Gustav Weindorfer was born on 23 February 1874 at Spittal an der Drau, Carinthia an alpine province of Austria. His father was a senior civil servant before becoming involved in the management of large agricultural estates in African colonies. Gustav was well educated, training at an agricultural college with the aim of following his father’s footsteps into agricultural management. He had formal botany training in Austria, before deciding to emigrate to the Antipodes.

Gustav Weindorfer, 21, before sailing to Australia
Gustav Weindorfer, 21, before sailing to Australia
(Sheffield Museum)

He arrived in Melbourne on 13 June 1900, where he obtained a clerical position with the Austrian Lloyd Steamship Company. However, a desk job never fully satisfied Gustav. In 1901, his social standing was somewhat elevated when he became Honorary Chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Consulate. During that year and the next, almost every weekend, he would stroll through the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, or go walking in the nearby bushland with friends.

On 9 September 1901, Gustav went to a meeting of the Victorian Field Naturalists Club, and immediately became an enthusiastic member. On one Club outing, he discovered a new pea plant, now named after him, Pultenaea weindorferi. On another Club outing, he met Kate Cowle. Kate had recently moved to Melbourne from North-West Tasmania, where her family had a farm at Kindred, near Devonport. Their shared enthusiasm for botany led to marriage. The wedding was conducted in Stowport, near Burnie on 1 February 1906, and a large part of their honeymoon was spent camped on Mt Roland with the aim of making an extensive botany collection. This was the first time that Gustav had a clear view of Cradle Mountain.

Weindorfer’s first trip to Cradle Mountain was in January 1909. Leaving the farm that he and Kate bought at Kindred, he travelled into the hinterland with his friend, botanist Dr Sutton and a local guide. They took with them six plant presses. There were no formed roads to follow, just tracks through the bush. For two days, they explored the Cradle area, even making an attempt on the summit of the mountain before thick fogs enveloped them and made progress impossible. Much of their time was used up in plant collecting, and when they returned to Kindred, Gustav enthused about the Valley, describing it as a “veritable Eldorado for the botanist” and likening it to his Carinthian homeland.

In 1910, he returned to Cradle Mountain with his wife Kate, and Ronny Smith. On 4 January 1910, the party members were graced with fine weather for their climb of the mountain. It was here that Smith later quoted Weindorfer as saying: “This must be a National Park for the people for all time. It is magnificent, and people must know it and enjoy it.”

While in the valley, Kate and Gustav selected a site for them to build a chalet that would allow tourists to stay in comfort in the valley. A few hundred acres were purchased, and in March 1912, Gustav commenced work on the building he was to call Waldheim, or “home in the forest”. The chalet was built of King Billy pine, harvested from the adjacent forests. By Christmas 1912, it was ready for its first visitors, with a living room and dining room, and two bedrooms.Despite early visitors having to walk up to 8 miles to reach Waldheim from the Middlesex Plains and Daisy Dell homesteads, the new chalet was a success. Eventually a rough track allowed a horse and cart to reach the valley near Pencil Pine Falls.

Waldheim, ca 1920s (AOT)

However, 1916 was a year of disaster for Gustav. His mother died in January, and Kate, who had been ill for some time, died in April. One of his brothers died in June, and his father died in October. Gustav sold his farm at Kindred and became a full-time resident at Waldheim. His unhappiness and isolation were heightened because of the prejudice against Germanic people during the Great War. Although he had willingly become an Australian citizen before his marriage in 1906, some of the residents on the North-West Coast cruelly ostracised him, foolishly spreading rumours that he was an enemy spy.

In 1921, Weindorfer set out on a tour of Tasmania to promote Waldheim, as well as the concept of a National Park for Cradle Mountain. The following year, a scenic reserve and wildlife sanctuary was declared, stretching from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair. His reputation as a great host spread, but visitors came mainly in summer. ‘Dorfer’, as he became known, enjoyed company. So in the many quiet times at Cradle Valley, he felt great loneliness. During the early part of the Great Depression, as the national economic situation deteriorated, there was a drop in visitor numbers and Gustav had to sell timber and furs to make ends meet.

Gustav Weindorfer with his dog, Flock, at Lake Lilla, 1922
Gustav Weindorfer with his dog, Flock, at Lake Lilla, 1922
Stephen Spurling (QVMAG)

Dorfer mostly cared for his visitors single-handedly. All of this effort as well as the bitterly cold winters strained his health. His heart had shown a weakness in the early 1920s, and towards the end of the decade, he wrote in his diary: “Strange experience. My heart acted strangely. Had to lie down in bed. I do not smoke anymore. I have to give up tea.”

In April 1931, he bought a motor cycle to make travel out of the valley easier, but on 5 May 1932, while trying to start his motor cycle, his heart gave out. He was found dead the next day near the present Ronny Creek car park. Gustav Weindorfer had died within sight of his beloved mountain. Following his wishes, he was buried in the valley on 10 May 1932.

Gustav on his motorbike, early 1930s
Gustav on his motorbike, early 1930s (TAHO)

Text courtesy of the Weindorfer Memorial Service Committee, 2008.