At the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Cradle Valley it was decided to induct the late Major Ronald Edgar Smith into The Kate and Gustav Weindorfer Honours List.

The Major’s only surviving child, Mr Charles Smith of Launceston (pictured below with FoCV member Peter C Sims, who presented the citation) is a regular visitor to Cradle Valley for the New Year’s Day Weindorfer Memorial Services.

Charles Smith and Peter Sims with the award for Charles' father, Major Ronald Smith
Charles Smith and Peter Sims with the award for Charles’ father, Major Ronald Smith

Mr Smith was surprised and delighted to be presented with this special award honouring his late father.

Major R E Smith’s first cottage in the valley was constructed in 1922 about a mile south of Waldheim. Its four rooms were used for extra overnight accommodation when Waldheim was pressed for space, which did happen occasionally. However, it was burned to the ground when the wooden chimney caught alight accidentally in January 1936.

Originally, Major R E Smith owned about 400 acres of land in  the Cradle Valley. He operated the King Billy sawmill at Ronny Creek, sending the then highly-prized but now wholly protected endemic timber through to Kings Meadows in Launceston where it was made into domestic window-frames.

Mr C Smith recalled his father agreeing to lease a portion of his land behind his Mt Kate cottage at Ronny Creek to the Blandfordia Club members for the annual sum of “a bushell of wheat.

He also recalled, with affection, that his father was “the first person to drive a car under its own power all the way to Waldheim”.

Incidentally, the car that made that inaugural journey is presently being restored, and we were very honoured, in turn, to see the old engine which has already been reconditioned, and looks as good as new.

One day, Mr Smith hopes to drive the car up to Waldheim again, perhaps for a Weindorfer Memorial Service on New Year’s Day.

This news sent me searching through the records of the Queen Victoria Archives in Launceston, where I came across the following photograph showing Major R E Smith standing alongside his Chevrolet on that occasion (Ref. QVMAG 1988 P: 0128). The date was 8 January 1935. Note the gum trees on the skyline around Waldheim, and the picket fence around Weindorfer’s front garden.

Major Ronald Smith with Chevrolet outside Waldheim, Jan 1935
Major Ronald Smith with Chevrolet outside Waldheim,
Jan 1935 (QVMAG)

Major R E Smith was one of the most influential pioneers of Cradle Valley tourism. Born and schooled in Ulverstone, he was the fifth child of James (“Philosopher”) Smith, who discovered and developed the massive tin lode at Mount Bischoff, near Waratah.

He was known as “the Major” long after he retired from active military service in the Australian Imperial Forces, during which he was wounded in the Gallipoli campaign.

Ronald Edgar Smith, 1915
Ronald Edgar Smith at his enlistment in 1915, shortly before his 34th birthday (Charles Smith)

He served on the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board in an honorary capacity for many years. When Mr J Savigny resigned as Secretary of the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board in 1929, it was Major Smith who stepped straight into the role, which he continued till at least 1947.

Historians will be forever grateful to Major R E Smith that he was a keen diarist and archivist. He also must have appreciated the historical importance of his work and observations, as he ensured that a copy of all of the Cradle Mountain Reserve Board’s minutes and transactions are held by the Tasmanian State Archives in Hobart. As Secretary of the Board, he was the person who lobbied all the northern and north-west councils and tourist associations for funding to build the road into Cradle Valley from off the old VDL road which went through Middlesex Plains from Westbury. This wasn’t just for the benefit of his own saw-milling business, but primarily to provide better access for tourists, in whom he took great interest, as his records clearly show.

He climbed Cradle Mountain for the first time in 1907, and three years later, he introduced Gustav and Kate Weindorfer to the mountain too. Indeed, he was present when Gustav proclaimed that “… this must be a national park for the people for all time”, a statement that Major Smith assiduously recorded in his diary.

Kate Weindorfer, Ron Smith and WM Black at the survey cairn on the summit of Cradle Mountain, Jan 1910
Kate Weindorfer, Ron Smith and W M Black at the survey cairn on the summit of Cradle Mountain, Jan 1910
Gustav Weindorfer (Charles Smith)

Major R E Smith died suddenly in 1969 in Devonport at the age of 87, and he was buried at the Latrobe General Cemetery. He was twice widowed, and he had three sons, Ronald, Charles and Edgar, and one daughter, Edith Margaret.


Written by John Wilson, Mar 2014