Hahndorf, South Australia: the Blacksmith and the Artists.

Welcome to Hahndorf, a German-Australian village in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills.  As you prepare for landing, could you please switch you clocks back well into last century to an era where there were few, if any, cars and the horse and cart were still being serviced at HA Haebich’s Smithy on Main Road, Hahndorf. That was before WWI when Hahndorf’s name was changed to Ambleside, as a reflection of fierce anti-German sentiment and changed back again in 1935.

Map showing the location of Hahndorf.

I send my apologies in advance as this is only going to be a rudimentary tour. This will only be a fleeting day trip for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I promise I’ll pop back later for a more in depth visit.

My much loved Grandfather, Bert Haebich, was not only born in Hahndorf but was also descended from the Hartmann and Paech families, who were among the very first German settlers to arrive in Australia back in 1838. These Lutherans were escaping persecution in Prussia and came to South Australia in search of religious freedom. They were an extremely stoic and hardworking community who used to walk their produce into Adelaide on foot and certainly weren’t afraid of backbreaking hard work!!

Hahndorf is a thriving tourist attraction these days and something of a living museum. In so many ways, it looks like a chunk of 19th century Germany, which was dug up and transplanted to the South Australia. Many of the original houses have been retained and restored including Haebich’s Cottage, the family’s home on Main Street, which was built in the late 1850’s by J.Georg. Haebich. It is a substantial ‘fachwerk’ (basically a timber skeleton with infill of pug [straw/mud], brick or stone) German cottage and is absolutely gorgeous.

As this is just a fleeting tour, I’m going to cut to the chase and introduce you to the Blacksmith and the artists.

Heinrich August Haebich, my Great Great Grandfather had a Smithy on Main Street, Hahndorf and lived in Haebich’s Cottage next door. August was was born in Hahndorf on the 17th March, 1851 to Johann George HAEBICH (1813-1872) and Christiane SCHILLER (-1857). August married Maria Amalie Thiele in 1874 but she died less than a year later and on 12th April, 1877, he married Caroline Maria Paech. They had 9 children and I think all four boys worked in the Smithy at some time. With the advent of the car, the business slowly wound down and my Great Grandfather Ed left to work as an engineer with the railways and later as a market gardener. His brother Bill was the last Haebich blacksmith…the end of the line.

My grandfather loved telling me stories of growing up in Hahndorf and I was enchanted. There was an incredible cast of characters and antics like tying a goat to the Church bells so they rang every time to goat reached out to eat more grass. There was also an explosion of some sort during WWII, which sparked fears of a Japanese invasion but was yet another prank. There was a cockatoo which allegedly used to walk across the road leaning to one side with its wing bent staggering along saying: “Drunk again! Drunk again!” Hahndorf is a short distance from the Barossa Valley, one of Australia’s most famous wine-growing regions and there is even a Lutheran Church planted, or should I surrounded by vineyards. I think that should put you in the picture!

While most of the characters in my grandfather’s stories remained anonymous, one name certainly stood out. That was the world-renowned artist Sir Hans Heysen, who lived in Hahndorf with his wife Sallie and family in a spectacular home called: “The Cedars”.

Hans Heysen, "White Gums".

Hans Heysen, “White Gums”.

“Its (the gum tree) main appeal to me has been its combination of mightiness and delicacy – mighty in its strength of limb and delicate in the colouring of its covering. Then it has distinctive qualities; in fact I know of no other tree which is more decorative, both as regards the flow of its limbs and the patterns the bark makes on its main trunk. In all its stages the gum tree is extremely beautiful.”



Heysen had what you could describe as a spiritual relationship with the Australian Gum Tree and he was also captivated by light and trying to capture and infuse light onto the canvas. Understandably, Heysen was quite the conservationist, particularly where saving these glorious gum trees, which were threatened by the installation of electric wires but also by development. He deeply lamented each tree which was lost. Indeed, it was his through his protection of the local gum trees that Hans Heysen entered my Grandfather’s stories. It was known that if anybody wanted to chop down one of these trees, they would have to speak to Hans Heysen first and he was a formidable force. I also found out that my grandfather’s sister, Ivy, worked as a housekeeper for the Heysen’s. That still intrigues me and unfortunately I need had the chance to discuss this with her.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

My grandfather took this photo at the Hahndorf Centenary Celebrations in 1938 and I believe that in Hans Heysen standing on the RHS wearing a white coat and his characteristic knickerbockers and long boots.

Here is a link to some of Hans Heysen’s works: http://www.artgallery.sa.gov.au/agsa/home/Learning/docs/Online_Resources/Heysen_Trail.pdf

With his love and reverence for the Australian Gum Tree, I guess it is fair to say that Heysen’s outlook fitted in better with the more pastoral and bush portrayal of Australia and Heysen certainly despised Modernism and all its trappings. This was reflected in paintings such as The Toilers (1920) where Hans Heysen painted a local farmer “Old Kramm” and his horses.

Perhaps, it was Heysen’s love for this passing pre-mechanised world,which inspired Hans Heysen to undertake an etching of Haebich’s Smithy in 1912. My grandfather had a print of this painting and it was something we knew about and I guess were proud of without knowing any background to it at all.

Hans Heysen, "The Old Blacksmith's Shop, Hahndorf." (1912)

Hans Heysen, “The Old Blacksmith’s Shop, Hahndorf.” (1912)

It was only last year, that I really questioned Heysen’s perspective of the Blacksmith’s shop and how his still life contrasted to my grandfather’s animated stories of a busy, flourishing workshop. I remember how my grandfather;s face would light up, even as an old man, talking about how the water would whoosh up when the red hot steel rim for the wheel would be dunked in water producing an incredible gush of steam. He was a small boy once again mesmerised by the whole experience and and there was such theatre.

In addition to questioning Heysen’s still life of a place which was anything but still, I also realised that Heysen’s work portrayed the more traditional tools of blacksmithing at a time when the Smithy was already being mechanised. August Haebich and his eldest son Otto, were innovative engineers who invented the Wattle Stripper and engines. They were hardly relics from the past or living and breathing museum pieces.

So, there was a bit of food for thought, which I’ll need to investigate further.

In the meantime, while  doing yet another Google search and romping through the online newspapers at Trove, I made quite a discovery. It might not warrant global acclaim but it felt like I’d found a gold nugget in my own backyard. Believe me!  I was shouting “Eureka”from the rafters even though no one else was listening!

It turned out that Hans Heysen wasn’t the only famous artist who had depicted the Haebich Smithy. Hans and Sallie Heysen entertained numerous artists and performers at The Cedars. Indeed, famous singer Dame Nellie Melba was a regular visitor and naturally fellow artists also came to stay. Naturally, they roamed around Hahndorf and did what artists do…sketch. After all, the very quaint German buildings are what we would now call very “photogenic”.

Lionel Lindsay: "The Smithy Window, Ambleside" (1924).

Lionel Lindsay: “The Smithy Window, Ambleside” (1924).

So, consequently, I have unearthed other sketches of the Haebich Smithy. There was one by Sir Lionel Lindsay, brother of artist and author Norman Lindsay of Magic Pudding fame as well as artist and art publisher Sydney Ure Smith. Sydney Ure Smith was so smitten with Hahndorf, that he included scenes in his book: Old Colonial By-Ways (1928)…alongside much more recognised Sydney landmarks such as the buildings in Macquarie Street and Elizabeth Farm House in Parramatta, which is the oldest house in Australasia. Elizabeth Farm House was built In 1793 Sir John MacArthur and was where he con ducted his experiments with merino sheep, giving birth to the Australian wool industry.

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith's Shop, Ambleside (1925).

Sydney Ure Smith: The Blacksmith’s Shop, Ambleside (1925).

So, immortalised alongside, Elizabeth Farm House, is Haebich’s Smithy.

When you look at it like that, it really does seem rather incredible and amazing and yes, I’m impressed, proud and so many superlatives that I couldn’t possibly get them all down without sounding like a thesaurus!

xx Rowena

22 thoughts on “Hahndorf, South Australia: the Blacksmith and the Artists.

  1. TanGental

    Enjoyed that. Interning how these communities held their integrity as a close knit group. Now we worry when groups do that – I’m thinking of some Muslim committed in North England but usually it helps them stabilise before they begin to integrate fully.

  2. cahyanidwy

    It was interesting to hear some stories about your great grandparents 🙂 They surely hard workers 🙂

  3. roweeee Post author

    Geoff, it is interesting growing up within a community which is not unlike what we see in the Muslim situation around the world today. I have heard that my Great Grandmother on my Grandmother’s side used to somehow listen to German radio broadcasts during the war while living in Brisbane. It wasn’t so much that she supported them but she wanted to hear both sides of the argument and in times of war, communication is very restricted. My grandfather ministered to people who were interred during WWII and he was watched as well.
    As I delved into the whole name change thing, it was really quite interesting and I wonder what the young kids at Hahndorf Public School felt when their village and school had it’s name changed along with the Principal. It wasn’t as though changing his name changed who everyone knew he was and most of the community had German roots.
    I am pleased I have started to get the story of those three artists sketching the smithy out beyond my own research. It could develop into a nice slice of Hahndorf’s social history.

  4. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Susan. I had a brief look at your blog and loved it and will go back later and try to work out how to follow you. Did you do that beautiful drawing of the house? It is so beautiful! Love the use of colour!!

  5. Midwestern Plant Girl

    Very interesting post! We have many of these little ‘transplants’ of towns here. Very fun to visit another country and not leave your own 😉

  6. roweeee Post author

    I am very grateful for that. Overseas travel gets very expensive from Australia. I have been to New Zealand and we really did experience quite a different world, even though it’s n ot so faraway. The Maori culture is particularly strong in the North Island so that was quite a walk through something different.

  7. TanGental

    Fascinating Row. My background is Hugenot French who escaped religious persecution in early 18th century France. But of course having a French name during the Napoleonic wars at the end of the 18th and early 19th century wasn’t good. So we changed the family name to an anglicanized spelling Leppard anf only changed it back 50 years later.

  8. roweeee Post author

    Geoff, your Hugenot connections sound fascinating. Have you explored the history much? Mum has some friends with Huguenot heritage in her Bible study grou and she found some H. hymns and played them and they loved it.

  9. asksusantaylor

    Aw, I wish I could claim that beautiful drawing, but no, it is by an author named Paul Berenson, who graciously gave me permission to use it as my blog header. Thanks for visiting!

  10. roweeee Post author

    Susan, by any chance are you related to some Taylors with German origins on the Central Coast? They’re friends of and distant cousins as well.

  11. roweeee Post author

    The archaelogist has no excuse. While it doesn’t sound as glamorous and digging up foreign fields, you should always start in your own backyard…especially when it would be so fruitful! Definitely a blog series coming up…Hint! Hint!

  12. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Solveig. I personally find it interesting to find these pockets of overseas cultures in Australia. There are a few spots where Italians also settled and continued their culture in a new country. Leichhardt in Sydney used to be known as Little Italy although I have heard that’s changed a bit.

  13. utesmile

    That is very interesting, I would love to see this Hahndorf, sounds delightful. I can imagine it is a tourist attraction if it is the way you describe. Are there any pictures of the houses there somewhere?

  14. Chris Williams (@will0447)

    Hi Rowena

    Another born-and-bred Hahndorfian here. I reckon there were 3 smithies in operation. Across the road from the Haebich’s operation was the Pade’s wheelwright – my mob. The financial accounts of their business (1853-1876) are lodged in the State Library, and are a jolly good read. Besides each and every Pade transaction is an insight into a German community living inside an English colony. I have on good authority there was another smithy up the top-end-of-town.

    btw My Dad’s best mate was Ross Haebich, and they regularly went up-river on fishing trips. O to have been a fly-on- the-wall on one of those! Chris

  15. Rowena Post author

    Hi Chris. It’s great to hear from you and would love to make further contact. I was hoping to make a few connections by writing about Hahndorf. I’ll see if I can work out how Ross Haebich fits in. Have heard the name Pade, and wouldn’t surprise me if there’s one in our family history book somewhere. We interviewed my grandfather at length about his memories of Hahndorf and could forward these to you.
    There was another Smithy further uptown and I’ll need to put my thinking cap on to remember which one that was. Have you done much research through the old newspapers on Trove? I live in NSW so getting down to SA to do research is tricky.
    My email address is rowenanewton at outlook.com
    Best wishes,

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