By MICK ROBERTS ©
THERE are some publicans who truly earn a legendary status.
As a bush publican, shearer, colt-breaker, mail coach driver, boundary rider, noted athlete, scalper, and successful racehorse owner and trainer, Hermann Schmidt, was one of those legends.
Hermann Schmidt was one of the best known characters in outback South Australia. It was said that no shrewder or more resourceful man than Schmidt could be found anywhere in outback Australia.
“A stern, powerful man and a doyen in the battle of fisticuffs, he was nevertheless, the gentlest of mortals. Dressed in holiday attire, he cut a fine figure at race meetings where he was a centre of attraction.”
Born to Heinrich (Henry) and Anna Schmidt on December 2 1872 at Stockwell, about 50km north of Adelaide, Hermann was nine years of age when the family moved to Quorn, on the Great Northern Railway. His father had gained work as a farm hand on one of the region’s burgeoning wheat holdings.
As a young man, Hermann went wool-picking on stations at Yadlamalka and Point Lowly, and learnt shearing on Paralana in the Flinders Ranges, where he also broke-in colts.
In 1891, at the age of 13, he went off to Queensland, then down into New South Wales, and back to South Australia, working as a horse breaker on various stations.
As a young man he gained work shearing sheep on the pastoral lease station of Cordillo Downs. There followed more horse breaking, and 12 months’ coach driving for the Beltana Pastoral Company; a turn with dam-sinkers, and more shearing on Murnpeowie.
At 30 years of age, Schmidt became involved in racing, buying and training horses. It was at the ‘sport of kings’ he made his fortune.
While in Darwin, he bought a mare called Divinity, raced her, sold her and returned to Adelaide to buy more. He trucked his horses from Adelaide to Oodnadatta, and walked them through to Alice Springs in three months.
The shearing shed called again, and the adventurous back-country legend put in a season on the boards on Fowlers Bay, Yalata, Nullarbor, White Well, and Chandada.
After having driven the coach along the Strzelecki Track between Murnpeowie to Innamincka for two and a half years, 41-year-old Schmidt finally decided to settle down. He married 32-year-old Evelyn Turvey on June 28 1913 in Adelaide.
The newly married couple than became hosts of the famous outback pub at Innamincka – the home of the famous big heap of sunburnt bottles.
Innamincka Hotel was established about 1885. It was a welcome refuge for the drovers, pastoralists and shearers who travelled the Strzelecki Track.
Hermann may have been enticed into the industry by his brother Charles Schmidt.
Charles a publican in outback South Australia, hosted pubs at Yongala (1902-1907), Wilmington (Globe Hotel, 1907 – 1912) and Gladstone (Commercial, 1913 – 1921). Charles was also a billiard saloon operator later in his life before, at the age of 70, he was tragically hit by a truck and killed while crossing the road at Quorn in 1939.
Meanwhile, Hermann and Evelyn sold-out of the Innamincka Hotel and bought the Lyndhurst Siding Hotel, on the Great Northern Railway in 1921. They hosted the Lyndhurst pub from 1922 to 24, sold that, and bought the Gordon Hotel, about 35kms south of Hawker.
Hermann was licensee of the Gordon Hotel for over 18 years from 1924 to 1943. From the Gordon Hotel his reputation as one of the outback’s best-known bush publicans continued to grow. He was heavily involved in the Quorn Jockey Club, and was a starter and judge at their races.
While at the Gordon Hotel, the couple purchased another pub, closer to Hawker, at Wilson.
The Gillick Arms was located about 14km south of Hawker, and the license was taken by Evelyn Schmidt in 1931, while Hermann continued as host at Gordon.
Evelyn would host the Gillick Arms for 10 years.
The Gillick Arms at Wilson became known for its famous ‘Australia mosaic’ of 1,000 bottle-necks and bottle-tops, cup-handles and broken dinner-sets and teapot-lids, “embedded in Moorish colour design in the cement of its walls by an old-time teamster with the thirst of a Silenus and the hand of a Michael Angelo”.
By 1933 the town of Wilson’s population had declined and as a result both the post office and general store had closed.
A serious drought in 1939 did not help to improve the situation.
During 1941 Evelyn Schmidt’s pub closed for business. She moved the 20kms south to reunite with her husband, Hermann at the Gordon Hotel.
The Quorn Mercury reported on April 18 1941:
The Gillick Arms Hotel at Wilson has been closed and the owners have reclaimed the iron and woodwork. Only two families now remain in the town, which was once a very active place. A station-master and four settlers families lived there before the Commonwealth Government took over the Northern Railways.
The Schmidts continued as hosts at the Gordon Hotel for another 12 months before a lack of water, failing wheat crops and a dwindling population finally sounded the death knell for the Gordon Hotel. The couple closed the hotel in 1942 and retired.
Hermann Schmidt died at Quorn in 1945 at the age of 71 leaving a widow and a son and daughter. His widow, Evelyn died at the age 81 at Quorn on October 3 1962. Both are buried at Quorn. On Hermann Schimdt’s death, the Quorn Mercury published the following obituary on August 2 1945:
Intrepid Bushman Passes
LATE MR. HERMANN SCHMIDT
With the death of Hermann Schmidt the bushland lost one of its most versatile sons. Born 71 years ago in the southern areas, he succumbed early to the call of the distant bushland and determined to follow the way of the ‘pathfinders’, setting his course by the stars that guided them. Boundary rider, shearer, colt breaker, athlete, mail driver, scalper, publican, racehorse owner end trainer, all found a place in his eventful days. A portion of his life is aptly depicted in the pages of William Hatfield’s books ‘Sheep Mates’ and ‘I Find Australia’. He twice crossed the Continent to Darwin with saddle and packhorse, during one trip contacting the immortal Fizzer glorified with the covers of Mrs. Gunn’s book, ‘We of the Never Never’. A stern, powerful man and a doyen in the battle of fisticuffs, he was nevertheless, the gentlest of mortals. Dressed in holiday attire, he cut a fine figure at race meetings where he was a centre of attraction. It was per medium of his racehorse, Valour, that dame fortune first smiled on Hermann, winning in choice company in Melbourne, he filled the depleted wallet that was nevermore to know deflation. Valour, Lord French, Pastoral, Lady French, French King, Lady Gordon and Zaike are but a few of the horses bred and raced by him. Zaika was the horse that put Gordon on the map, winning in Adelaide and returning a dividend of £70. The sixpenny punters of Gordon benefited to the tune of £500.
DROVE INNAMINCKA MAIL
After driving the Innamincka mail coach for a number of years for the late Mr. Oakes, of Merty Merty station, he became proprietor of the Innamincka Hotel, dollying gold from the very sands that had sealed the doom of Burke and Wills. Lyndhurst, Wilson and Gordon Hotels also knew his tenure. Two years spent in Adelaide he mourned as life wasted, and lost little time in heading back to the bushland with his wife, son and daughter, and at Gordon, with his face turned to the North, he spent the closing days of an eventful career.
It seems like a dream that flashed and flitted,
That dwelt a moment, and passed away;
Only the earth, its kind face pitted,
Tells the tale of that long gone day.
– Rod Quinn.
Of all the Schmidts pubs, only the Innamincka and Lyndhurst survive in updated buildings.
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023
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