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Bonzer Words!: Cradle Mountain

Paula Wilson tells of Gustav and Kate Weindorfer, whose hearts were stolen by Cradle Mountain, one of Tasmania's top tourist destinations.

Paula writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

On day one of a holiday in Tasmania I came across a book called The Woman Behind the Man and the Mountain by Sally Schnackenberg. My kind of book, so I bought it, stowed it away at the bottom of my case where it stayed until I returned home. On the last day of my holiday I wandered through a pioneer cemetery in Don; one of the first headstones I came across was that of Kate Weindorfer, the woman behind the man and the mountain.

The mountain—Cradle Mountain, one of Tasmania's top tourist destinations. The man—Gustav Weindorfer, the person who the history books say was instrumental in the preservation and transformation of the mountain into a National Park.

Kate, the fourth of Emma and Thomas Cowle's nine children, was born in 1863 at Fingal, Tasmania. Early in the 1880's the family moved to a farm near Devonport. When Thomas died his will left Kate financially independent. She took advantage of this and hopped on a boat headed for Melbourne in 1901.

Being a keen botanist, Kate joined the Naturalists Club of Victoria where she met Gustav Weindorfer. Originally from Austria he was considering returning home but abandoned these thoughts when he met Kate. Although she was eleven years older than him they fell in love. It was not a relationship all of her family approved of, but at 43 Kate was independent enough to follow her heart.

They returned to Tasmania and married in 1906. The couple then spent their five-week honeymoon camping on nearby Mount Roland where they collected and classified plant specimens. It was here they first saw Cradle Mountain.

Upon returning from their honeymoon they moved in with Kate's brother and worked on his farm until they could purchase their own property. But the misty peaks of Cradle Mountain had snared their hearts.

The Weindorfers were not the first white people to discover the mountain. In the mid 1820s explorer Joseph Fossey named it Cradle Mountain. The first to climb it was Henry Hellyer in 1831, soon others followed. But it was the Weindorfers who saw its beauty and potential.

Early in 1910 Kate and Gustav made their first excursion onto the mountain, and Kate became the first women to climb it. The idea for a national park was germinated and from then on they put all their energy into seeing that their dream would come to fruition.

They purchased land upon the mountain and built a chalet. This was to be their mountain home, and also a guesthouse. The chalet was constructed from King Billy pines, which were felled by hand. Other materials not found on the land, and furnishings they were unable to make were carried in through the wilderness.

The chalet was named Waldheim, forest home. At first it was little more than a hut but soon extensions were begun to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of visitors. When Kate was not escorting these visitors on bushwalking expeditions she was documenting the area's plant species.

At first they moved between the farm and Waldheim spending time at both residences, but by 1914 Gustav spent more time alone on the mountain. Kate, who was struggling with illness, remained on the farm where she could be close to her doctors and family. Early in 1916 Kate became very ill, she died on 29 April aged 52. Her death certificate said the cause of death was chronic nephritis and uraemia, affecting the kidneys. Sally Schnackenberg points out in her book that a lump was found in Kate's breast in 1915 so cancer was a possibility.

Gustav continued to live alone on the mountain until his death 16 years later. In 1922 their dream became reality when Cradle Mountain was proclaimed a scenic reserve.

Gustav was buried on Cradle Mountain. Until recent years his headstone did not even mention Kate's existence, but bore testimony to his part in Cradle Mount becoming a National Park. Many kilometres away in Don Kate's headstone bears the inscription 'Beloved wife of Gustav Weindorfer', no mention of the mountain.

Although Kate's contribution to the Cradle Mountain story has been mostly neglected she was indeed pivotal to the whole story. To start with Gustav would have probably returned to Austria if Kate had not gone to Melbourne, and . . .


© Paula Wilson

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