Three Famous Zwarsby Kevin Zwar
If one were to pick the best cricket team of all time from every nation, I think one would undoubtedly include Sir Donald Bradman from Australia, and possibly Shane Warne as the leg spinner and Adam Gilchrist as the wicket-keeper batsman. It is rather remarkable that two of these players have been playing in the current Australian team for some years now. Is this purely a coincidence or fluke? How often does cricket throw up two geniuses in the world in the same team? It might be a long time before Australia produces another genius, let alone two at the same time.
Tonight I want to share with you an unusual and remarkable coincidence in the first generation of Zwars to be born in Australia, where three Zwars became famous community leaders in Victoria. Please note, I am only speaking about the first generation of Wends born in Australia.
One might think I am here to brag about my family! The truth is that I am not descended from either Zwar family concerned. I am descended from Peter Zwar and none in his family of ten children became famous Australians.
I want to share a little about him as I think he was typical of many of the first generation of Wends born in Australia.
Peter Traugott Zwar – South Australia
Fifty Years ago  my grandfather Peter Zwar died in South Australia. He was one of ten children, all born in Australia to Peter [Snr] and Magdalena Zwar. My grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack. The doctor was called to his home where he still lived alone [aged 87 years]. My parents and other immediate family gathered there too. The doctor gave Peter a tablet / injection – my mother wasn’t certain any more when she told me about it many years later – and then the doctor left. The family read Scripture passages and sang hymns to my grandfather IN GERMAN. [At one point he rallied, his face beamed with joy and he called out ‘Die Licht!’, ‘Die Licht!’ [‘The Light, The Light’] and during the night he died. The point I want to make is the immediate family, including my parents, ministered to Peter in German at his death. All of them were born in Australia.
From Wendish to German
My grandfather was born in Australia, of Wendish parents. He went to a Lutheran School [in the 1870’s] at St Kitts in South Australia where instruction was in German. His confirmation instruction was in German, as were the Church services he faithfully attended. He could understand the Wend language his parents spoke, but usually replied to them in German. German became his first language. My parents had a similar experience when they were young, except that they were attending a Lutheran / German school when the first World War broke out, and the Lutheran schools were closed.
From German to English
My father then spent a harrowing time at the Stone Hut State school because he didn’t understand English. [Some of his new friends took pity on him and helped him out where possible!]. In the 1920’s English services were introduced as well as the German services in the Lutheran Church they attended. My parents families all married Lutherans of German or Wend background. Many of my generation did too. My grandfather Peter, and my own parents all learnt to speak English. English became the main language of my parents, and they spoke it fluently. They spoke in German if they didn’t want us children to know what they were discussing, and they spoke in German when they were alone with their parents. But for my grandfather Peter, German was always his first language.
One day during the Second World War Peter met a friend in the main street of the local town of Laura, and they talked away in German. The local policeman who knew them both, heard them and warned them not to speak German in public, and sent them directly home.
I was a young teenager at the time my grandfather died. Biggles was my hero and I read every Biggles book I could find. I never considered myself to be anything other than English. I was the third generation born in Australia, and the first generation who did not speak German.
A Typical Process
I include this because I think this was typical of many Wend families in Australia, particularly in South Australia and Victoria. It took about 100 years before my Zwar family in Australia became ‘English’! I guess it would have been the same for some of you people too. My grandfather Peter Zwar was a farmer, although he had completed his apprenticeship as a blacksmith. Peter had a special role as the ‘Yardmaster’ (Today it would be the Property Maintenance committee!) at the Pine Creek Lutheran Church for 25 years, from 1909 until 1942. Quiet and reserved by nature, he was happiest when he was using his skilful hands to repair a piece of equipment for the Church or for his neighbours. Most Wends and Germans of the first generation in Australia were farmers. If they served in a community it was usually within the Lutheran Church, and not in the wider Australian community.
Two Famous Zwar brothers – Albert and Henry Zwar [Victoria]
At the time my grandfather died I didn’t know he had cousins in Victoria. His uncle Michael Zwar was the first Zwar to migrate to Australia. Michael married Agnes Zimmer in Melbourne, they settled on a farm at Broadford in the 1850’s, and they had eleven children. The Zwar families tended to be independent and my branch had lost contact with their relatives in Victoria before I was born. My parents in South Australia knew there were Zwar relatives in Victoria, but that was about all.
No Lutheran Church Nearby
Michael and Agnes Zwar settled in Victoria where there was no Lutheran Church nearby. Some of their eleven children were baptized in the Thomastown Lutheran Church – quite a distance away in those days – and the others in the local Anglican Church in Broadford. Michael applied to the Government of the day for a German school in Broadford, but the application was rejected as there were too few German children in the District. The children went to a local ‘English’ school.
English as first language
The children of Michael and Agnes Zwar became ‘English’ in the first generation. They went to ‘English’ speaking schools and English became their first language. They mainly married English partners [One exception married a Danish Lutheran surnamed ‘Bidstrup’]. They became involved in Australian sports, including Aussie Rules , cricket and tennis.
The farm at Broadford was too small for eleven children. One son William became involved in the local tanning industry, firstly as a teenager at Broadford where he worked in the local tannery, and later as owner of the tannery at Beechworth. His brothers Albert and then Henry joined him at Beechworth. In time Albert became the sole owner of the Beechworth Tannery.
William and Henry had bought a Tannery at Preston. In time Henry became the sole owner at Preston, and William moved to King Island where he farmed beef cattle.
There isn’t time tonight to tell you many of the achievements of the brothers Albert and Henry Zwar. Both became wealthy businessmen. Albert became ‘The King of Beechworth’, where his tannery employed over 200 people, and Henry the uncrowned King of Preston! There would be other first generation Wends who also became wealthy in their own lifetime. I hope you might help us to compile a list tonight!
Members of Parliament
What I think is even more remarkable is that Albert and Henry Zwar both became members of parliament.
Albert was elected unopposed in 1922 to represent the Northeastern Province for the United Country Party in the upper house, Victoria’s Legislative Council. He was elected unopposed at each election until his death thirteen years later in 1935. When he died Beechworth had lost its Giant. Albert had lived there for 47 years and now he was mourned not only by the people of Beechworth but also by those who walked in the corridors of power and Government in Victoria.
His younger brother Henry stood for the Heidelberg electorate [which included Preston] for the Nationalist Australia Party in 1927, when he was 56 years old, but lost to Labor. In 1932 he stood as an Independent and won the seat. He later joined the United Australia Party and held the seat for 13 years, remarkably even during the War years, until 1945. Henry’s achievements are legion and legendary.
Two in one family
I doubt if any other first generation Wend family in Australia produced a member of parliament, let alone two from the same family. Albert and Henry had contrasting natures. Albert was the more stern and chose to hide his generous heart of gold, whereas Henry let his compassion for the ‘down and out’ flow out for all to see. I hope their lives will be documented in detail soon as there would still be some old people alive today who knew them personally.
They gave the Zwar name a great reputation in Victoria. Fittingly, they had large State funerals. Their lives (and deaths) are a complete contrast to the lives of their cousins in South Australia, including my grandfather Peter.
Famous Zwar Physician – Dr Bernard Zwar
There was another Zwar exception. There was another Zwar family in South Australia. They lived in the Barossa Valley, where Johann Zwar, an uncle of Henry and Albert had migrated to Australia in 1851. He had intended joining his brother Michael in Victoria, but was waylaid by Wend friends when his ship called in at Adelaide. His friends talked him into staying in South Australia to help them with the harvest. Johann visited Victoria briefly in later years after his first wife died, but spent all of his life in South Australia. Ten of his thirteen children were born in Australia. [So there were 31 first cousin Zwars born in the first generation in Australia. 11 to Michael, 10 to Johann and 10 to Peter] The last of Johann’s children was Bernard Zwar, born at Ebenezer near Stockwell in the Barossa Valley in 1876.
German to English
Bernard had a similar upbringing in South Australia as my grandfather Peter. He went to a German speaking Lutheran primary school. His father was deeply involved in the Lutheran Church. They spoke German at home. However, Bernard also attended a State school at Stockwell, and then went on to an English High School [in the Barossa Valley, where he excelled in German!]. He had hopes to become a Lutheran Pastor, but this would have meant studying in Europe. He decided to follow his older brother Hermann to study medicine in Adelaide.
He began his medical studies in March 1895. Three years later a dispute developed at the Adelaide Hospital and the Clinical School was closed. The senior students moved to either Sydney or Melbourne.
Bernard and Hermann moved to Ormond College in Melbourne and completed their medical studies at the Melbourne University where they each graduated. Bernard topped the class, won the Exhibition in Medicine, and was placed first on the list for the seven resident positions at the Melbourne Hospital.
“Bernard was appointed to the Resident Staff of the Melbourne hospital, then in Lonsdale Street, and in 1901 became Senior Resident, and for a while Medical Superintendent. He was a Resident Medical officer from 1901 – 1904, and then Medical Superintendent at the Austin Hospital, where his grandson subsequently studied. During this time, besides obtaining his M.D., he founded the Nurses’ Training School and was also responsible for medical officers of the hospital coming under the control of the Medical Superintendent rather than the Matron, as they had been previously.”
From an article written by Bernard’s son John and published in “CHIRON” Journal of the University of Melbourne Medical Society Volume 2 Number 1 1988.
Relatives in Victoria
Bernard had relatives in Melbourne on his mother’s side [Kaiser] plus his Uncle Michael Zwar and cousins at Broadford. In a letter to his parents he mentions that he went out hunting with 3 others at Broadford and within several hours they shot 40 to 50 kangaroos, 4 hares and a fox.
In 1904 Bernard went overseas for post-graduate studies. He had a special interest in Neurology and Tuberculosis. He was 28 years old. The Melbourne “Argus” announced,
“Dr B. Zwar, who will shortly leave on a visit to Europe, was yesterday appointed by the executive committee of the Victorian Association for the Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis to represent the association at the International Congress on the subject, which will be held at Berlin next October .”
At the conference Bernard was able to converse with the world famous Bacteriologist Dr Robert Koch.
Bernard worked at various hospitals in London. For a time he was clinical clerk to Sir William Gowers at the National Hospital, Queen’s Square.
Return to Melbourne
Bernard returned to Melbourne early in 1906 and went on to build one of the most distinguished careers in medicine in Australia as a surgeon and administrator. It is difficult to give a summary of his life’s work and still do justice to his many achievements. A glimpse of his status may be gained from the fact that when Don Bradman was in Melbourne and needed medical attention it was Dr Bernard Zwar who treated him.
A portrait of Bernard hangs in the main entrance to the Royal Melbourne hospital as a tribute to his outstanding service to the Hospital over a period of 46 years. The lieutenant Governor, Sir Edmund Herring, officially unveiled the painting several months before Bernard died.
[Note: Following hospital renovations, the portrait now hangs in the Historical Room in the Royal Melbourne Hospital – 2012 KPZ].
When war broke out in 1914 Bernard volunteered at once and served as a Major in the R.A.A.M.C.. He embarked on the 14th December and served in the Middle East. He was in the first hospital ship at the Gallipoli landing.
Bernard had travelled to the Middle East on the same troopship as a young nurse, Essy Craig, whom he had met at the Melbourne Hospital. On his return to Melbourne in 1916 they renewed their acquaintanceship and were married on the 4th of May. From 1918 to 1927 they lived at 54 Collins Street next door to the Melbourne Club. “From there he conducted a private surgical practice, as well as holding the position of Honorary Surgeon at the Melbourne Hospital, and sometimes travelled there for an emergency operation by push-bike or a horse-drawn cab.”
Essy continued her association with the Melbourne Hospital. She started an outpatient canteen to provide, for a penny, a cup of tea and a bun for the doctors and patients. From this developed the present kiosk named the ‘Essy Zwar Kiosk’ in her honour.“ [ From an article written by Bernard’s son John and published in “CHIRON” Journal of the University of Melbourne Medical Society Volume 2 Number 1 1988.]
Red Cross Kiosk
When World War II began the members of the hospital Red Cross Auxiliary formed a sewing group. They met in the Zwar home every Friday during the War. There were times during the War when some medical men would put on a stiff upper lip and refuse to acknowledge or speak to Zeddie Zwar because of his German background. A fellow doctor and friend was Dr Konrad Hiller, also of German parents. Mrs Hiller was also of German parentage and the purchaser for the Red Cross Kiosk at the Melbourne Hospital. It is significant that the history of this Auxiliary body of volunteers states, “At the beginning of World War II, Mrs Hiller asked for leave of absence” and other women took on the buying.
Early in his career with the armed forces Bernard was advised that he would not have a career future if he remained a member of the Lutheran Church. He joined the Presbyterian Church, became an elder and remained a faithful member all his life.
Bernard, or ‘Zeddie’, as he was affectionately known to his friends and students, continued his work at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
New Melbourne Hospital
One of his greatest achievements was to have a new Melbourne Hospital built on a site next to the University.
“He had joined the Committee of Management in 1925 and was President of the (now) Royal Melbourne Hospital from 1937 until 1945. In this capacity he worked strenuously to secure the rebuilding of the hospital on the Parkville site, adjacent to the university. This project had been always close to his heart and he lived to see it accomplished.”
The Medical Journal of Australia No. 17 April 26, 1947
‘The Bulletin’ carried the following report (19.11.1941)
“When Premier Dunstan hoisted the marble into position at the new Royal Melbourne Hospital last week, Dr. Bernard Traugott Zwar, Royal Melbourne’s president, witnessed the culmination of one of the biggest jobs of organisation in Victoria’s history. … he has held more executive positions than any medico in Melbourne. He was one of the founders of the College of Surgeons of Australia. He is 65.”
Bernard was a brilliant surgeon and administrator who had an amazing memory. During meetings he could accurately quote from memory the dates and contents of letters that passed between different bodies in previous years.
It is interesting to note that Bernard operated on his cousin Albert when his cousin Albert Zwar became critically ill in Beechworth. The Advertiser reported that Albert’s cousin, the brilliant surgeon Dr. Bernard Zwar had operated early on Saturday morning and there had been a slight improvement, [but Albert passed away the same afternoon].
Some of the positions Dr Bernard held included the following:
- Deputy Chancellor of the Melbourne University for two years (1943,44).
- Stewart Lecturer in Surgery at the university from 1924 – 1935. This involved, besides lecturing, much examining duty. The latter work, owing to the absence of many examiners on war service, he continued to perform until two years before his death.
- Member of the Standing Committee of Convocation, 1924/25, was elected to the Council in 1935, and, being re-elected, remained a member until his death. He served through all these years on the Faculty of Medicine.
- President of the Melbourne Medical Association in 1922 and 1923 and of the Melbourne University Association in 1935.
- President of the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses Association in 1922-24.
- Chairman of the Nurses Board of Victoria in 1924-1927.
- One of the founders of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and a member of the Board of Censors, a member of the medical board of Victoria, and of the Advisory Committee to the Repatriation Commission, a member of the Anti-Cancer Council, and Honorary Treasurer of the Medical Defence Association of Victoria.
- He was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in 1941.
- From 1937 until his death he was Chairman of the Board of the Walter and Eliza Hall institute of Research in Pathology and Medicine.”
Dr. Bernard Zwar died on 16th January 1947.
We come to the question: How come Albert, Henry and Bernard Zwar, each members of the first generation born to Wend parents in Australia, became outstanding community leaders in Australia? Here are some suggestions:
It helped – To have English as one’s first language.
It helped – To marry an English girl! I think this makes a big difference in acceptance in Australia, even today. eg. If one has an Asian wife in Australia today one can make it in politics eg. Bob Carr, in N S W. There are currently few [if any] Asian politicians in Australia’s parliaments where both partners are Asian. cf also, the experience of Mrs Hiller mentioned earlier.
It helped – to be great administrators. Albert and Bernard were particularly noted for their outstanding administrative ability, and I think Henry had particular talents in this area too. It helped –
It helped to be outstandingly successful in their chosen career, whether it be in the leather trade or in medicine.
It helped – To live down the German background. In September 1915 a disastrous fire burnt the huge Beechworth Tannery to the ground. It seems it was torched as a deliberate act, but no one was ever arrested and charged.
It helped – To avoid the charge of being German. Henry Zwar always claimed his parents were Saxons, and blamed the War on the Prussians. There was some justification for this. When his parents came to Australia  they came from the Kingdom of Saxony, a completely separate country from Prussia, and each had its own King and government. His grandparents had seen the Saxon troops fight for Napoleon in his wars against Prussia [and Russia], and one of the biggest battles was fought in and round the village [Wurschen] where the Zwars later attended school. When Napoleon was finally defeated the German winners took a third of Saxony as reparation and much of this went to Prussia. There was no love lost between Saxony and Prussia. However, about 20 years after Michael migrated to Australia Saxony and Prussia became part of the German Federal Republic under Bismarck, and became modern Germany as we know it. Saxony and Prussia were one country in the two World wars. I don’t know if the Australians who voted for Henry understood the distinction between Saxony and Prussia, but it seemed to work well for Henry who held his seat until 1945, the year World War 2 ended.
I recall reading that Dr Bernard Zwar had volunteered in 1912 to join the local army corps. When War broke out he volunteered and served overseas, including Gallipoli. There was no doubting his patriotism. However there were still some doctors who pointedly refused to speak to him during the second World War. Albert Zwar found it heart breaking to sack the Italians who worked for him at the Beechworth Tannery when the Second World War broke out. Henry had a great love for his country and a real concern for those who served her in wartime. He investigated thousands of cases for the Repatriation Department after World War 1.
“Henry Peter Zwar was the only Victorian civilian presented with the R.S.L’s Medal of Merit following World War I.”
Newspaper cutting 13.1.59
It helped – to be involved in an English speaking Church, like the Church of England and the Presbyterian Churches. Conversely, not to be involved in the Lutheran Church, commonly called the “German Church’ in those days.
It helped – to have a mother who had a heart for the swagmen and other destitute people. Henry Zwar wrote: “I owe all my success in life to my mother who guided me along the right path. A big-hearted woman who fed every ‘Sundowner’ who came along she gave them tea, breakfast and a parcel of food to carry them to the next town. As president of the Preston Unemployment Relief Committee from 1929-32, Zwar had helped numerous people and he drew on his experience to advocate more humane government policies. [Australian Dictionary of Biography manuscript.]
Henry’s life of community and public service was recognized in the 1950 Honors List. He received the Order of the British Empire from King George VI.
It helped – to have a supportive wife. Henry and Bernard’s wives were widely involved in many community organisations. Henry and his wife Jane dedicated a lot of time and effort to the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH). The Essy Zwar kiosk at the Royal Melbourne hospital remains as a great example of her work.
It helped – to live in Victoria!
It helped – to be involved in Sport. Australians are quick to accept anyone who excels in sport, even if their surname is Barassi or Jesaulenko. Albert, Bernard and Henry Zwar were all keen sportsmen. “The Bulletin’‘ (May 24 1944) records: “Henry Peter Zwar M.L.A., president of Victorian Football Association in place of the late J.J. Liston, is a member of over 100 sports organisations and President of 40. The list includes every known Australian sport except two-up.” Towards the end of World War II when Henry was about 70 years old, he was
“called to Preston Police Station as a J.P. to bail out some boys who were in trouble. He formed the impression that they were more in need of help than of punishment. This led to a meeting of 40 boys and parents, which resulted in the formation of the magnificently successful Preston District Junior Football Association. It started with seven clubs covering 150 boys and has since grown to many clubs which have provided recreation for thousands of boys.”
The Post .1.14.1959
Henry was President of the Preston Bowling Club for over 35 years; Jika Cricket Association for 27 years; Preston Football Club 26 years; Preston Cricket Club 26 years – and President of a number of other clubs for shorter terms.
Henry’s interest in sport is commemorated in the “H. P. ZWAR RESERVE” at Preston. It contains a number of playing fields adjoining the Preston Technical College.
Henry was made a Life Member of the Victorian Football Association of which he was President from 1944-47. He was also a trustee of the Mecca of Australian sport – the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It seems a few exceptional people rise from obscurity to become famous people of their time when they are in the right place at the right time and they use their opportunities to serve the Australian community. It is worth noting that the Zwar ancestors were humble farmers in Germany, and the Zwar cousins of Albert, Henry and Bernard who were born and lived in Germany did not become public leaders.
An Elusive Quality
There is some elusive quality that one can’t define that sets these exceptional leaders apart from the average Australian. There would have been a number of first generation Wends born in Australia who would have fitted many of the above qualities or characteristics, [English as their first language, married an English girl, not involved in the Lutheran Church, keen on sport and successful in their professions], but who never became famous Australian leaders in their day.