The incredible legacy of Gustav Weindorfer
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair State Reserve. The wish of pioneering eco-tourism entrepreneur Gustav Weindorfer for the wild but beautiful area to be protected was granted on 16 May 1922.
A century later the Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, and the Overland Track through the park, is arguably Tasmania’s most recognisable and popular wilderness visitor attraction.
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans the Cradle Valley had been part of the annual travels of Aboriginal Tasmanians and up to 1900 only a handful of Europeans had seen the imposing Cradle Mountain up close.
Gustav Weindorfer and his Tasmanian wife Kate changed that with their promotion of the great beauty of the place and the construction of a house with accommodation for bushwalkers.
They called their place Waldheim Chalet when it was completed in 1913.
Van Diemen's Land Company surveyor Joseph Fossey is said to have named Cradle Mountain in the 1820s during one of his expeditions looking for grazing lands. Apparently it originally had the unflattering name Ribbed Rock.
Gustav Weindorfer was born in the Austrian Alps in 1874 and was 25 when he emigrated to Australia.
He met Tasmanian Kate Cowle while he was living in Melbourne through their membership of the Victorian Field Naturalists’ Club and a shared interest in botany.
After they became engaged Gustav and Kate moved to Tasmania where they were married in 1906 and settled at Kindred where her family farmed.
They made regular treks to Mt Roland and the Cradle Valley area and when they climbed Cradle Mountain on 4 January 1910 Gustav is said to have declared that it should be a national park.
Kate Weindorfer is credited with being the first European woman to climb the mountain.
Later in 1910 they bought 75 hectares of Crown Land in Cradle Valley and in 1912 Gustav started building a bush lodge and bunkhouse as a base for their bushwalking friends.
Gustav selected King Billy pine from the neighbouring forest and with the exception of assistance from a shingle splitter erected the building and made the furniture himself
Although he had taken Australian citizenship Gustav Weindorfer suffered some discrimination during World War I because of his Austrian nationality.
After Kate, who was 11 years his senior, died in 1916 Gustav gave up farming and went to live at Waldheim Chalet.
He continued to host a growing number of visitors, compiled daily rainfall and temperature records for the Bureau of Meteorology and pursued his interest in plant ecology.
In 1921 Gustav stepped up his campaign for the area from Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair to become a National Park.
He gave lantern slide lectures in Launceston and Hobart and wrote to local and interstate newspapers and other publications extolling the great beauty of the Cradle Mountain wilderness.
His persuasive fight to protect the area was rewarded on 16 May 1922 when an area of 64,000 hectares between Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair was declared a State Reserve.
It was made a Wildlife Reserve in 1927.
In an interview with the Launceston Examiner newspaper in 1929, Gustav reflected on his love affair with an area of Tasmania then seen by very few people outside the state.
"In Cradle Mountain we have one of the most beautiful and fascinating scenic attractions in Australia," he said.
The Examiner noted that wildlife was hunted with a camera, not with a gun, and the mountain was now part of a great scenic reserve where the native flora and fauna could not be destroyed.
Cradle Mountain was well established as a bushwalking destination by the time of Gustav Weindorfer’s sudden death from a heart attack outside Waldheim Chalet in 1932.
He was buried nearby.
It wasn’t until 1947 that Gustav Weindorfer’s dream of having Cradle Mountain declared a National Park was fully realised.
Waldheim Chalet continued to provide accommodation for visitors until 1974 when it was demolished and a replica erected as a memorial to the Weindorfers.
Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park became a part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area in 1982.
According to the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, in the year ended March 2019 more than 280,000 people visited the Dove Lake - Cradle Mountain area.
IMAGE CREDITS -- Gustav Weindorfer courtesy of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. Cradle Mountain and Overland Track images copyright held by Adrian Hilly and Georgie Burgess. Image of original Waldheim Chalet copyright held by Julian Burgess.