Labour Day Weekend Tour to Mount Gambierby John Noack
This tour to the Mount Gambier area of South Australia, on 9-11 March and led by Betty Huf, was a resounding success. A total of 24 people attended part or all of the activities on the itinerary. It was wonderful to see some “first timers” on the tour.
- The “Lady Nelson” Visitor and Discovery Centre was an informative location for this tour to begin. There were many colorful tourist brochures on display and the large replica of the brig “HMS Lady Nelson” recalled the very important role performed by this ship from 1800 until its destruction by fire in 1824. In 1800, captained by Lieutenant James Grant, this brig became the first ship to sail from the west through Bass Strait. Two mountains which were sighted inland were named after Lord Gambier and Captain Schank. This area was first named “Gambierton” and later, “Mount Gambier”.
- Christina Smith was featured here in an impressive hologram video presentation. The hologram image of Christina Smith steps out of a wedding photograph to tell the story of early contact between settlers and Aboriginal people. Christina (nee Menzies) and her husband James were the first European settlers in this area. They migrated to Australia from Scotland in about 1840. In 1846, they settled at the Rivoli Bay sea-port. This Smith family displayed great care and compassion towards the local Boandik Aborigines, by establishing a home and a school for them. Although James died in 1860, Christina continued to rear their seven children and care for the sick and needy in the area, including the Aborigines. She died in April 1893 and was buried in the Mount Gambier Cemetery.
- Mount Gambier’s RSL Museum provided a sad reminder that wars are waged at a great cost in money and in human lives. It has been estimated that 180 million people were killed in the World Wars and in other conflicts during the 1900s. This local RSL Museum displayed reminders of sand-bag shelters; of very large and cumbersome radios and of the feared Nazi flag and emblem. However, it was interesting to read the displayed article “Rommel’s War without Hate”, (or “Krieg Ohne Hass”), which depicts Field Marshal Erwin Rommel as a sort of “Gentleman General”, who preferred to engage in “chivalrous conduct” and “soldierly honor”. He pursued this aim  by insisting that all of his captured soldiers were given exactly the same rations of food as his own soldiers and also  by ensuring that captured hospitals and their doctors were able to continue treatment of their injured patients. The doctors were then repatriated through neutral Switzerland.
- The Umpherston Sinkhole or “sunken garden” was a part of the property of James Umpherston, who settled in this area in 1860. By 1884, he had developed this Sinkhole into a pleasant resort for his family and also for the townspeople of Mount Gambier. Sinkholes appear when rainwater, which absorbs carbon dioxide from decaying vegetation, then forms into carbonic acid, which soaks into and dissolves the limestone’s calcite or calcium carbonate below the surface. When the underlying limestone eventually collapses, a large sinkhole appears.
- Meischel Park was called the “Boandik Lutheran Cemetery”, before about the year 1980. It had been used by the ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia) from 1864 to 1907. This Boandik Congregation was originally established by Pastor C.W. Schürmann in 1859. From 1863 to 1878, Pastor J.F. Meischel served this congregation. Pastor J.E. Hansen was the next Pastor, from 1880-1912. However, as most families shifted elsewhere, the congregation closed in 1907. However, this ELCA branch began renewed activities in the 1930s and St Matthew’s Congregation was established in 1948.
The Mount Gambier Local Council assumed responsibility for this Cemetery in the 1970s and by 1986, this Cemetery became Meischel Park, being named after its second Pastor. The plaque lists the 76 burials between 1864 and 1907. These include such surnames as Fiedler, Kalms, Koehler, Krause, Kreig, Kuehne, Lange, Leschke, Lindner, Meyer, Mueller, Nitschke, Noske, Paschke, Patzel, Pfeiffer, Pohlner, Proposch, Roesler, Ruwoldt, Schluder, Schubert, Vorwerk and Zippel.
- The Lake Terrace Cemetery is preserving the grave and the memory of Pastor Andreas Kappler. He left his Wendish homeland and his parish of Weissenberg in Lusatia, Saxony in 1848, in order to serve the pastoral needs of the Saxon and Prussian Wends and others, who had made Australia their new home. He spent much time and effort in locating the Lutherans over a very wide area and kept meticulous and detailed baptism and marriage records of the people he served.
In 1860 Kappler visited Mount Gambier. Dr Edward Wehl persuaded him to stay. Kappler remained Pastor at St Martin’s Lutheran Church until his death in 1877. His tombstone states: In Memory of Andreas Kappler, Lutherischer Pastor an [at] der Martini Kirche in Mount Gambier. Geboren [Born] in Klein Hahnchen in Sachsen am 5th November 1802. Gestorben [Died] am 3rd Juni 1877. Sanft ruhe seine Asche. [His ashes are resting peacefully]. Because his tombstone does not feature his ministry to Australia’s pioneering Wendish settlers, our Society is discussing the provision of a plaque to commemorate Andreas Kappler’s standing as Australia’s only Wendish pastor. As a fitting tribute to Kappler, arrangements of Australian gum leaves and Lusatian linden leaves were placed on the grave by President Betty Huf and Secretary Glenys Wollermann.
- St Martin’s Lutheran Church provided the venue for our Saturday evening’s activities. On its foundation stone is recorded: To the Glory of God. The Foundation Stone of this Church was laid by Dr W. Wehl, 21st Jan 1862. The Church was dedicated by the Rev A. Kappler, 5th Oct 1862.
Pastor Colin Huf conducted a worship service which drew on the sentiments of an 1896 Harvest Festival Thanksgiving Service. This service had stressed both the need to receive blessings but then, out of gratitude, to practise philanthropy and to be generous, especially to the poor and needy. A finger-food meal supplied by St Martin’s Congregation was followed by two presentations, one on the Wends in Lusatia and in Australia and the other on the Germans of the Mount Gambier district.
- Early German Pioneering Settlers, including their lives and times in the Mount Gambier District, were featured on a PowerPoint presentation. It revealed that Stephen Henty of Merino Downs visited this area in 1839 and grazed some cattle here. The first permanent settler may have been Johann F. Tollner in 1849. In 1852, Wendish families, such as the Albert, Burger, Deutscher, Hundrack, Petschel and Rentsch families passed through this area on their wagon-trek to Portland. Later in 1859, Johan & Joachim Ruwoldt trekked overland from Adelaide to settle in this area, along with dozens of others.
In 1864, the settlers founded a German Club and in 1868, they formed a Liedertafel. In 1869, a jeweller named J.M. Wendt set up his business and later still, in the 1880s, Johannes Matthias Jens set up his well-known hotel business. Our Tour participants were able to enjoy the hospitality provided by Jens Hotel.
- Adam Lindsay Gordon came to Australia from England in 1853 and became known as a creative poet and a competent, but cavalier, horseman. He is renowned for his feat of leaping on horseback over an old post and rail guard fence onto a narrow ledge overlooking Blue Lake, and then jumping back onto the roadway. The site of this daring riding feat is known as “Gordon’s Leap”. It is marked by an obelisk in memory of Adam Lindsay Gordon.
“Dingley Dell” near Port MacDonnell, Gordon’s property and home from 1862-66, is preserved as a museum. It displays early volumes of his poetry, personal effects and his horse-riding equipment.
Gordon has been honored as a Poet by having his bust displayed in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey in London and with a Statue near Parliament House in Melbourne. In one of his poems called Ye Wearie Wayfarer, Gordon wisely states: “Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another’s trouble, Courage in your own.”
- The Port MacDonnell Maritime Museum provided for us many displays, which vividly depicted the occupations and the living conditions of this area’s pioneering settlers. Port MacDonnell was proclaimed a port by the Governor, Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, in 1860. However, before this date, this area featured sheep, grain and dairy farming; stripping wattle trees and carting wattle bark (which was heated, made into powder and used during the tanning process); manufacturing hats from soft rabbits’ fur; loading goods at the Port and fell-mongering, which involved preparing sheep skins for tanning.
Displays tell the story of over 30 ships which came to grief along the rugged local coastline in the 19th century. The museum houses a model of the Admella, which was wrecked in 1859, killing 89 passengers. This was one of the worst maritime disasters in Australia.
- The Cape Northumberland Lighthouse remains were also interesting. This is the site of a monument to the gallantry of Benjamin Germein, who was the first Lighthouse Keeper from 1859 to 1865. Germein was the first to reach and save lives from the wrecks of the ships Admella in 1859 and the John Ormerod in 1861. This lighthouse at Cape Northumberland experienced constant, extremely windy conditions and was eventually shifted further inland.
- The Blue Lake Pump Station Aquifer supplies water to the town and to surrounding areas. Water has been pumped from here since 1883. The Lake turns a vivid blue colour from late November through to March each year. From April through to November the water turns a dull grey. Our tour group travelled in a glass panelled lift down the original well shaft, then walked through an 80 metre tunnel to a viewing platform close to water level. The display of the water-pressure, with its powerful spray, is certainly impressive.
- The Engelbrecht Cave Tour enabled Tour participants to inspect the Sinkhole and to descend below the busy streets of Mount Gambier after taking the required 164 steps down. It has obtained its name from Johann Carl Engelbecht (1833-1914) who was born in Magdeburg, Germany and came to Australia in 1857. He settled in Mount Gambier in 1865 and set up a distillery in 1885.
Today this picturesque cave is popular with tourists and also attracts certified cave divers from around the world. However, we were informed that during the latter half of the 1800s, this cave was used as a rubbish dump by its owner, Engelbrecht, and by other town residents. It continued to be used as a rubbish dump until the 1950s. In 1979 the local Lions Club commenced the huge task of removing the rubbish, a three year project. In 1995 Engelbrecht Cave was added to the South Australian Heritage Register.
We are very grateful to Betty Huf for her meticulous planning and organisation of the tour. We also thank the Mount Gambier folk for their special contributions towards this very memorable weekend: Vic and Kathy Peucker, Maren and Ed Peucker, Margaret Peucker and the Lutheran Ladies Guild and Mary Arthurson.