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ZWAR, Michael

Michael Zwar (1829-1900), a Wend from Drehsa, nine kilometres east of Bautzen, arrived in Melbourne from Hamburg aboard the Pribislaw in February 1850. Soon after arrival, he was engaged in brickmaking at Brunswick. Later he purchased half an acre there for £ 20, not far from Wendish shipmates Johann Christoph Hempel and Michael Zschech.

By 1 June 1851, when he wrote his first letter home to his family in Saxony, he was working as a farm labourer, ploughing 300 acres at point Henry near Geelong. In that letter he wrote of his intention to settle permanently in Australia, although he hoped to revisit Germany within “three or four years.” His brother Johann emigrated shortly after he wrote his letter, arriving in South Australia in December 1851 aboard the Helena.

On 6 September 1851, along with fellow Wendish Pribislaw shipmate Andreas Kaiser and 27 other Germans at Geelong, Zwar signed a letter addressed to the Argus newspaper in defence of William Westgarth’s previous efforts to promote German immigration to Victoria.

Gold was discovered in Victoria soon after Michael Zwar wrote his first letter back to Germany. Within a short time he and Andreas Kaiser were gold-digging. Kaiser, also from Drehsa, was an old school friend. They had first worked together for two months shortly after arrival in Australia. Carl Traugott Hoehne wrote that Zwar and Kaiser were at first successful on the goldfields, but claimed Zwar became “somewhat disreputable”, possibly referring to a drinking problem which affected Michael in later years. Zwar in turn wrote in 1851 that “Hoehne moans so much that the dogs would run away from him.”

On 1 October 1852, Michael was naturalized as a Victorian citizen. On 12 April 1853, at the Independent Church in Melbourne, he married Agnes Zimmer, a fellow Wend and shipmate, who lived at Westgarthtown with her parents. Zwar was then living at Pentridge, the Melbourne suburb now known as Coburg. The wedding was one of the first performed by Pastor Matthias Goethe, who had been installed as Melbourne’s first Lutheran minister only 18 days before. On 28 April 1853, Michael was recorded as having donated £ 2 toward the construction of a Lutheran Church building for Melbourne. Some time during 1853, he also began to earn his living carting supplies by bullock dray to the goldfields, and he is said to have carted the first load of flour to Beechworth, at £ 40 per ton. By 1854, however, he was working in Melbourne for Hoffman’s, the Brunswick brickmaker. He had originally intended to start a brickworks of his own at Brunswick, but sold his land for £ 40, making a profit of £ 20.

On 29 August 1854, Michael purchased 88 acres (portion 20, Parish of Broadford), 75 kilometres north of Melbourne. He later purchased an adjoining 66 acres (portion 19). A hill on which the property stands, about two kilometers west of Broadford township, later became known as Zwar’s Hill. Michael and Agnes raised a large family of 11 children at Broadford, in a slab hut until 1871 and then in a new brick house, known first as Glen Dale, then later as The Ranch.

In 1872, Michael was elected to the Broadford District Roads Board, on which he served for two years. Later, from 1880-83, he served on the Broadford Shire Council, until his retirement from public life. At the time, the Kilmore Free Press commented that Zwar:who has ever been a thoroughly reliable and honourable public man, has determined to withdraw from local politics for the present, a circumstance to be regretted.

Articulate, Michael was also remembered as “a bit of a bush lawyer” and has also been described as an: Exceptionally well read man, with considerable theoretical and practical knowledge on many subjects, his geological bent being exceptionally marked.

In between his involvement in local government affairs, he found time to fulfill a long held ambition to return to Saxony, to revisit his homeland and family.

In 1891, Zwar was recorded as cultivating one and a half acres of vines on his farm.

Agnes Zwar died on 6 June 1891, aged 55, after a long illness. In 1897 Michael conveyed his farm to his son Charles and moved to another son John’s home, where he lived in a detached room until his death from heart failure on 27 December 1900, aged 71. Both Michael and Agnes Zwar are buried at Broadford. Two of their children – Albert and Henry – later became Victorian parliamentarians, serving for a combined total of 26 years. Another son, John, served as a councillor with the Shire of Broadford for 25 years.

Source: From Hamburg to Hobsons Bay (1999)