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Albert Michael Zwar (E6)

  • Born: 16th July 1863 Broadford, Victoria, Australia
  • Parents:
    Michael and Agnes Zwar nee Zimmer
    • Married:
    • Harriet Augusta Lawrence in 1993 in Beechworth
  • Lived:
    Victoria, Australia
  • Died: 23rd February 1935 in Ovens District Hospital aged 71 years
  • Buried:

Detailed biography

The Hut

Albert Michael Zwar was born in ‘The Hut’ – the old house on the farm – at Broadford on July 17th 1863.

In a letter written on 28th July a Janet Gibson wrote about her coach journey and mentions the following German woman who is obviously Mrs Zimmer, going to visit her daughter and the new grandson Albert:

“From Melbourne to Kilmore the coach was full. We took in at Brunswick an old German woman who was going to Broadford to see ‘dater’ who had one little ‘shilde’ on Friday and was ‘very bad.’ She had been in this country for a long time, evidently she had sojourned amongst her own people more than others as her English was very imperfect. … All the passengers except the German & Swiss digger left at Kilmore and the German stopped at Broadford.”
…Ancestor Vol. 25 No. 8

Bourke Street and Yarrawonga

The Business man
 Albert started work as a clerk in Bourke Street in Melbourne, in the hardware section of Eliza Tinsley Pty Ltd. The contacts he made working here would later help him develop the tannery at Beechworth.

Albert moved north to Yarrawonga, a small town or the banks of the Murray River. Here he conducted a small business.

In 1888 William Zwar, Albert’s older brother by two years, became interested in buying the Ovens Tannery at Beechworth. The tannery had been established in 1858 by Matthew Dodd and was run by the Dodd family until 1887 when it was advertised for sale. The tannery consisted of four small buildings and employed fifteen men.

William Zwar consulted his younger brother Albert to get some business advice before purchasing the Ovens Tannery, including the freehold title, in 1888. William had learnt the skills of the tanning trade as an apprentice, but lacked the administrative skills and business experience necessary to run a business. He sent for his younger brother Albert who was a trained clerk with some business expertise.


In 1888 Albert left Yarrawonga and joined his brother William in Beechworth.

Zwar Bros & Co

The two brothers needed finance. Albert contacted Leonard Lloyd, the proprietor of Eliza Tinsley Pty Ltd. where he had once been employed. Lloyd became the third partner in their new business venture, each partner sharing a third interest. They registered their partnership as “Zwar Bros & Co”, renamed the tannery “The Beechworth Tannery”, and began operations in September 1888.

Albert Michael Zwar was 25 years old when he moved to Beechworth to join his brother William in the new enterprise. William provided the tanning know-how. Albert provided the business acumen, and Lloyd the finance.

The vendors who handled the sale of the tannery were sure the enterprise would collapse!

The “King of Beechworth”

In time William Zwar was to move on to buy another tannery, Lloyd was paid out and Albert Michael Zwar became the uncrowned “King of Beechworth”. His tannery revived the town from the slump following the flush days of the goldfields. His tannery employed up to 200 people and was one of the largest in Australia. On 9th July 1930 the Melbourne Herald would devote a whole page to Beechworth under the headings:


Established Town’s Main Industry


The journalistic style of the ‘Special Correspondent’ sounds rather quaint to our modern ears. The article begins:

“Forty years ago a young man named A M Zwar decided to go into the leather business. He began in a small shed with half a dozen hides; he stuck to it, married, begat him sons in whose nostrils the smell of leather was a myrrh and frankincense, brought three of them into the business and the four tackled the job of making it one of the biggest tanneries in Australia.

Today A M Zwar is in the Legislative Council; he is, besides, uncrowned King of Beechworth, and so manifold are his activities that Beechworth divides its existence into post and pre-Zwar days.

Zwar is a driving force, there is no doubt of it. He is an excellent businessman, but excellent businessmen do not make industries like this one on business brains alone. There is an idealism that is welded to capacity, a sense of what is due to the community in the way of service, so that when a man takes, he but takes that which he has already given in part. Such a man makes enemies, and Beechworth has its Capulets and Montagues.

There are anti-Zwars who see in the big man a stumbling block to their own ambitions. Also I have no doubt that in a small community a big man sometimes is inclined to “bullock through” objections and govern the town he has helped so largely to make. This makes for enmity. Nevertheless, one cannot be long in Beechworth without realizing that Beechworth is A M Zwar. His chief business is the tannery, which employs normally about 300 men (200 at present) and therefore maintains almost that number of families in the town.

There are few town pies, however, in which the Zwar influence is not visible.”

The article goes on to describe the tannery, a cordial factory in which Albert was one of the chief shareholders, and includes the following interesting item:

“The factory makes stout which is said to be the nearest approach to Guinness stout obtainable in Australia. Unfortunately it has been found impossible to keep up a year-round supply, and the appetite for Beechworth stout cannot be met continuously.”

The journalist also mentions Albert’s controlling interest in the local newspaper, “The Ovens and Murray Advertiser”.


In 1893 Albert married a local Beechworth girl, Harriet Augusta Lawrence. May 27 1893
 the Newspaper announced:

Zwar / Lawrence

“On the 10th May at the residence of bride’s mother by the Rev W Cooper A M Zwar fourth son of M Zwar Broadford to H A (Hatta) Lawrence only daughter of the late J D Lawrence, Beechworth.
Copy of newspaper cutting. Pam Crosthwaite 1981

Harriet was a devoted wife and mother. She made no social pretensions. Her family and her home were her main interests. She was fond of her husband and family and her grandchildren affectionately called her ‘Gogga’.


Albert was a reserved man by nature. A big man physically, he was known as “The Big Fella”. To outsiders he seemed to be a stern and sometimes severe man. He was not easily approachable, and it could be difficult to converse with him, as he tended to be a man of few words. He had no patience with fools. He was a good judge of character. He would strike a commanding figure as, every morning he would walk down the street with a faithful little terrier at his heels – each providing a striking contrast in their sizes – as he called in at the barbers and on the accountant and solicitor.

Behind his stern exterior there lay a deep concern for the town and its people. Albert privately helped many a family through difficulties (particularly in the hard days of the Depression) without many people being aware of it. This was part of his reserved nature.

To those who knew him closely, including his family, they found he had quite a ready sense of humour and they knew he was not as hard a man as his reputation would sometimes suggest. To them he was a ‘Man’s Man’ – a big man with a big nature.

Family Life in Beechworth

Albert and Harriet had six children. A daughter Doris, and then the three sons, Keith, Raymond and Bernard.
And then two more daughters. On Tuesday 18th March 1902 their seven-month-old daughter Una Agnes died.

A Painful Bereavement
“On Monday night last Una Agnes, the infant daughter of Mr. A M Zwar was taken suddenly ill. Dr Hearne prescribed for the little sufferer, but pneumonia supervened and on Tuesday night she passed away in her father’s arms.
… ”
The Ovens Register

Another daughter Leila arrived in 1905.


Albert and Harriet lived in a large house in Church Street called ‘Wyuna’. (It is opposite the R.C. Church and is now converted into flats). In their big home Albert would make his way into the study after the evening dinner. In the study he would not be disturbed. It was his domain, just as the dining room and kitchen were the domain of Harriet and he would not intrude there. On Sunday evenings their married children would come for dinner. Harriet would then attend church, while Albert loved to repair to the billiards room with the boys.

Albert loved the outdoor life – a bit of farming, fishing and hunting. He was a fanatic cod fisherman, and loved to spend several days at Dora Dora on the River Murray trying to hook a whopper.


Each year Albert and Harriet gave a party for the opening of the Bowls season. Hundreds were invited. It was one of the social occasions of the year, and Harriet would send down the first bowl. [Pam C. 1981]

Letter of Thanks

When bushfires passed through Leerim South in 1926 a small boy named Murray Kane lost his bicycle. Albert obtained the consent of the Bush Fire Relief Committee and sent the boy a new Raleigh bicycle. One day he was delighted to receive the following letter:


Dear Sir,

I have this day received the lovely bike you so kindly sent me.
 I may never have the pleasure of meeting you but all my life I will thank you.

Yours faithfully,
Murray Kane.

Surprisingly, Albert never took out a licence to drive a car. In his earlier days he drove a buggy and horses. In the later years his three sons would drive him by car wherever he wanted to go.

A Respected Man

The town of Beechworth depended on Albert as their ‘King’, and he in turn helped in many ways to develop the shire. J. J. Macaulay, who knew Albert well and has compiled a thorough and well-documented history of the tannery, writes:

“certain of Mr. Zwar’s contributions to the Beechworth community should be mentioned. During the depression years he was largely responsible for the establishment of the Stanley pine forest of 5000 acres by the use of unemployment grants from the Government.

The gorge road is another example of his influence in obtaining relief moneys which enabled Cameron & Stone to complete the southern end of the road making it a continuous circuit. Noxious weeds and other grants were obtained as a direct result of his Parliamentary influence.

He bought the Federal Hall from the Estate of the Late Dr. Skinner in 1920 and assisted a young returned soldier in building up a motion picture business prior to selling the premises to him in 1926.

When the Beechworth Mart – Upper Ford St. – was closed in 1927 he purchased the property from Walter J. Edwards and assisted another young man to establish himself in a garage. The site was later sold in easy terms to Robert Pyle. These are only two of the many instances of his generous help to young businessmen and home purchasers.

A keen supporter of the Church of England he was responsible for the installation of electric lighting to the Church premises. He served on the Board of management of the Ovens District Hospital for 20 years being President many times. The Bowling Club and the Beechworth Club received generous treatment over a long period. He had many other company interests and was recognized as a very able administrator. “

The Tannery

Albert’s main interest was naturally in the tannery. Space in this biography does not allow us more than a glimpse of the growth and development of the tannery. The tannery buildings grew to cover six acres and it produced an amazing number of products.
In 1900 a large overseas export trade was being developed. eg. In 1919 315 tons were shipped to the U. K. alone.

In the early years numerous properties adjoining the tannery were purchased. Sheep and cattle were raised on these properties, potatoes were grown, and “even a season or two of tobacco” (J. J. Macaulay). In 1905 Zwar Bros bought eight acres adjoining the tannery from the M. Dodd estate for six pounds per acre.

Sherrin Footballs

The tannery began producing large quantities of football leather early this century, supplying particularly T.W. Sherrin – still a household name appearing on Australian Rules footballs. “In 1914 production was converted to meet the military requirements of the Australian, British, Indian and South African Governments’‘.
J.J. Macaulay

Fire Destroys Tannery

In September 1915 a disastrous fire burnt the Tannery to the ground.
 Albert considered moving to Melbourne and rebuilding the tannery there, mainly to save the huge freight costs, but the town of Beechworth rallied with support and the Government reduced the freight costs. Soon afterwards the tannery was completely rebuilt and rapid expansion followed.

Albert becomes Sole Owner

By 1918 four of Albert’s children had joined the staff. His youngest brother, Henry Peter Zwar, had also acquired an interest in the Tannery over the years. This ended in 1911 when Henry left to join another brother William in the tannery at Preston. Albert was now the sole owner of the Beechworth Tannery.

In 1920 the Zwar Bros. Co. was incorporated with Albert as Chairman and Managing Director; his two sons Keith and Raymond as Directors; and the remaining children and in-laws included as shareholders.

White Leather

The most famous product of the Tannery at this time was ‘Trubuk’, a pure white leather first produced in 1919, and the first true white leather produced in Australia.

Family Losses

In October 1923 Harriet and Albert lost a second daughter.

“Miss Leila Zwar

Beechworth people have been recently shocked and alarmed by the sudden deaths of several apparently healthy young girls. A week ago there was none brighter nor happier than Leila, the youngest daughter of the Hon A M Zwar MLC and Mrs. Zwar and there seemed nothing to interfere with her bright prospects. After attending the social functions and entertainments of the weekend Miss Zwar complained of indisposition in the early hours of Monday 22nd, and as her health did not improve medical advice was sought and her recovery was never in doubt.

The best medical and nursing care was provided but by Sunday her condition became so critical that in the Anglican Church prayers were offered on her behalf. From Melbourne a serum was dispatched by motorcar on Sunday as a last desperate resource and her father’s powerful car met it on the way and brought it on to Beechworth. She lingered until Monday afternoon.

Public sympathy was aroused to an extraordinary extent by the death of this young girl and the funeral one of the longest seen in Beechworth. Messrs John Zwar, Dr Lawrence, Messrs H H Fuya, W. J. Barnes were coffin bearers.
Out of sympathy all social functions for this week have either been cancelled or postponed.

Buried with Grandparents Lawrence and Uncle Beechworth Lawrence.”

In 1926 they were saddened again when they lost a son in law, John McConville, who had married their daughter Doris. He was only 32 years old and left two little daughters.

Business grows

In the 1920’s the growing car market demanded large supplies of upholstery leather. This became a major production line until cloth and plastics took their place in the 50’s. The first Holden cars were upholstered with leather from three different tanneries, including a Zwar tannery.


Large quantities of water are as basic to a tannery as water is for gold sluicing. In 1920 a gold sluicing company had ceased operations at Beechworth. At the liquidation sale in 1921 the Zwar Bros Co. bought a Water Right

“together with a one mile long tunnel 8 feet high x 3 feet wide which had been cut through solid rock under the town for drainage purposes”…

“This was sealed at the lower end and by means of a dual valve control syphoned the water over the hill in a long 6 inch pipe line to the tannery reservoir. This additional supply was adequate for all purposes for the life of the tannery.”
(J. J. Macaulay)


In 1926 two large diesel engines were introduced to provide added power and electricity. So much excess power was available that on June 8th 1927 the Company began supplying electricity to the Town and Shire (and this continued until 1946).


Up to 400 tons of wattle bark was used in the Tannery in a year. Effluent disposal was washed into a stream running through the factory, caught in miniature weirs where it decomposed, and was then sold as fertilizer.

Sporting Goods

In 1930 the Company bought out Goldings Pty Ltd of Canterbury, a sports shoe and rubber company famous for its tennis and golf shoes; and also bought out Robert S. Don Pty Ltd of Brunswick – a sporting goods business. Both companies were large users of Zwar leather. Depots were established in all the capital cities of Australia. An amazing variety of products left the Beechworth tannery, made from a surprising variety of sources.

Even in 1889 a reporter for The Ovens and Murray Advertiser was shown

”some myrabolums, valonea and extract of oak which are used in the tan pits, the two former being species of nuts from the East Indian trees and imported from Smyrna and India”.

In a comprehensive tour he also saw

“an improved steam roller by means of which the leather is rolled, having to undergo a pressure of 4 tons,… The more than foolish practice of using large brands on cattle was illustrated on looking at one hide which bore a brand fully two feet in length and about a foot wide, the marketable value of the leather being thus of course greatly depreciated.” (20.4.1889)

Wide Varieties of Leathers

J. J. Macaulay records that 
>“Dealings took place in Calf skins, Sheep, Goat, Horse, Kangaroo, Wallaby, Possum and Rabbit skins, many of the first six being tanned and dressed … Wool, Tallow, Horns & Bones were also handled and even Black Sand… ”

In 1919

“A glue factory was established… A large concrete store was erected conveniently sited and serviced by a tram line, to accommodate 30,000 hides and skins. These hides had originated from all States, City and country centres, New Zealand, Spain, Denmark, South America and it was essential that no deterioration took place.”

“1925. Having had one very costly experience with fire in 1915 a completely automatic sprinkler installation was made covering the whole of the premises in 1925 and this equipment was the means of controlling numbers of small outbreaks which occurred in subsequent years.”

“In later years bark was replaced by West Australian
(Myrtan) and South African (Mimosa) extract in solid form… …other tanning materials such as – Lime, Sodium Sulphide, 
Chrome Xtals & liquors, Sulphonated oils, Linseed oils., Tallow,
Lacquers, Dyes, Pigments, Waxes etc were used in large quantities
and requiring a large store.”

“many sundry lines were manufactured to meet the ever changing fashion demands. Some of these, which appeared from time to time, were – suede garment leathers from Persian goat, reptiles and crocodile skins such as carpet snakes and Indian lizards, pigskins, fancy calf & yearling in all colours and patterns, iridescent & Spanish raisin patent leathers. Even Buffalo hides and a few ostrich skins were tanned and dressed.”

“Kid skins in the hair were imported in large quantities from
Java & India…. ”

All the above quotes are from J. J. Macaulay’s extensive history of the Tannery.

The Great Depression

As would be expected, considerable setbacks came with the Depression years. J. J. Macaulay puts the situation and its implications clearly in a few lines:

“From a staff of 180 employees restricted output progressively reduced this to well under 100, many of whom were employed part time – one week in two or three and all single men off. It was a desperate period with much suffering and one that can only be realized by those who lived through it. Considerable losses were made and later written off reserves.”

On the Lighter Side!



Pencil sketch of Albert Michael Zwar from The Sun News-Pictorial, Saturday, March 10, 1928

Albert Zwar was such a big man he had to have specially made boots and shoes to fit him. One night he arrived home with wet boots, put them in the oven and forgot about them. The following morning they were discovered – now about 3 inches long


On another occasion he got his trousers wet on the way to work. He took them off and hung them by a boiler – but too close – and burnt the seat out of his trousers.

His favourite fishing spot was Dora Dora. On one fishing trip he had stomach troubles. Going into the little pub he took a large dose of salts (He tended to do things in a big way!). Later in the day, fishing with his sons from a boat out in the river he suddenly ordered the boys to row for the shore and quickly. But before they had reached the shoreline time had run out, so he leapt over the side into waist deep water and called out, “Too late – and don’t you tell Mum”.

But they did.

One day the boys took their mother to the races – a new experience for their home-loving Mum. The bookies were shouting their odds, concluding each call as usual with “bar one”. The boys were embarrassed when their mother went to the bookies and wanted to put her money on “Barwun”.

Beechworth Mourns Albert

The Company was beginning to make a good recovery when Albert Michael Zwar died on 23rd February 1935. He had taken ill less than a fortnight earlier. The ‘Advertiser’ [now owned by two of Albert’s sons] edition of Sat Feb 16th reported that Albert had been ill for the past few days and had been admitted to the Ovens District Hospital, with the possibility of an operation.

On Wed 20th the Advertiser reported that Albert’s cousin, the brilliant surgeon Dr. Bernard Zwar had operated early on Saturday morning and there had been a slight improvement. On Sat 23rd the newspaper was pleased to report much progress in the recovery of the Hon A M Zwar M L C, but he passed away the same afternoon.

Beechworth had lost its Giant. Albert had lived there for 47 years and now he was mourned not only by the people of Beechworth but also by those who walked in the corridors of power and Government in Victoria.


In 1922 Albert had been elected unopposed to the Legislative Council of Victoria for the United Country Party, representing the North Eastern Province. He was always elected unopposed and still held this responsible position of Government at the time of his death.
At the sittings of the Legislative Council in March his fellow members of Parliament paid numerous tributes to him. The Council placed on record the valuable services rendered by Albert Michael Zwar “to the Parliament and the people of Victoria.‘’

Testaments to Albert Zwar

Extracts of the speeches will give a better understanding of the size and character of this great man of the Zwar Family in Australia:

”Mr. Zwar brought to bear on problems which confronted this House a great stock 
of common sense. He was an earnest man who held strongly to his opinion, and 
the House could always rely on his sound judgment and weighty consideration of 
the problems which confronted it from time to time.“
The Hon. J. P. Jones

“in Beechworth, …when the fortunes of that town were at a low ebb, he established and built up by his business ability an industry which restored a large measure of prosperity to Beechworth.
… A W Zwar’s funeral was attended by a number of honourable members, and as the procession wended its way to his last resting place one realized what a great tribute it was to his memory. The business places of Beechworth were closed, and many residents lined the streets.”
The Hon. W. H. Edgar

“Zwar endeared himself to all of us by his genial personality, but behind his geniality and good fellowship there was a keen commercial mind, and we had the benefit of his wide business experience …”
The Hon. G. L. Goudie

“Mr. Zwar had a great personality, and displayed a kindly feeling towards every one. He was one of the most popular members of this House because of his genial disposition. Further, he had the courage of his opinions, and never failed to express them when the occasion arose.”
The Hon. G. J. Tuckett

“With regard to Mr. Zwar, I notice that each member who has referred to him has alluded to his genial personality. I quarrel with the adjective – it was lovable personality…. He was a man who had a great deal more influence than was generally understood, because we all appreciated his great knowledge of affairs and his manly and generous attitude towards all mankind.”
The Hon. H. I. Cohen

“Mr. Zwar’s wholehearted interest in the progress of Beechworth and district was demonstrated by his active participation on the committees of many district organisations, where his fine public spirit helped in the advancement of welfare movements. As in social welfare, so did he help the progress of the district in other ways. Nearly 50 years ago, when he had just crossed the threshold of manhood, he founded an industry in Beechworth, which today is one of the mainstays of that town’s business life, employing many persons. The Governments tribute of respect was paid to the memory of Mr. Zwar by the presence at the funeral of the Hon. G. I. Goudie.“
Sir Stanley Argyle. (Premier and Treasurer) in the Legislative Assembly 20.3.35

From the time that Mr. Zwar first entered Parliament he was beloved by all members, for he had a wonderful personality which attracted men towards him. … He was one of those who when you were in trouble seemed intuitively to sympathize with you and help you… I am sure that he will be missed not only by members of Parliament but by the people of the State as a whole.”
The SPEAKER (The Hon. W. H. Everard)


The Ovens and Murray Advertiser printed two full-length columns under the headings:

Hon. A. M, Zwar. M. L. C.
Life of Public Service
Beechworth’s Benefactor Passes

A few extracts from this article:

“The late Mr. Zwar was a staunch adherent of the Church of England, and liberal contributor to its funds. He installed the electric light in the church and the congregation have reason to be grateful to him for many other acts of generosity. Although he did not aspire to civic honours, he took an active interest in practically every movement in the town after the firm became established. He was president of the Ovens District Hospital on several occasions, finally resigning from the committee of which he had been a member for over 20 years, in August 1926, owing to the increase of his parliamentary and business duties. He was also president of the Technical School Board, a liberal supporter of all charities, the Town Band and all sporting bodies and at the time of his death was President of the Bowling Club (a position he had occupied for 26 years, of the Rifle Club and of the Beechworth Club. His hobbies in sport were fishing and shooting.

…An outstanding trait in Mr. Zwar’s character was his liberality. Not only did he contribute largely to the various institutions and public subscriptions of various kinds, but did many acts of charity by stealth and in addition was always ready to help a struggling person in business and many people who are now in comfortable circumstances can thank the late Mr. Zwar for setting them on their feet.

…Preachers at all the local churches of every creed and denomination at last Sundays services made special references to the many kindly services Mr. Zwar had rendered them and the loss the community would sustain by his death.

…A striking tribute was paid to the deceased by the present employees of the tannery, upwards of 150 of whom marched in front of the funeral cortege.”

Many other groups and organisations either marched with the cortege or were represented at the graveside. The service of the Anglican Church was conducted by the Rev. W. S. Dau on Monday 25th February.

Albert Michael Zwar was nearly 72 years old when he died. His two youngest children, Una and Leila had predeceased him. He left behind to mourn his passing his other four children – Doris, Keith, Raymond and Bernard and their families as well as his devoted wife.


Harriet Augusta Zwar outlived her husband by 13 years.
 Her life came to its end on 24th March 1948.

The Advertiser of 27th March carried the following report:

“Mrs. Harriet A. Zwar passed away at her Church Street home on Wednesday 24th March, aged 83 years. Only daughter of J D and Mrs. Lawrence, only brother Beechworth also deceased. Most active in town life: during 1914 – 18 War notable worker for Red Cross and more recently 1939 – 45 War was awarded the Long Service medal. The Ovens District Hospital of which she was a life governor was one of her favourite charities. One time Queen of Commerce in a queen carnival. Other interests were the Anglican Church Guild and local Association of Guides. Leaves 3 sons and a daughter, Mrs. McConville. Two daughters deceased.”