A Biographical Outline

1917      Born on 28 October at the Wotzke House in Hahndorf, the second of three sons of Heinrich Friedrich Emil (HFE) Wotzke and Johanna Rosina Zadow . Grandparents: Friendrich Wotzke, a dyer from Posen, Germany who arrived in 1868 to work as a Lutheran Missionary with Ernst Homann at Lake Killapanina Aboriginal Mission. He married Christiane Ahrens whose father had arrived in SA in 1837 with a group of Germans indentured to the SA Company. Their son, H.F.E. Wotzke, was born in Palmenthal on 15.8.1873. The family moved to Lobethal in 1874 where Friedrich worked in the Woollen Mills until his health failed. In 1880 he purchased a house at No 90 Main Street, Hahndorf. After studying at the Hahndorf College (originally ‘Hahndorf Academy’) H.F.E. Wotzke worked as a teacher in the public and Lutheran school systems in country regions. In 1917 he had accepted a call to Hahndorf Lutheran School which was amongst all Lutheran schools closed in July 1917 by the SA Government. His subsequent teaching duties included tutoring Hans and Selma Heysen’s children at The Cedars which became an influence in his son Walter’s career in the Arts.

1923      Walter Wotzke began his formal education at Hahndorf Primary School.

1926    Began lessons in watercolour in exchange for pails of milk with Gwen Barringer who came to stay next door with Lisette Kohlhagen. These visits and lessons continued for many years.

1930      Began studies at Mt Barker High School.

1934      Left school and studied Intermediate German and piano at home. Began part time work pulling carrots, turnips and onions for Gundy Lienert and later, drove a horse and cart in Lew Collins apple orchard.

1935      Worked part time in cousin Jack Zadow’s shop in Hahndorf. Began singing lessons with Madam Violet Callow in Prospect, expecting to become a tenor.

1938      Achieved local fame by singing on Radio 5AD and at local events. Applied to study at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, Adelaide University (The Con).

1939      Began voice training at ‘The Con’ with Harry Wotton. Was classified as medically unfit by Australian Army doctors, due to a heart murmur.

1940      Began fulltime work as a salesman at Cox Bros., Rundle Street, Adelaide.

1943      Returned to ‘The Con’ and studied singing and voice production with Charles Gordon. Invited by Alan Chapman, producer of J.C. Williamson’s ‘Desert Song’ touring Australia, to join the company. Performed in Adelaide.

1944      Returned to Hahndorf. Commuted to work by bus. Joined Bert Buckingham’s variety concert party, ‘Gee Whizz’ and toured Army camps. Cox Bros. moved him to sell ‘Furniture and Furnishings’ due to his training in visual arts.

1945      Received an SA Civil Defense Force Certificate from Premier Sir Thomas Playford. Met Mr Alexander Downer newly returned from Changi Prison. Returned to art lessons with Gwen Barringer in Stirling and became an Associate Member of the SA Royal Society of Arts (RSASA).

1946      The RSASA selected his work for exhibition. Charles Gordon invited him to sing at Adelaide Town Hall. Wotzke accepted singing and painting as serious interests in his life. Attended evening classes at SA School of Art.

1947      Won ‘The most promising painting award’ with ‘Wotzke House Backyard’ at the Adelaide University Art Exhibition. John Dowie was amongst winners. Performd in Humperdink’s ‘Hansel and Gretel prompting entry in ABC Eisteddfod. Attended Trevor Clare’s evening ‘Antique’ classes at SA School of Art. Joined Foy and Gibson as a Manchester salesman.

1948      Won ABC Eisteddfod Adjudicator’s Award. Invited to study at The Theatre School in Bradford, Yorkshire by Charles Gordon but declined.

1949      Appointed by RSASA as Associates’ representative on Council. Began attending Sketch Club on Tuesday evenings for Life Drawing, working amongst artists such as Jeffrey Smart, Dorrit Black, Ostoja Kotokowski, John Dowie, Francis Roy Thompson, Ruth Tuck, Lawrence Daws, Ludwik and Wladyslaw Dutkiewiecz, James Cant, Jacqueline Hick, Ron Bell, John Baily, Stanislaus Rapotek and Mervyn Smith.   

1952      First Solo Exhibition opened by Dr Ken Crafter at Curzon Gallery, Adelaide.

1953      Purchased a Ford Anglia car while boarding at Men’s Lutheran Home.

1955    Painting holiday in Tasmania. Met Sir Robert Helpman  and Katherine Hepburn on return flight to SA. Decided to open his art studio gallery and also present the works of other SA artists. Became a travelling salesman for 6 months to allow time for painting. Introduced to William Walker, foreign editor of The News. Moved his work into Rodert’s Mortuary where Stefan Heysen had run the Heysen Gallery from 1949-53.

1956    Hahndorf Gallery officially opened by Minister for Immigration, Mr Alexander Downer. The News story of 16.1.56 gave the gallery a momentum of success. Walter won the RSASA Associates Prize for ‘Valley House’. Began teaching art in Mt Barker and Murray Bridge. Harvested potatoes for Vic Thiele while Ruby Bogner and Laura Hennig looked after the Gallery. Contemporary Art Society of SA exhibited their works which had toured England. In September a successful show raised funds for victims of the River Murray floods. The Tourist Bus began calling in every Tuesday.

1957    Invited to become the correspondent for The Advertiser, ABC and Courier. Initiated travelling exhibitions by SA noted artists to country regions for the CWA in Bordertown, Mt Gambier, Pt Lincoln and River Murray districts. Painted the first German Wagon and Clydesdale mural for the Union Hotel  with Trevor Clare.  

1958    The Hahndorf Gallery moved to the old Lutheran School next to the Hahndorf Academy. Two works by Hans Heysen were purchased by Commomwealth Government for presentation to the Dutch Government. Opened the Walter Wotzke Gallery in Hooper’s Store, Adelaide.

1959    Owner of the Hahndorf Academy building next door, Otto Haebich  died.

1960    Sir Hans Heysen’s first exhibition in 30 years mounted for the first Adelaide Festival of Arts, at the Hahndorf Gallery. Over 2000 people attended the opening. Walter Wotzke became the prime lobbyist to form the Hahndorf Academy Museum Trust Inc to save the building from demolition. Judged the Toowomba Annual Art Exhibition. His mother died. Father died in 1952.

1961    Sir Hans Heysen made the first of his gifts of drawings to the Trust. The bust of the artist was unveiled by the Premier of SA, Sir Thomas Playford at the Hahndorf Gallery. Supervised ‘The Wentworth of Adelaide’ Gallery.

1962   Mounted an exhibition by Jack Carrington Smith in the Myer Gallery during Adelaide Festival of Arts. Labor Day Food Fair held in Academy grounds became the inspiration for the Schuetzenfest in Hahndorf. Introduced the National Robin Hood exhibitions by artists in institutions to SA. German Ambassador to Australia, Dr Hans Muhlenfeld visited Hahndorf Gallery.

1963   Mounted a successful media campaign to prevent removal of Hahndorf’s avenue of trees planted in 1885. Another Demolition Order for the Academy arrived. Lady Downer opened the National Robin Hood Exhibition. 

1964   Captain Hahn’s great grandson visited Hahndorf. Wotzke married Elva Davis.

1965   Joined deputation to Labor Premier Walsh to plead for a grant to save the Academy building for a Community Cultural Centre. Elva gave birth to Trina.

1966   Another Demolition Order resulted in sale of the Academy by the Trust to Elva Wotzke in November. Walter Wotzke, Director of the Hahndorf Gallery funded conservation works at the Academy. He became Director.

1967   Official Opening of the Hahndorf Academy Galleries and German Folk Museum and Retrospective Exhibition of works by Sir Hans Heysen on his 90th Birthday, 8 October. Over 2000 people visited the exhibition.

1968     The Academy became popular with people interested in art and the history of Hahndorf. Archibald prize winner Arthur Murch exhibited during Adelaide Festival of Arts. The year’s shows included works by Heysen (died on 2 July), Robert Campbell, James Cant, John Dowie, ceramicist Thelma Fisher, NSW Royal Art Society and Gordon Simpson’s Collection of Aboriginal Art.

1969   Invited to review the Archibald Prize by ‘The Australian’, 27.1.69.

1970   Adelaide Festival of Arts Director, Sir Robert Helpmann included Hahndorf Academy on the official program with shows by Sir Hans Heysen, James Cant, Robert Pulleine, Robert Campbell and Horrace Trenerry.

1971   Elliot Aldridge Collection of Post War Paintings including works by Boyd, Ball, Blackman, Bolton, Cane, Cant Chaffey, Coburn, Dallwitz, Dickerson, Fairweather, Cleghorn, Whitely, Ostoja -Kotkowski, Rapotek and Nolan was shown at the Academy before auction. Cathleen Edkins exhibition of horses. The Academy Gala Day raised funds for children with disabilities.

1972   Festival of Arts ‘Figurative Now’ included works by James Cant, Sir Hans Heysen , The NSW Royal Society of Arts and 9 Australian painters. Walter and Elva Wotzke travelled to Europe. Elva became ill and left the marriage.

1973     Walter Wotzke invited Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to the Academy during their forthcoming visit in 1974. The Queen agreed. Lionel Tapprell’s exhibition was a financial success. Wotzke survived an operation for cancer.

1974     Adelaide Festival of Arts exhibitors were Ruth Tuck, Mervyn Smith and Anni Luur Fox. A special selection of work by Sir Hans Heysen was also mounted for the Royal visit on 4.3.74. Prince Phillip represented Queen Elizabeth after her return for the British elections. In December John Dowie opened a show of oil paintings and drawings by the Governor of SA, Sir Edric Bastyan.

1975     Bill Peach and his ABC TV crew made the Academy their headquarters during filming of ‘Hahndorf’ for the Peach’s Australia series seen nationally and overseas which brought more visitors and media to Hahndorf.

1976     Wotzke became Vice-Chairman of the National Trust of SA, Hahndorf Branch to ensure conservation of Hahndorf via declaration as a State Heritage Area. Adelaide University Adult Education Seminar, ‘Hahndorf, Past, Present and Future took place at the Academy. Rigby Ltd ‘Hahndorf  Sketchbook’ was launched by German Ambassador, Dr Blomeyer-Bartenstein.

1977     Wotzke became a Fellow of the RSASA and member of selection and hanging committee. Awarded Order of Australia Medal, General Division, for services to art and community by Queen Elizabeth.

1978     Wotzke’s first solo show of watercolours at the Academy. Granite Sculptures by Paul Trappe, Enamels by Ninette Dutton and Batik by Anni Luur Fox. Four exhibitions opened by Mr Bruce Macklin OBE. Retrospective show of works by Robert Campbell opened by David Thomas, Director of Art Gallery of SA. SA Governor Sir Keith Seaman accompanied by his wife and G.M. Crosby ADC and Mrs Dorothy Moody had lunch in the Heysen Room. In October Sir Zelman  Cowan, Governor General of Australia visited the Academy.

1979     Exhibtions without official openers were advertised weekly in the Courier, including watercolours by Walter Wotzke OAM. The Academy became a Music venue. Distinguished SA violinist and conductor Brenton Langbein conducted the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra for Ruth Tuck’s show of sketches of musicians. Walter Wotzke married Elaine Potts.

1980     Anthony Steel AM opened an exhibition of watercolours by Ruth Tuck and Mervyn Smith. David Gallasch B.Mus.LRAM presented The Art of Michelangelo, an audio-visual production in the large gallery. Senator Gordon Davison opened exhibition by 18 artists who had exhibited works at the first Hahndorf Gallery 25 years ago.

1981     Launch of ‘Hahndorf: A survey carried out for the Australian Heritage Commission’ by SA Minister for Environment and Planning, the Hon. David Wotton MP. Wotzke’s successful solo show opened by Sir Keith  Seaman.  

1982     Brenton Langbein conducted the Adelaide Chamber Orchestra for the Festival Exhibition by Ruth Tuck and Mervyn Smith opened by His Excellency, Wilhelm Fabricus, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Wotzke was invited to join Octagon Group to exhibit at the RSASA Gallery: Silvio Apponyi, Ronald Bell, Des Bettany, John Hales, Mary Milton, Ieva  Pocius, Jonas Rudzinskas.

1983     Ash Wednesday Bushfire Appeal exhibition and Gala concert at the Academy. The Octagon Group exhibits a second time at the RSASA Gallery.

1984     Wotzke’s solo show opened by Sir Condor Laucke at the Academy. Sold well. Retrospective Recital of music by David Gallasch to mark 50 Anniversary of Gallasch Family Reunions. Wotzke decided to sell the Academy.

1985   Walter Wotzke and Elaine visited Europe and made a booking for his exhibition at the British Artists Mall Galleries in London.

1986   Walter Wotzke and Anton Riebe exhibition during Adelaide Festival of Arts at the Academy. Hahndorf Anglican Church Centenary celebration and launch of Reg Butler’s ‘In an Essentially German Village’ by Mr John Von Doussa QC. ‘An Exhibition of Watercolours by South Australian Artist Walter Wotzke OAM, FRSASA’ opened by His Excellency, The High Commissioner for Australia, Mr AR Parsons, AO on 6-17 August 1986 at The Mall Galleries, London SW1.

1987   Walter Wotzke solo show of Watercolours opened at the Academy by Dame Roma Mitchell in April. .

1988   The Hahndorf Academy is sold to the Hahndorf Academy Foundation Inc.

1989   A watercolour by Walter Wotzke is selected for inclusion for the Adelaide Week Art Exhibition in Himenji, Japan in October. He attended Hahndorf; 150 Anniversary events and the ‘Hahndorf College Weekend’.

1990   Wotzke solo exhibition during Adelaide Festival of Arts at the State Bank.

1991   Worked in his new studio at Hazelwood Park.

1992   Solo show of watercolours at the RSASA Gallery.

1993   Invited to paint a mural with Anni Luur Fox for Hahndorf Institute Centenary.

1994   Exhibited in the Dragan Memorial Art Exhibition at the Academy. Exhibited at the Hahndorf Institute Exhibition opened by SA Minister for the Arts, The Hon, Diana Laidlaw MLC.

1995   The Adelaide Casino purchased 4 watercolours by Wotzke to be hung in the Foyer of the International Room: Worked with Anni Luur Fox on a mural commissioned by Noel Duffield for the German Arms Hotel. Exhibited at Unley Council Museum and Art Gallery. Travelled to Europe with his daughter Trina and son-in-law.

1996   Walter Wotzke OAM, FRSASA died after open heart surgery on 31.12.1996.

2006     Represented in RSASA ‘South Australian Icons’ exhibition and the Hahndorf Academy’s 40th anniversary of Wotzke’s purchase of the derelict building.

2013     Represented in WEA Centenary Exhibition of selected works by Arts tutors, at the RSASA Gallery, Adelaide.


Walter Wotzke is represented in:

Himenji, Japan

SA House, London

Bendigo Art Gallery

WA College of Advanced Education

Adelaide Casino

Private collections in:

England, Switzerland, Denmark, Japan, Australia.


Written by Anni Luur Fox (Grad. B.Ed, Grad. Dip. FE, Dip. Art) Sources: Wotzke Memoirs and Media files.