From Australia’s Jewish Past: Gustav Weindorfer – Cradle Mountain Tasmania – an amazing legacy

August 31, 2021 by Features Desk
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Gustav was born on 23 Feb 1874 in Spittal, Austria, emigrating to Australia at the age of 26.  He had no real knowledge of Australia, other than a book he had come across.

Gustav Weindorfer

His story tells us that he thought Australia would be a good place to start his explorations.

Once in Australia, he settled in Melbourne working for the Austro-Hungarian Consulate until he could start his journey of exploration.   In a letter home, he wrote: ‘The country looks dreadful’, the gum trees, at all times wretched creatures, stood sadly in the drought-stricken country, rattling their long leaves.’.  He certainly was not deterred and, as a keen naturalist and interested in science and botany, he spent many weekends exploring the bushland.

In 1905 he met Kate Cowle, who was also interested in all that Gustav was and they married in her Devonport Tasmania, in 1906.  Prior to leaving Melbourne, and having joined earlier the Victorian Field Naturalists Club, he was presented to the 15thField Naturalist Conversazione on 19 October 1905 with his entire general collection of dried Australian plants.

Within hours of arrival in Devonport, Gustav was fighting bushfires with his future relatives, battling all night to save the homestead in which they were married the next day. They bought farmland and had orchards, sheep and of course many plant specimens.  On 8th June 1908, he was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the District of Leven.

Having left Kate to manage the farm, he set off for Cradle Mountain, which gained its name from the shape of the mountain suggesting a baby’s cradle.  The mountain was first climbed in 1831.  It had been visited by surveyors and prospectors of the Van Diemens Land Company – founded in 1824.  In January 1909, having been impressed by what he had seen during his first climb, he arranged a second trip, determined to make Cradle Mountain a national park.  He and Kate shared the same dream of establishing a chalet for bushwalkers and mountaineers in the valley below. He wrote many articles and letters that urged the government to build a road to the area.

In 1912. Gustav began building Waldheim – a home in the forest.  As a horse and cart could not approach any closer than 8.7 miles (14 km), he carried baths and stoves on his back to what was to become a most popular “resort” which opened in December that year.  Gustav often sang to his guests, who were the first pioneer tourists of Cradle Mountain. Carved on the wall of the chalet was the motto: ‘This is Waldheim, where there is no time and nothing matters’.  One of his guests was Errol Flynn’s father a botanist who visited in 1915.

He did not allow time to stand still and in July 1914 he made the first pair of skis to be produced locally.  On 17 July he skied across the valley and then set out to build the track and a small light cart about 4 feet wide known as the Cradle Valley Express.

Unfortunately, Kate died early in 1916 and Gustav was more than lonely on such a big property. Although he was a justice of the peace for the area and had tried to join the Australian Imperial Force, he became a target for anti-German prejudice forcing him to sell his farm at Kindred in 1917. But he continued to run Waldheim single-handedly, as well as acting as the ranger for the area.  He also travelled, lectured and kept official weather records for the Hobart Meteorological Bureau.

Gustav died of coronary vascular disease on 5 May 1932 in Cradle Valley, when he was found on the river flat at the bottom of a steep slope, having fallen from his motorcycle, a quarter of a mile from the chalet where he was buried.  His property was eventually added to the adjoining 158,000 acres (63,941 ha) stretching from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair which, as a result of his efforts, had been proclaimed a reserve in 1922. A granite cairn over his grave was unveiled in 1938.

We can all be grateful to another Jewish immigrant whose name will never be forgotten, whose legacy lives on, and a site that is visited by so many locals and internationals the year through.

The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via www.ajhs.com.au or its Facebook page.

 

Comments

One Response to “From Australia’s Jewish Past: Gustav Weindorfer – Cradle Mountain Tasmania – an amazing legacy”
  1. Liat Kirby says:

    What an extraordinary story! Someone should write Gustav Weindorfer’s biography; indeed it would lend itself to a fine film as well.

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