Love, Loss and Togetherness

As talented as Kate Julia Cowle was as a musician, painter and needlewoman her passion was to be in the outdoors, whether it was on a two day, 100km (60 mile) horse ride with her father or rambling in the bush with her siblings. Kate and her siblings loved the bush. She collected, identified, preserved and catalogued specimens of plants and learnt their botanical names.

Her family moved from Fingal to Devonport where they lived on Formby Road. Her father then bought a property, Lauriston, at Kindred for his sons. Mt Roland could be seen from the farm. Kate’s parents both died in the 1890s and their Devonport properties were finally sold at the beginning of the 20th century. The estate was shared between the family members. Kate became a well to do and independent woman. She moved to Melbourne with her sisters.

Kate Weindorfer.
Kate Weindorfer, nee Cowle

Her love of botany led to her joining the Field Naturalist Club to learn more and to go on their many field excursions into the Victorian bush to study the flora and geology. It was there that she first came in contact with Gustav Weindorfer who had been a member since 1901. With this shared interest they became friends.

In 1903, having climbed to the summit of Mt Roland that January and March and collected many botanical specimens, she presented to the Field Naturalist Club members a talk titled ‘Notes on a visit to Mt Roland.’ This presentation increased Gustav’s admiration of Kate for her knowledge and her ability as a bush explorer and whetted his appetite to visit Tasmanian and Mt Roland.

Gustav started evening visits to the Cowle sisters at their East Melbourne terrace. He and Kate discussed the plant specimens they had collected on their previous rambles in the Victorian countryside. Here he also learned that Kate was an accomplished pianist and so he started to bring sheet music for her to play while he sang. It was with the kindred loves of botany, music and poetry that their love blossomed.

As their courtship continued they started to discuss marriage and for Kate to use her considerable inheritance to buy them a farm. Kate’s brothers crossed Bass Strait to act in their father’s stead by meeting Gustav before the marriage could be announced.

Married on February 1st 1906 – 118 years ago. Mt Roland had been the catalyst for their developing relationship and it was there that they spent more than 5 weeks honeymooning and collecting specimens. Kate pointed out to Gustav the Cradle Mountain area from the summit.

Kate and Gustav bought 100 acres of Lauriston from her brothers. They called it Roland Lea and built a new home for themselves. They were only 35 miles (60km) from Cradle Valley but the terrain was difficult to traverse.

They worked together on their farm using some of Gustav’s agricultural knowledge to increase the productivity. It was the income from the farm that would in time give them the means to purchase land at Cradle Valley and the freedom to establish the Cradle Mountain National Park.

They had a deep and loving friendship in which they were equal and independent. Even though he loved Kate and the work on Roland Lea, Gustav’s wander lust could not be dampened. He often went on long treks with various male friends culminating in his first visit to Cradle with his Victorian friend Dr Sutton on January 4th 1909.

Finally, on December 28th 1909, Kate, Gustav and their neighbour Ronald Smith left for Cradle Valley. After climbing Cradle Mountain on January 3rd 1910 they chose the site for their chalet. The land in the park was considered third rate and they were able to buy acreage to prevent logging. In July that year Kate’s 200 acres was secured and it was on this this acreage that Waldheim Chalet was completed in 1912. During the building of Waldheim Kate frequently joined Gustav at Cradle.

Their marriage was unusual in that Kate, who longed to be with Gustav, stayed at home while Gustav was away adventuring in Cradle. During this time at home Kate managed the farm, their financial affairs, as well as acting as guarantor for loans and overdrafts which Gustav made.

Their letters to each other during these times showed their love for each other and their sadness of being apart. While Gustav was away in Cradle, Kate wrote in her diary how much love she had for her “dear boy” and how “hungry she was to hear from him.” She loved him unconditionally and spent many hours writing to him as he did in replying with love to her and updating her on what he was doing. In 1913 Kate’s time at home alone on the farm was broken regularly with visits to Cradle that could last for 3-6 weeks. In fact in 1914 they spent the winter months together at Waldheim making the chalet a cosy refuge for them and visitors to the Park. This was to be Kate’s last extended visit as her health deteriorated. Her final visit was in June 1915.

Over the next 10 months Gustav spent much shorter visits to Waldheim so that he could be home to help care for his beloved Kate. Her love for him was shown in her last act on her death bed in which she added a handwritten codicil to her will instructing her trustees to sell Roland Lea to financially support Gustav for the rest of his life.

Gustav’s deep and abiding love for Kate is revealed in his naming of Mount Kate. No doubt he wanted to ensure that her influence and importance in the story of the formation of the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park would always be acknowledged and celebrated.

Kate Weindorfer, nee Cowle, 19/07/1863 – 16/04/1916

It is an honour to express on behalf of Great Aunt Kate’s descendants our pleasure that we have been able to place her and her beloved Gustav together again. As they would have said on their wedding day 118 years ago today: “I take thee – to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish.” Their love story shows how they followed their vows to each other. They were parted at death but now we have brought them back together again where they belong.

Chris Stafford with King Billy Pine Box.
FoCV President Chris Stafford with King Billy pine box for Kate’s ashes. The box was made by Peter Dodd from timber from the original Waldheim Chalet. – Harry Cox

They did not conceive an heir but instead they conceived an amazing vision of this breath-taking National Park which they loved and tended as they would have a child.

Mavis Rowlands and Sue Cox Place Kate's Ashes to be with Gustav.
Mavis Rowlands and Sue Cox place Kate’s ashes to be with Gustav. Dr Bob Lavis (L) and Michael Carnes (R) in background. – Harry Cox

Written by Sue Cox and Michael Carnes,

1 February 2024