Academy History


The Hahndorf Academy (66-68 Main Street)

Located at 66-68 Main Street at the corner of Balhannah Road, the Hahndorf Academy has had a varied and volatile history.
Few buildings in Australia can lay claim to such controversy from inception up until the current time. It has been stated that the Hahndorf Academy was the focal point that created the tourist industry that prevails in Hahndorf as is known today.

The publication, 'A College in the Wattles', by Reg Butler, is an excellent detailed and comprehensive history of the Academy. Launched during the 150th anniversary of Hahndorf's establishment, this book sets the Academy in an Australian context and provides short biographies of old scholars and teachers.

Further Information

Biographical information regarding certain persons mentioned in the text is available from the following external links.

    Boehm.jpgT.W.('Chibby') Boehm founded the Hahndorf Academy in 1857 and directed it for 30 years.

    Byard.jpgBoehm's successor, Douglas J. Byard M.A. was in charge of the college until it closed.

ACADEMY - Then and Now


    HA2.jpgHahndorf Academy from Main Street (2002)

    academy_before1872_w.jpegHahndorf Academy in 1871 before it became a Lutheran Teachers Seminary in 1876.

    academy_1912_w.jpegMain Street & Handorf Academy 1912

    academy_1950.jpgAcademy c1950 (with balconies still intact).

    Academy_1960_w.jpegThe derelict Academy building due for demolition, 1960

    academy_mid60_m.jpegAcademy in mid 1960's after storm damage

    Academy_1967_w.jpegAcademy July 1967 during restoration.

    academy1_m.jpgAcademy cnr Main St & Balhannah Rd (2002)

    stable.JPGHahndorf Academy Stable - 2004 (at rear of Academy)

Historical Background

Traugott Wilhelm Boehm

[WWW]Traugott Wilhelm BOEHM (1836 - 1917) arrived aboard the 'Zebra' with his parents in 1839, being the youngest of six children.

After attending the Hahndorf church-school, he enrolled at Pastor Fritzche's 'pioneer Lutheran college of the southern hemisphere' at Lobethal (about 15 miles north of Hahndorf) to be trained as a school teacher.
Upon completion of his studies, which was followed by some practical training in the Barossa Valley (another area of German settlement in South Australia), Boehm was appointed to the church-school at Hahndorf in April 1854.

Boehm had a strong desire to add secular subjects to the religious curriculum approved by the Church. The congregation disagreed most vehemently, leaving Boehm little option but to open a school of his own with the help of his family and a grant-in-aid from the Central Board of Education. Set up in 1850, the Board had consistently refused to subsidise schools devoted to teaching a particular denominational doctrine. In this way, Boehm's school, which ultimately grew to become 'The Hahndorf Academy' as is known today, was established as a public school with no religious instruction in its curriculum.

After Boehm sold the whole establishment in 1886, he moved to Murtoa, Victoria the following year where he opened a private school where opportunities for higher education were offered. This school was taken over by the Lutheran Church in 1890 and established as Concordia College. Concordia College was subsequently moved in 1905 to its present site at Highgate, a suburb of Adelaide.

After retiring to Warracknabeal, Victoria, Boehm died in May, 1917.

Hahndorf Academy

In 1857, T.W. Boehm opened his school, naming it the Hahndorf Academy, which was the first government supported primary school, with the object of providing 'a sound and good English and German education, in order to enable its pupils to enter the learned professions, or to prepare them for commercial life.'
Fees were charged at 2 guineas a quarter for day-scholars and from 10 to 13 guineas for boarders.

The school was initially located in the single-storey cottage which is still standing on the site today at the rear of the larger building. The school grew in size and prestige, becoming a secondary boarding college in 1871 when the two-storey building was built.

Also known as Boehm's Boarding School, it soon established a good reputation and attracted more and more pupils. 'Chibby' Boehm , as he was nicknamed, was certainly passionate about providing a liberal education but his finances rarely kept pace with his ambitions. Teaching was in both German and English with a wide variety of subjects, and a strong reputation was built for art, physical education, academic scholarship, commerce and music.

Pupils were attracted from interstate, as well as prominent South Australian Families seeking a well-rounded education for their children. A former student and master, [WWW]Professor I.G. Reimann, established Australia's first music school, which later became part of the University of Adelaide's Elder Conservatorium.

In 1872, the Academy received a Government grant-in-aid and, to meet the need for more accommodation, the main building with the corner tower was added a few years later.

Hahndorf Lutheran Teachers' Seminary

[WWW]Carl Friedrich Adolph STREMPEL (1831 - 1908) was appointed director of the boarding section of Hahndorf College after it opened in 1876 in the Hahndorf Academy building. After the college was sold in 1883, he continued to train teachers for Church schools.

By 1877, Boehm found himself financially embarrassed due to the expenses involved in the building additions plus other personal debts.

He offered to sell the Academy to the Lutheran Church, which was accepted at a price of £700, so that it could also be used as Lutheran Teachers' Seminary. It was renamed the Hahndorf College and Boehm remained as Principal.

For the next seven years the institution operated with two departments; one for higher education open to fee paying students, and the other a teachers' seminary for church-schools.
During this period 13 Lutheran teachers had graduated from the seminary, some of whom later entered the ministry.

In 1883, Boehm offered to buy back the the college from the Church at the original purchase price, which was accepted. Thus the college ceased to be a church institution from that date.

Hahndorf College

Boehm carried on for a few more years, but in August 1886, he sold the whole establishment to D.J. Byard and H.S. Steer.

Douglas Byard, an Oxford Master of Arts and Anglican lay preacher, had arrived in Australia in 1884. Under his leadership, the 'Hahndorf College' again flourished and became even more widely recognised. With its tradition of scholastic excellence students were attracted from far afield from all over Australia. Some came from cattle stations in Queensland's Gulf country, while others travelled by wool barge down the Darling River from Wilcania in New South Wales. Unlike Boehm's 'Academy', Byard's 'Hahndorf College' was for boys only. Men who became prominent in medicine, law and commerce were products of the 'Hahndorf College'.

The Hahndorf College played a leading role in the Adelaide Hills, and its records include names such as Bonython, Downer, Resch and von Doussa. Sir Douglas Mawson's polar expedition was joined by old scholar Cecil Madigan.

The large linden-tree behind the College was planted by Mr Byard in 1908.

In 1912, the closure of the college marked the end of its long standing role as an educational institution.

Mr Byard returned to England in 1916 and lived in retirement at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. He died in 1946 at the age of ninety.

Subsequent Uses

Mr H. Hirthe was the next owner of the property.

From 1917-1937, the building was used as a nursing home and hospital run by Nurse B. Schmidtke. During these years, 999 patients were cared for and 580 babies born in its rooms.

It then housed council offices, local military headquarters during World War II, a betting shop and a dentist who was in the habit of disposing extracted teeth through a hole in the floor. Subsequently, it served as a private dwelling, as housing flats, and as a recreation centre.

Some years after Mr Hirthe's death in May 1939, the property was bought by Mr H.O. Haebich. Its life as a rooming house came to an end when Otto Haebich began converting the place to flats. His sudden death in November 1959 when he was in the throes of renovations resulted in gaping holes being left in the floors and walls, and with the property in a general state of disrepair.

Sale and Possible Demolition

The property was then offered for sale by public auction in April 1960. As the Mount Barker Council had declared the building to be unsafe, this sale would have meant the demolition of the building.

The property, being located on a corner site in the centre of the township on the then main Adelaide-Melbourne highway, attracted the strong interest of a petrol company which had the intention of demolishing the Academy and building a service station on the site. Some of the local community supported this proposed action due to the building's bad state of repair and the high cost of restoration, while others were anxious to see the Academy preserved because of its history and what it had meant to Hahndorf in the past. Opinion was very much divided.

As reported by Prof. R.W.V. Elliot in 'Walkabout' (April 1964) concerning the day of the public auction, 'only the concerted action of several prominent South Australian citizens, the generosity of an Adelaide master builder, and the petrol company's magnanimous withdrawal from the sale saved it from destruction.'
Latvian born Karlis Lidums (Adelaide Building Co.), in a gesture of gratitude to his adopted country, bought the building to keep it unchanged until such time as the proposed 'Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust' could be formed and had sufficient finance to take over the building. 1

The Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust

In 1961, 'The Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust' was founded under the chairmanship of Dr. Derek van Abbe, then head of the Department of German at Adelaide University, with Miss Josephine Heysen (Sir Hans Heysen's granddaughter) as secretary.
The aim of the Trust was 'to restore the building to such a shape that it will be able to take its place worthily among the historic monuments of South Australia, and to make it a museum of local German and English antiquities and early South Australian history.'

By February 1961, Sir Hans Heysen had made the first of several valuable gifts of art work to draw public attention to the Academy.
The Trust aimed to raise funds to restore the building and establish a rural museum and cultural centre.

In 1963, the Trust took over the property from the Adelaide Building Company.

There was a concerted effort to find support from government and private sources. Unfortunately, any funds raised were needed to attempt to repair storm and other damage which occurred during the 1960 to 1963 seasons. Roof repairs were required and the damaged balcony and verandah had to be removed. The building had degenerated into a dilapidated wreck, so much so that community hostility towards the project was increasing at a great rate.

Late in 1966, after the State Government decided not to provide any assistance for restoration, the Mount Barker Council served the Trust with exactly one month to effect repairs. This was an impossible demand and the Trust had no option but to place the Academy building up for sale once again.
The Trust therefore resolved to sell the property to any party interested in the preservation of the old Academy.

The Hahndorf Academy and German Folk Museum

In November 1966, Mrs Elva Wotzke purchased the property, however it was necessary for her to take the Mount Barker Council to court to ensure she was able to restore the building within a reasonable time. With her husband's, Walter Wotzke, support she courageously faced the herculean task of restoring the old building. Their work was considerably aided by local people and artists to enable restoration to take place.

In October 1967, 'The Hahndorf Academy Galleries and German Folk Museum' opened for business by paying tribute to Sir Hans Heysen on his 90th Birthday with an exhibition of his work. The German Ambassador, His Excellency Dr J.F. Ritter, performed the opening ceremony to near universal acclaim from some 2000 visitors in attendance.

Under the directorship of Walter Wotzke and through its programme of exhibitions by noted and emerging artists, the gallery gained a reputation that drew visitors from all over the world, including the Duke of Edinburgh, the Australian Governor General Sir Zelman Cowan, soprano Rita Streich, several State governors and other dignitaries. Equally distinguished personalities appeared on a regular basis, and gallery attendants never knew who to expect next.

The Academy also became well known for its concerts. Walter Wotzke's famous cousin, Brenton Langbein came from Zurich to perform there. With the help of fellow artist Colin R. Gardiner, the exhibitions were always elegantly hung and lit. Walter Wotzke himself was an excellent showman with a genuine passion for art, Hahndorf and its Academy. People were drawn to the excitement and camaraderie within its walls.

The Heysen Room was established to display the nine drawings Sir Hans Heysen had donated to the Trust during its struggles to raise funds plus the bronze head of Sir Hans by the South Australian artist and sculptor John Dowie.

On the Academy's first floor, Elva Wotzke arranged the exhibits she had so painstakingly collected for her Hahndorf and German heritage cottage museum in the mid-1960's. This substantially formed the basis of the current 'German Migration and Folk Museum'.

For his conspicuous encouragement of aesthetic endeavour, Walter Wotzke received an OAM in 1978.

Late in 1984, Walter Wotzke decided to sell the Academy so he could devote full time to his watercolour painting.
As reported in 'The Courier' (local newspaper) on November 14, 1984:
One of the town's most outstanding historic landmarks is to be auctioned next month. The imposing Hahndorf building has been an art gallery and museum since it was rescued from demolition and restored by present owner Mr Walter Wotzke. The original Hahndorf Academy, built in 1857, was a single-storey building (now a private residence) at the rear of the gallery which was added in 1871. As an 'institute of higher learning', the Hahndorf Academy attracted students from all over the country, and many well known names appear in school records - Downer, Fuller, Von Doussa etc.

After a considerable amount of confusion, the auction of the property held in November 1984 resulted in the property remaining unsold.
The next few years were a virtual stalemate while committees deliberated, deputations were made to the state government, and consultants prepared a feasibility study for the Mount Barker Council. During this period the contents and displays within the Academy were allowed to run down.
Finally, as a result of a public meeting held in April 1987 and chaired by local Federal Parliamentarian, Alexander Downer, it was decided to revitalize the dormant Academy Trust to purchase the property and make it a permanent public building.

The Hahndorf Academy Foundation Inc.

'The Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust Incorporated' came out of recess in 1987 under the chairmanship of Dr. Peter Heysen, Sir Hans Heyson's grandson. Renamed 'The Hahndorf Academy Foundation Inc.' the group became the owners on 20 December 1988.

As renovations progressed, the Hahndorf Branch of The National Trust of S.A. set up an exhibition of historical photographs and drawings which raised $2,000 for the Foundation in a few days.


On 6 January 1989, the new era of public ownership commenced at the Academy with a Heysen retrospective exhibition, opened by Colin Thiele.

In 1995, an unfortunate event brought the attention of the nation's media to the Academy. A total of 29 Heysen paintings, consisting of those lent by the family for display as well as seven drawings donated by Sir Hans Heysen, were stolen from the Academy. It was not until 1997 that these Heysen works were recovered.

Struggling to pay the bank's interest rate let alone reduce the principal debt, the Foundation sought unsuccessfully for assistance from state and local government to add to its list of donors. It wasn't until 1996, that the 'Hahndorf Academy Foundation' succeeded in convincing Mt. Barker Council to give support in principle to the purchase of the Academy if the State Government would provide a matching $100,000. This resulted in the South Australian Premier John Olsen handing over a cheque for $100,000 to equal Mount Barker District Council's contribution at the opening of the Heysen Festival on 3 October 1998.

Today the building is owned by the Mount Barker District Council and continues life under 'The Hahndorf Academy Foundation Inc.' thus ensuring the preservation of this State Heritage building and grounds. It provides the community with a public art gallery, featuring works by well known local and Australian artists with exhibitions on a regular basis. The associated German Migration and Heritage Museum is dedicated to regional heritage. The Hahndorf Academy also has a large retail area showcasing Adelaide Hills artists and craftspeople and a number of 'artists in residence' studios. The Foundation is currently working on upgrading its historical collection and museum.

Upgrading of Academy and Relocation of AHVIC

Commencing September 2010 and completed by the following December, construction of new toilets and refurbishing of the existing kitchen within the Academy building was carried out.
The project was funded by $220,000 from the Mt Barker Council's budget and a $65,000 grant from the Federal Government's Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.
On completion of this work in December 2010, the Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre (AHVIC) relocated from its existing location in Main Street and moved into the front room of the Academy Building.

Please note that information regarding the history of the Academy was obtained mainly from:
"HAHNDORF AND ITS ACADEMY" by Prof. R.W.V. Elliott (article in 'Walkabout' magazine April 1964)
"HAHNDORF, A Journey Through the Village and its History" by Anni Luur Fox
plus other publications and sources


Foot Notes:

  • 1 'Sale and Possible Demolition' - I recall a conversation held many years ago (obviously 1960) in my parents Hazelwood Park home involving my father, L (Mick) Finnis, with A M Ramsay (General Manager-South Australian Housing Trust) and Jim Slade (Director-Public Buildings Department) in which the above was discussed. Apparently, (Sir) Thomas Plaford, South Australian Premier, had instructed Ramsay to ascertain if there was any way in which the 'Hahndorf people' could be helped to save the Academy building without directly involving the State Government. Playford did not want the State Government to be involved in any expenditure or to be seen to be supporting the project as he did not wish a precedent to be set for others to seek similar Government assistance. Slade considered that the Academy should be demolished as it would be considerably cheaper to do this and build a new building. He believed that restoration had no merit and would be a complete waste of effort and money. Ramsay however supported the restoration of the Academy as he was an early conservationist. Slade did however suggest that Karlis Lidums (Adelaide Building Company) might be interested and that he would contact him and arrange for a meeting between Lidums and Ramsay for the matter to be discussed. This meeting obviously was held resulting in Lidums purchasing the Academy and thus saving it from demolition at that time. (It should be noted that this conversation was held at a time when it was the norm for old buildings to be demolished to make way for the new. Restoration and conservation were generally considered not to be an option irrespective of any historical or other value in the original building/s) - (Tony Finnis)

Possible Future Redevelopment

An Academy Development Review Committee investigated the possibility of co-locating the Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre at the Academy, revamping the Museum and upgrading the gallery.

After the Hahndorf Academy Foundation's AGM on 14 Sept 2006, Barry Wilkins (Mt Barker Council- Tourism & Economic Development Manager) discussed and gave an overview of the proposals outlined in a feasibility study to be presented to the Mount Barker Council.
Of the proposals, the most realistic was considered to be for a $5 million annexe at the rear of the existing building. The complex would then form an Interpretive Centre for Handorf's history, containing art gallery space, museum areas, cafe, toilets, kitchen, the visitor information centre and associated facilities. Funding for the project would most probably be from the private sector and government grants.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 23 May 2007:
A planned $1m extension to the Hahndorf Academy would see it transformed into the town's tourist hub, complete with new interpretive centre and a relocated Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre.
The group has already applied for $750,000 in grants from three separate sources and the Mt Barker Council has conditionally allocated $250,000 to the project in its 2007/08 draft budget, subject to the grants being received.
Stage one upgrading includes a two-storey extension incorporating toilets, a lift for disabled access and a new staircase, the relocation of the Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre to the site and an upgrading of the museum area.
A new interpretive centre would be developed in the building to tell the story of Hahndorf to tourists.
The building's kitchen would be refurbished to service ancilliary events held onsite, while a volunteer room, storage facilities and carparking would be upgraded and the building's front entrance remodelled.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 5 March 2008:
The Mt Barker Council is pushing ahead with plans for a major upgrading of the Hahndorf Academy despite failing to gain almost half the funding needed from the Federal Government.
The Council's manager of tourism and economic development, Barry Wilkins, said in a report this week that the project was "critical to the current and future growth and development of the academy operations".
It is investigating launching the upgrading in stages, using the $500,000 already committed and seeking funding through other options including State and Federal government programs and private and corporate sponsorship if the grant application falls through.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 22 April 2009:
The Mt Barker Council is pinning its hopes for a major upgrading of the Hahndorf Academy on a $2m Federal Government grant for which it has applied.
...... The money would fund a two-storey extension to the heritage listed building, the relocation of the town's visitor information centre and museum upgrade, kitchen upgrade and the installation of artists' working studios. A much needed lift would also be installed along with disabled toilets.
The council would contribute $250,000 to the project, matched by a further $250,000 from the SA Tourism Commission (SATC). But if the grant application fails, that will leave just $500,000 to carry out improvement works at the site.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 3 June 2009:
Neither the new freeway interchange planned for Mt Barker nor a major revamp of the historic Hahndorf Academy managed to secure grants in the 2009/10 Federal budget.
However, ..... The council has applied for $2m for the Hahndorf Academy upgrade under another Federal funding program targetting heritage, culture and tourism projects.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 2 December 2009:
Work on much-needed upgrades to the historic Hahndorf Academy will begin next year, but on a smaller scale than originally hoped.
...... The council will spend part of a $250,000 budget allocation on the necessary safety, maintenance and structural works to fix the worst of the problems. A further $65,000, granted by the Federal Government in its latest round of stimulus grants to councils, will pay for a new kitchen.
The council hopes that facility, due to be built by the end of next year, will help the Academy attract national and international tourism events to Hahndorf.
But a plan to shift the region's visitor information centre to the 152 year-old building remains under a cloud. The SA Tourism Commission has set aside $250,000 to fund the move, but is awaiting a feasibility study on the proposal, due next month, before it makes a decision.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 14 April 2010:
Editorial "Opinion":
Four years ago a grand vision was unveiled for one of the region's grandest buildings, the State heritage-listed Hahndorf Academy.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 12 May 2010:
Under an article discussing Mt Barker Council's draft budget for 2010/2011 financial year which was out for public comment, it was stated:
A further $330,000 has been allocated to the controversial plan to relocate the Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre to the Hahndorf Academy building.

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 9 June 2010:
"Hills Visitor Centre Will Be Moved to Hahndorf Academy - A tourist information centre will be set up in the historic Hahndorf Academy, but under a new plan and in a different location after opposition to the Mt Barker Council's original proposal.
The Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre (AHVIC) will shift from its current Main Street premises to the front room of the State heritage listed Academy building.
The change follows a wave of resistance to an earlier plan to house the centre in the Academy's local history museum section."
"The council will also take control of the AHVIC, buying the business from its current managers Hahndorf Business and Tourism for $1.
Chief executive Andrew Stuart has also been authorised to investigate how the council could buy land adjoining the Academy that houses the former Lutheran school building with a view to using it to create a larger cultural and tourism hub."
"The SA Tourism Commission will help fund the relocation of the VIC with a $250,000 grant.
The council has also set aside $83,000 to its upcoming budget for 'cultural tourism outcome's at the Academy.
It is unclear what the new plans will mean for a proposed upgrading of the Academy's museum section."

As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 25 August 2010:
"Academy Upgrade - A $285,000 upgrading of the historic Hahndorf Academy is a step closer. The Mt Barker Council has appointed Brimblecombe Builders to build new toilets and refurbish the existing kitchen. The project is expected to start next month and be finished by mid December and will include new ground and first floor toilets with disabled facilities. The existing kitchen will undergo a comprehensive refurbishment. The project will be funded by $220,000 from the council's budget and a $65,000 grant from the Federal Government's Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program."

From Spring Edition of 'Village Voice' 2010 Issue No 23:
Construction of the toilets and renovation of the kitchen will commence on 13 September.

Relocation of AHVIC:
The Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre (AHVIC) moved into the front room of the Academy Building in December 2010.

Early Ownership of Site

Information from The Hahndorf Allotments Database.

Old Lot No. New Lot No. Street No. Street Name
House 27 N.H. 87 68 MAIN STREET
Year Sold New Owner Occupation Owner's Home Personal
1 1839 George Boehm carpenter Hahndorf From Muschten, Brandenburg.
1853 George Boehm farmer Hahndorf GRO title. Died 1869.**
1875 Eduard Reimann
Eduard Schroeder
1875 Wilhelm Boehm # teacher Hahndorf Son of G Boehm. LTO title 1876.
1877 Lutheran Church ELSA
1883 Wilhelm Boehm teacher Hahndorf
1886 Mortgage Co of SA business firm Adelaide
1886 Douglas Byard %
Herbert Steer
1887 Douglas Byard teacher Hahndorf
1919 Heinrich Hirte farmer Mt Barker Junction
1939 Bertha Schmidtke midwife Hahndorf Sister-in-law to H Hirte.
1958 Dulcie Paech wife of Louis Paech Hahndorf Daughter of H Hirte.
1958 Otto Haebich retired Hahndorf
1960 Adelaide Building Co Ltd business firm Woodlands Park Academy in danger of demolition.
1964 Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust business firm Hahndorf Academy saved for heritage uses.
1966 Elva Wotzke * wife of Walter Wotzke Hahndorf W Wotzke conducted a museum & art gallery.
1988 Hahndorf Academy Foundation business firm Hahndorf


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