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.
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”.
“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.”
SIR HANS HEYSEN
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.
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)
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).
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).
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!