WHEN the German born Hinrich Ernest Schmidt arrived in Australia on board the George Washington in 1845, he could not have envisaged what his family would achieve in this strange new land.
In the two decades after his arrival, many more of Hinrich’s German family followed his bold move to emigrate and it was their descendants that went on to become some of the most influential pioneers of pastoral Australia.
Now a twin-volume family history, that spans 1500 pages and includes 800 photographs, has been released by Peter, Copland and Paul Schmidt.
A product of decades of hard work and pain staking research, An Eye to the Sky traces the Schmidt family back to Germany in the mid-1880s through to their emigration to Australia. It outlines the achievements of the family in establishing extensive pastoral interests, particularly in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Co-author, Peter Schmidt, who runs a beef operation at Alawoona, Wyandra, said the book provided a rich and colourful window into Australia’s past.
“There are stories of epic cattle drives, of facing hostile Aborigines, of starvation and of death in the outback,” he said.
“There are stories of gold discoveries, dealing with bush ranging, cattle duffing and the destructive elements of flood, fire and storms.
“They are the stories that we grew up with and we wanted to put it down on record so they wouldn’t be forgotten, not just for future generations of our family, but for anyone interested in Australia’s pastoral history.”
Mr Schmidt said the book’s title was drawn from the many references to the weather found during the research of family documents.
“It was a common theme in all their letters and diaries and I suppose today we are still keeping a close eye on the sky,” he said.
One of the most fascinating characters of the book was Henry Schmidt, the son of a successful South Australian farmer, Joachim Schmidt, who was just a teenager when he arrived in Australia from Germany in the mid-1840s.
In 1890, Henry Schmidt, his young wife, Theodora, and their two small children, drove overland in a horse and buggy to take up two large blocks of land on the Warrego River in North Queensland.
The property would later become known as Goolburra and it was here that the pair laid the foundations for a pastoral fortune that would endure for generations.
The young couple initially faced extreme hardship and isolation and Theodora died giving birth to their seventh child, who also didn’t survive the ordeal.
Henry, although said to be devastated by the loss, went on to marry a governess, Charlotte “Larlie” Graham who bore him a further four children. The book features a chapter on all ten of Henry’s children, all of whom were successful in their own right.
Goolburra ultimately proved a worthy pursuit and in 1910, Henry expanded his pastoral interests with the purchase of Alroy Downs on the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory.
Three of Henry’s sons, Gilbert, Dolf and Harry Schmidt, along with Willie Young who married Henry’s daughter’s, Annie, followed in Henry’s pioneering footsteps, taking up an area west of Alroy Downs in 1924, that later became known as Rockhampton Downs.
The family operation of Alroy Downs was expanded with the purchase of Nappa Merrie on Cooper Creek in 1954 and the iconic Bowen Downs at Aramac in 1971.
“The chapter on Alroy Downs is possibly the most comprehensive history ever written about any Barky Tableland cattle station,” Peter Schmidt said.
“It covers the period from when it was first established in the early 1880s to 1984 when the family sold Alroy Downs and Nappa Merrie, and about 40,000 head of cattle, to the Stanbroke Pastoral Company for about $13.3 million.”
An Eye to the Sky also details how Gilbert, Dolf and Harry Schmidt, along with Willie Young, assembled four leases just south of Windorah in 1938. The property would later become well known as South Galway.
“In the late 1940s, they sold Rockhampton Downs and South Galway to the AA Co (the Australian Agricultural Company) and my uncle Dolf then managed Alroy after he returned from four years at Gallipoli and the Middle East in the First World War,” he said.
“In 1935 he was appointed General Superintendent of the AACo and when he passed away in 1962 his son Trevor was in charge of the AA Co.
“Trevor retired in 1984 and those 50 years of history of the AA Co are well covered in the book.”
An Eye to the Sky was originally launched at a Schmidt family reunion (attended by about 300 family members) in Toowoomba in late 2012 but copies of the book are still available.