As Tassie's Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park turns 100 we look at its history and the history of its most famous walk, the Overland Track. (Read part one here)
Tasmania’s iconic Overland Track was a vision of hardy men and women who loved the wilderness and wanted to share it with the world.
In January 1910, an Austrian-born man with a luxuriant black moustache climbed Cradle Mountain. Looking over the pristine lakes, rugged mountains and buttongrass plains he was smitten by the beauty of the Tasmanian highlands, declaring in his thick accent, "This must be a national park for the people for all time. It’s magnificent, and people must know about it and enjoy it."
The man was Gustav Weindorfer – known to his friends as Dorfer – who had arrived in Australia in 1900, aged 26, leaving behind a tedious accounting job in Vienna for adventure in a new country. Dorfer had a keen interest in the natural world, and soon after arriving in Australia was exploring the bush around Melbourne as a member of the Victorian Field Naturalists Club.
At the club he met Kate Cowle, and began visiting Kate and her sister at home, helping them classify their wildflower collections and singing Austrian folk songs to Kate’s piano accompaniment. Dorfer was described as tall, strong and engaging, with a particularly impressive handlebar moustache. Kate and Dorfer were married in 1906, moving to northern Tasmania where Kate had been born.
Dorfer’s vow on top of Cradle Mountain was no idle pledge. He had seen how the construction of the chateau at Mount Buffalo in the Victorian Alps had led to an influx of visitors and a greater appreciation of the area’s natural beauty. This had ultimately resulted in the establishment of Mount Buffalo National Park – one of Australia’s first national parks. Dorfer believed if it could be done in Victoria, it could be done in Tasmania.
Kate and Dorfer began to build a chalet near Cradle Mountain. Designed to harmonise with the surrounding landscape and built from carefully selected King Billy pine from the adjoining forest, he called the building Waldheim meaning ‘Forest Home’ in his native tongue.
The chalet was far from luxurious, with bunks of split timber and hessian, mattresses stuffed with sphagnum moss and logs for chairs. Just accessing Waldheim was an adventure; the tracks were so bad that horse and cart deliveries had to halt 14km away, with Dorfer carrying heavy items, such as the stove, the rest of the way on his back. When the basic chalet was finished in 1912, Dorfer carved a motto on the wall near the fireplace, ‘This is Waldheim, where there is no time and nothing matters.’
Cradle Valley was only known to a few hunters, trappers and adventurous mountaineers. The establishment of Waldheim began to draw other intrepid visitors to the area to experience the wilderness for themselves, with Dorfer acting as guide, host and cook, serving up his home-baked bread, freshly ground coffee, and trademark wombat and garlic stew.
Just as custom was increasing, WWI erupted. Fear of foreigners became rife and, despite being an Australian citizen since 1905, rumours circulated that the Austrian was a spy and Waldheim was equipped with a radio transmitter to communicate with the enemy. A far greater blow was to come, with Kate dying in 1916 after a prolonged illness. Gustav was heartbroken. Isolated and lonely, he immersed himself in the hard physical work of improving the chalet, drawing solace from the area’s beauty.
Click here for more info on the park and read park two of the history of the Overland Track next week.