Additional Information regarding the Hahndorf Branch of the NTSA and its activities is available from the following:

National Trust of SA  (NTSA)

Hahndorf Branch NTSA

Background to Branch

Branch Activities

Minutes of Meetings and Reports

Hahndorf Pioneer Womens' Trail

Endangered Place

Main Street Signage

Peramangk Aboriginal People

Hahndorf Included in the NTSA Endangered Places List (2004)

In August 2004, Hahndorf was placed on the National Trust of Australia's 'Endangered Places List' for 2004
The associated reasons for this action were presented by:-  Rainer Jozeps, Director National Trust of South Australia, and are as follows:

Degredation Threat - Place:  HAHNDORF


Damage or Degredation Through Over-commercialisation.

Significance Of Place

Hahndorf is of state and possible national significance as Australia's oldest German settlement, and has associations with the writer Colin Thiele, the artist Hans Heysen, and the creator of the Torrens Title, Ulriche Huebe.

Established in 1839, just two years after the proclamation of South Australia, Hahndorf was founded by 54 Lutheran refugee families from Silesia (north-eastern Germany).  They brought some favourite items with them, among other things, 41,000 bricks and arranged their simple village according to the Hufendorf pattern of long narrow allotments fronting village settlements.
Surviving on crops of potatoes, cabbage and peas, the hard working Germans sold their produce to the Adelaide town settlers.  The women carryied their goods overnight through the Adelaide Hills following tracks also used by the original Peramangk people with every return journey made they each carried two bricks.

Rare and intact farmhouse, barn and family home structures, in traditional fachwerk and stone, can be found scattered around the Hahndorf hinterland, while evidence of the horse-shoe shape Hufendorf settlement pattern is discernible to the initiated eye.
In a response to anti-German sentiment during WW1, 69 place names of German origin were wiped out but in 1935 the town, then known as Ambleside, reverted to 'Hahndorf'.  The town was named after Captain Hahn who brought the first boat carrying the German fathers (the Zebra) to South Australia.

Situated 27 kms east of Adelaide, few changes took place in the village until 1972 when the South-eastern freeway reached it, and suddenly it was a mere 20 minute drive from Adelaide.  It became a mecca for tourists and commercial tourism operators. Within a few years, plastic pink panthers and Australiana bric-a-brac had crowded out the town's cultural integrity.

Declared a State Heritage Area in 1988, Hahndorf is the 5th most visited tourist destination in South Australia.

Description Of Threat

Hahndorf is at peril of losing its cultural integrity to tourism.
The main street suffers from visual clutter with too many signs.
Inappropriate buildings have been approved and there is little, if any, interpretation of the township's special place in South Australian, and indeed, national history.
There is no centre for its interpretation, there is absence of an implemented management plan, and the main street, with its emphasis on tourism trinketry, suffers from the lack of balance between historic integrity and the tourism activity it rightfully deserves.

Hahndorf National Trust Branch members and others have battled for many years to retain the town's cultural history.

Action Required

The NTSA now calls on both the State and Local Government and the relevant local Government to work with the community in preparing and implementing an over-arching management plan for Hahndorf that strikes a sensible and sensitive balance to maintain and conserve the integrity of Hahndorf, so it can retain its own distinctive character and special place in South Australian history, while remaining accessible and welcoming to the visiting public.

Reasons for Placing Hahndorf on the National Trust Endangered Places List

Anni Luur Fox, 10 June 2004

Founded in 1839, just two years after South Australia was proclaimed a British province on 28 December 1836, Hahndorf is a unique example of cultural transfer from Europe.  Apart from its age and status as Australia’s oldest non-British migrant town founded by 54 Lutheran refugees from Prussia, its significance lies in

  • Its hufendorf plan based on village layouts developed in 10th Century Europe.
  • The best examples of German “master builder” craftmanship in Australia.
  • The existence of the oldest German settler’s farm buildings and layouts in Australia.
  • The contribution of its settlers to Australia’s culture and its economy.

There were few major structural changes until the South Eastern Freeway reached the town in 1972.  In the tradition of the big road-building programs of 18th Century Europe which spawned the social phenomenon “tourism”, Hahndorf became a mecca for visitors and commercial operators eager to serve them.  Its rural and light industrial character which had evolved slowly since 1839 was suddenly subjected to immense pressure by the real estate industry.  The fields that once fed the population began sprouting suburban housing instead of cabbages and potatoes, thereby creating traffic problems in the narrow 19th Century Main Street.  The cottages and barns that had housed generations of farmers, their animals and produce were becoming “retail outlets” selling goods imported from overseas.  Plastic Pink Panthers were being displayed on the avenue of street trees planted in 1885.  Author Colin Thiele’s concern about what tourism could do to the spirit of a place was coming true.

A group of residents decided to seek membership of the National Trust in 1976 aiming to ensure that Hahndorf was publicly recognised as a site of national significance, documented and properly conserved.  The first Hahndorf Branch committee elected on 23 June 1976 was largely responsible for the major thrust for planning controls that have been enshrined in various development plans for Hahndorf since 1981.  The Branch achievements and dealings with government and developers over nearly 30 years are well documented.  As the official scribe for that period plus one of the negotiators with government officials, I provide the following reasons why it is important for Hahndorf to be placed on the National Endangered Sites List.

  • Hahndorf has been acknowledged by Federal (1981) and S.A. governments (1988) as Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement and therefore worthy of listing by the National Estate and being declared a State Heritage Area.  THESE FACTS ARE MISSING FROM MT. BARKER COUNCIL’S DEVELOPMENT PLAN and they were missing from a 2004 Cultural Mapping draft report on the district.  Hahndorf is represented by one councillor and there is evidence that there is a lack of interest in conservation by other elected members who are on record as voting in favour of demolition of historic buildings and their replacement by pseudo historic buildings.  The Heritage Advisor for Hahndorf, John Hipper agrees that Council is disinterested in conservation.
  • In our Branch’s experience Council planners and elected members are a “floating” population without time to devote to gaining thorough knowledge and understanding of Hahndorf’s history, development and principles of development control that need to be upheld to ensure conservation.
  • Despite thorough documentation by several researchers and a profusion of reports and plans since 1979-81, implementation of principles of development control has been lax unless coerced by our Branch via the media or Planning Appeals Tribunal.
  • Since the SE Freeway reached the town in 1972, developers without interest in Hahndorf’s special place in Australia’s history have threatened to swamp the town with pseudo history and suburban shopping facilities (eg the Market Place saga of 1977-79 and the Tanner development we helped to stop via the Planning Appeals Tribunal 1986-89.  We managed to scare off several supermarkets and developers of flats).
  • Since the Heysen tunnel was completed another wave of development is threatening the town with Council currently bent on producing yet another plan and seemingly powerless to prevent infringements of its current development plan by traders in particular.  Most of the traders do not live in Hahndorf.  Their premises and conglomeration of signage cluttering the Main street present the current face of “Historic Hahndorf.”  Although there are about 85 historic buildings still standing, developers are not practicing conservation and are undertaking works without approval.  A prize example is the Kaffee Haus at 51 Main Street.  The Heritage Adviser has filed a formal complaint in the faint hope of having the owner prosecuted.  He has been abused and threatened by the owner.  Until recently, Council did not employ a compliance officer.  They need two.
  • In reply to a Hahndorf Branch letter of 14 January 2004 to Mt Barker Council seeking answers to a number of planning issues I received a two page letter from Craig Daniel, General Manager, Development and Technical Services dated 18 February.  The following quotes paint a disturbing picture for Hahndorf’s future as an historic site –

In terms of what corrective action does Council intend to take to address the breaches as you have described, it is a matter of resources and priority.  The purpose of undertaking the Hahndorf Master Plan, an initiative of the Mount Barker council, is to look at the breaches and gain an understanding from heritage and commercial interests what breaches are having a detrimental impact on heritage value in Hahndorf and prioritise the issues.  As discussed and raised by you during the the Master Plan meeting the major issues are where the physical fabric of the heritage building is amended without approval resulting in a serious detrimental impact on its heritage value.  Ultimately Council is keen for the commercial operators to recognise that they are cutting off their nose to spite their face in this regard and get a consensus on what is important and what must be enforced.  Council and other agencies can then assess the resources required to achieve this desired outcome and, if possible, budget accordingly.”

This is exactly why Hahndorf continues to be endangered despite numerous expensive government reports and plans – no political will and a belief that the academic exercise of communiy consultation and plan formulation will give the desired practical result.  It is a typical view held by people who have a university education but no practical experience with the special requirements of historical sites.  Craig’s letter continues –

Council is keen, through the Master Plan consultative process to revisit this matter (ie signage) and if consensus or a general view is realised that such signage is not permitted then council will, subject to resources, enforce it …….. As discussed enforcement is an expensive process.  Council acts on complaints and has done so in Hahndorf where considered a priority.  It is not as simple as enforcing the Development Plan to the letter if the Development Plan requires review and is out of step with community expectations.  A review of the State Heritage Area policies has not occurred for many years.  The Master Plan aims to address this and identify where changes in the Development Plan or enforcement action needs to occur.  The Master Plan aims to bring the various Hahndorf stakeholder groups together.  The Master Plan outcomes will put a number of organisations on notice including Council to act.  If Council was not concerned about the future of Hahndorf, Council would not have initiated this process.”

Craig neglects to say what future of Hahndorf Council is concerned about, its suburbanisation or heritage conservation?

  • From our Branch experience of many years involvement in past planning exercises, the resulting expensive documents just gather dust. A new crop of planners and councillors turn up and commission yet another study or plan which is also not enforced due to lack of resources or will. The Principles of Development Control formulated in 1979-81 for the first Supplementary Development Plan are just as pertinent today as they were then. To quote Craig’s letter again –

Again, if the traders were to do the right thing in the first instance it would save Council significant resources in enforcing and negotiating with businesses who ignore Council’s policies.” He also mentions the fact that Heritage SA has refused many applications which have been legally challenged and in some cases overturned by the courts. “ In other instances that you have described, development has occurred where people do not apply and instead undertake illegal development. Council, based on the seriousness of the breach and resources available have negotiated amendments, sought applications and commenced Enforcement proceedings. Recent examples include Zorro’s retaurant, the Big Lick sign annd the property owned by Mr Hartnett at 51 Main Street.”

  • On 19 December I wrote to Mike Rann and other ministers expressing concerns about the Hahndorf Master Plan due to a lack of understanding by planners and traders alike about the basic elements that make up Hahndorf’s historic character. On 15 April I received a letter from John Hill, Minister for Urban Development and Planning on behalf of the Premier. It had been drafted by a junior officer and contained platitudes such as “This suggests that Council is actively seeking a wide range of views, which can only serve to provide a better basis for any proposed strategic and statutory changes. In planning for the future development of the main street, it is important that due regard be taken of the former character of the street. Its existing character and options for future character, taking into account economic and social changes. Work that Planning SA is currently undertaking may help in this regard…. As part of the mooted work the planning controls may be examined. Planning SA would be available to contribute its expertise and in addition, the project may be suitable for a grant under the Places and People program."
  • Hahndorf’s tourist industry is at odds with its suburban hinterland, but at least it has ensured that about 85 historic buildings are still used and standing. Many of the gardens that were such an admired feature of the town in the past have been filled in by new developments or suburban housing and the backyards have become carparks thereby erasing its horticultural history.
  • There are places in Hahndorf and its environs where it is still possible to imagine the pioneer village of the 1840’s –80’s. The following are some of the sites needing urgent conservation works that are extremely costly–
    • Reimann’s Barnhaus, corner Windsor Avenue and Schroeder Rd
    • Rodert’s Farm, 20 Main Street (oldest intact German farm complex in Australia)
    • Thiele’s Pioneer Redgum Cottage at rear of 100 Main Street
    • Lutheran School 1854, rear 64 Main Street
    • Schneemilch’s Barn, Victoria Street
    • Christoph’s shop, 51 Main Street (needs replacement of historic fabric removed without approval by owner).
    • Rebensberg Winery Cellars, Schroeder Rd.
  • The Hahndorf Academy is struggling to establish a proper conservation and exhibition program of the history of the district due to lack of financial resources. There are Mt Barker councillors who are working to have Council support withdrawn and allocated to Mt. Barker. Although the Academy is owned by Council and the State, there are councillors who want it leased to commercial operators rather than pursue its current cultural programs.
  • Flinders University Cultural Tourism course students visiting Hahndorf with their lecturer Lyn Leader-Elliot tend to find it difficult to find any culture pertaining to the town’s origins.
  • Hahndorf has no history centre.
  • The Hahndorf Information Centre cannot answer questions on historical matters.
  • The Traders have a lot of clout with Council because they pay a fairly substantial levy.