The Artist

Walter WOTZKE O.A.M., F.R.S.A.S.A. (1917-1996)

Walter Wotzke’s grandfather, Friedrich Wilhelm Wotzke, a dryer came to Australia in 1867 and spent many years as a missionary among the Dieri Aborigines on Cooper’s Creek. Walter’s father was a school teacher and organist at St. Michael’s Church in Hahndorf. The Wotzke homestead at 90 Main Street was purchased by the family in 1880.  It was recently sold and is now a delightful restaurant called ‘The Whitehouse’.


Walter Wotzke was the founder of the first successful country Art Gallery in South Australia. Walter was one of those rare people who are passionate enough about an issue such as heritage conservation, to actively do something about it. In trying to save the Hahndorf Academy from demolition to make way for a petrol station, he was ahead of his time. In its single-minded pursuit of “progress” during the 1960’s, Mt Barker District Council employed a building inspector particularly enthusiastic about condemning any structure showing signs of a long life. Hahndorf was full of 19th Century buildings. Walter’s harrowing six year campaign to save the Academy for use as a cultural institution started in 1960. The building had deteriorated considerably by the time he bought it in 1966 in a desperate measure to prevent imminent demolition of this cultural icon. Three years earlier he had saved Hahndorf’s avenue of street trees from removal by Council.

He thus started the urban conservation movement and in 1976 influenced the establishment of the Hahndorf National Trust Branch to lobby for planning controls after the South Eastern Freeway had reached village accompanied by commerce eager to capitalise on the site. By that time, Walter had persuaded Anni Luur Fox to research and write a short history of the village. During this four year process evidence pointed to Hahndorf being the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia, a fact later confirmed by Gordon Young’s Hahndorf Survey team 1979-1981. This ultimately led to Hahndorf’s listing by the National Estate and its declaration as a State Heritage Area in 1988.

Written by Anni Luur Fox (2004)