Fairfield City Open Libraries: Heritage Blog

German Community in Fairfield

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German Immigration

Germany is a large European country with a population of nearly 90 million. It was divided at the end of World War Two with the allies, the French, British and Americans, sharing the western area and the Russians governing the eastern section. In 1990 the two parts were reunified with the demolition of the Berlin Wall and Germany once again became a complete country, with Berlin again its capital city .

German immigration to Australia began with the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, with Captain Arthur Phillip in command. Although Phillip’s mother was English, his father was a language teacher who was born in Frankfurt, Germany. In all 73 Germans arrived as convicts in the early years and went to various parts of the new colony, however little is known of those who may have gravitated to the Fairfield area. Phillip himself remained in Australia only four years and then returned to England due to ill health. He was to be Australia’s first Governor.
John Macarthur came to Australia in 1789 as a member of the New South Wales Corps and developed the wool industry, mainly at Camden and subsequently, in partnership with his sons, he also became interested in wine growing. To do this successfully it was decided to bring out what were called Bounty Immigrant families from the Rhine River regions of Germany to work as vine dressers and vintners. Their fares were subsidised. This decision became the basis of original large scale German migration to Australia with many families arriving and producing large families.

00958The Stein families were among the first Germans to arrive beginning from 1838 on Kinnear and they were contracted to work on the Macarthur property at Camden Park. Under the terms of their contracts they were to remain at Camden Park for five years. This was found to not necessarily be binding and some moved elsewhere. Others of the German community of the Rhine River arrived In 1845 on Fama and another group in 1849 on Beulah. More members of the Stein family were among them. Still later others arrived. Some remained in the Camden area but others left and settled in the Carramar and Villawood areas on an extensive property known as Sandal Farm. Another German family, the Strumfs, bought an adjoining property and at the same time the Beckhaus family also settled there. The Germans all worked as farmers and more especially as orchardists and vintners. Much later members of the Stein family went into plant hire, poultry farming, building and other general business. 95117Bob Stein created the well renowned Stein Winery at Mudgee. The Stein Gallery at Fairfield City Museum is a reminder of the importance of the family to the growth of our city. Many members of the Stein family and their descendants also went into local government.

03136 Another German who came to the Fairfield area as a vine dresser and winemaker was Philipp Ettinger. Philipp and his wife Elizabeth first arrived in Australia in 1855 from Winkel in Germany in 1855 on Peru, intending to grow grapes, but the lure of gold mining was too tempting and they went instead to the gold fields which were flourishing at Hill End. There were 375 Germans on that voyage. Between 1856 and 1870 the Ettingers had added a family of 11 children. Philipp however subsequently became ill and the whole family was forced to return to Germany. They’d had little luck whilst in the goldfields and ironically they sold their mine to another German, Bernhardt Holtermann, who a few days later would find the huge Holtermann nugget. More about Holtermann later.
00175Philipp Ettinger and his family returned to Australia in 1880 and settled initially in Guildford then moved to Canley Vale. There they built a home which they named Neiderwald but is now known as Ettinger House. It is located at 214 Sackville Street Canley Vale. Philipp planted a vineyard there and made wine. His wines won him numerous awards. He died in 1906 and later the house was granted heritage status. It is now used by Fairfield Council as a family resource centre. One of his grandsons, Leo Diener, was sadly killed at Villers-Bretonneux during World War One, fighting on the side of the allies.


With the advent of World War One, which was fought from 1914 to 1919, Germans were no longer welcomed and many of whom were already here, and others who had been taken prisoner in New Guinea or Samoa, or from various ships including the Emden, were sent to internment camps such as at Berrima , Trial Bay near Kempsey, Holsworthy and Hay. There they remained for the duration of the war. The Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, brought similar reactions. Many Germans then were interned at such places as Cowra and Long Bay in NSW, Lovedale in South Australia and Tatura in Victoria . Migration to Australia from Germany and other alien countries again ceased temporarily and as well towns in Australia, which had German names, were often renamed.

The number of Germans coming to the Fairfield area increased rapidly after World War Two because land was much cheaper there than it was closer to Sydney. In 1956 the German/Austrian Association was founded as a means of providing and promoting culture and friendship among the German and Austrian immigrants. In 1965 the Association built a club in Cabramatta and an Austrian, Walter Schmied, was, and still is, its President. Harry Wolff, a German from Brachbach near Cologne, became its Treasurer.
In 1970 members of the club decided to hold an Oktoberfest, and Fairfield Showground was the chosen venue. It was found to be so popular that the Oktoberfest became an annual event. Originally it was held at Fairfield Showground but for one year only it moved to Sydney Showground. It was subsequently moved back to Fairfield Showground for a few more years, but more recently Oktoberfest festivities are held only at the Club. The costs of liability, security and other factors made it no longer viable to use Fairfield Showground. The Oktoberfest had been a focal point of Fairfield and annually attracted locals and visitors of many nationalities to partake of German culture, singing, dancing, food, beer and wine.
The German/Austrian Association is run by volunteers and those who are on the committee to the present time must speak, write and understand the German language. This could possibly change in the future as many of the younger generations of German-Australians who were born here, are not fluent in their parents’ language. The club promotes singing, skat, air rifle shooting and soccer. They also support a golf club as well as indoor soccer. Indoor soccer is called Futsal and their club is called Western Sydney Swans. As well bingo is held weekly.


The Lehmann family who had a large property in Water Street, now Chifley Street, at Smithfield, close to Prospect Creek, had a vineyard and also fruit trees, mainly peaches, which they sold at market. They also had a large dam with which to irrigate their crops. That dam was the swimming pool for local children in the forties as the nearest public swimming baths was at Granville. Most of the children of Smithfield swam at Lehmann’s’ dam and the Lehmann family members were well liked and respected by all. Frank Lehmann became a well known Rugby Union footballer who played for Parramatta and also represented NSW.


Another sport which attracted Germans, especially those who came post World War Two, was soccer. One of the best known players was Les Scheinflug who was born in Germany in 1938 and migrated here with his parents in the early 1950s. He originally lived at Villawood Migrant Hostel and he has played for various teams including Club Marconi. Les played 6 international games for Australia and later went on to coach other teams which included Club Marconi. He is a member of the Board of the German-Austrian Club.
The story of a German woman Mary Dowszyk, nee Heger, is told in the book Hidden Heritage: the Fairfield Community written by Geoffrey Caban and published in 1988 and it tells of Mary’s struggle in a new land. Mary was very much involved with the German- Australian Association and she was a member of the rifle club and as well sang in their choir. Like many others from her old country she survived and remained here to enjoy a better life.
In all the Germans over the years have contributed much to Fairfield City in farming, wine producing, building and various other businesses. In the 2011 Census there were 1849 persons who claimed German ancestry . They have integrated well and brought their culture, as well as their work ethics, with them to Australia. The Germans have indeed been instrumental in the successes of Fairfield City and many local families proudly claim to be descended from them.

[Excerpt from article  researched  & published by Shirley Kingsford McLeod]


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