de Berg, 27 November 1979. Transcript. Hazel de Berg collection. National Library of Australia
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Champion of the Snow Fields Dies.’ 25 July 1991, 5.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Matthew Higgins, 'Kaaten, Sverre Andreas (1908–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kaaten-sverre-andreas-14651/text25784, published online 2014, accessed online 17 November 2019.

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