Zwar > Biographies

< back to index

John William Walter Zwar (E4)

  • Born: 2nd June 1859 Broadford, Victoria, Australia
  • Parents:
    Michael and Agnes Zwar nee Zimmer
    • Married:
    • Alice Coombs in 1886 in Avenel
  • Lived:
    Broadford, Australia all of his life
  • Died: 7th July 1952 in Broadford hospital aged 93 years
  • Buried:

Detailed biography

The fourth child and second son of Michael and Agnes Zwar.


John William Walter Zwar was born on 2nd June 1859 and was the second of eight of the Zwar children to be born in the slab hut on the farm at Broadford. (The first two children were born near Melbourne, and the last one, Ada, in the new house they called ‘Glendale’ and later ‘The Ranch’.) John was baptized by the Church of England minister, the Rev. W. M. Singleton in Broadford on 30th September 1859. I do not know where the baptism took place. The first Church of England in Broadford was built three years later.

(‘BROADFORD’ history book p. 108. On the following page the history lists the ministers who served in Broadford and gives Rev. W. M. Singleton as the first one, and his time there as 1862-1875 – starting 3 years after John’s baptism!! Perhaps he was visiting there and came as a permanent minister later, or the History Book has made an error. K. Z.)

The District Historian

John Zwar grew up to be the historian in the Family, particularly writing about the early days in the Broadford District, and including some information about life for his family in the early days of settlement. I have before me three articles he wrote:

  1. The Tales Of A Grandfather written at Broadford, June 1934 when 
he was 75 years old. (3 typed foolscap pages).
  2. Broadford Seventy Years Ago
 The reminiscences of an old resident. February 14th 1935.
 Much of this manuscript of 13 typed foolscap pages was printed in
  3. Short History Of Great Grandfather 
(One page written on 15th April 1944 when he was nearly 85 years old.)

Despite the amount of literature John wrote it includes very little personal information about members of the Zwar family. I shall quote some of the information he wrote down that is particularly relevant to the Family History, at the same time bearing in mind that most of his work has been published elsewhere and is available for the public to read, particularly 13 pages in “BROADFORD” A REGIONAL HISTORY.


His articles remind us that John and his parents started at Broadford in the raw pioneering days of bushrangers and gold rushes, when local aborigines were still in the locality and the native animals including kangaroos and koalas were plentiful, there were no fences when they bought land and no proper roads had been built.


At the end of each quotation I have given the year the document was written to distinguish between the three sources of material John wrote. In the 1934 article John mentions the gold rushes and ‘unlocking the land’ at Broadford. The Gold Rush started in Victoria 18 months after his father Michael Zwar had arrived in Australia.


“On account of Gold being found so plentifully in Australia thousands of people from all countries flocked out here and they approached the Government to “unlock the lands’‘, which meant that the government eventually surveyed blocks of land on Stations throughout Victoria and sold to people by auction.”

Land Surveys

“In 1856 the Government had most of the Broadford district surveyed into blocks and sold by auction at Kilmore. At the sale my father bought the farm that is now called ‘’The Ranch” and David McKenzie bought the farm that is now called “Glenview” and my father’s brother-in-law bought “Sunnyside” where Mr. W. Whyte lives …. There were no fences in the district with the exception of a few cattle yards at Taatooke so everybody had to start and fence their farms. The Misses Gavan fenced in their properties with four rails for sheep, and the farmers with three rails for cattle …” 
[p.1 1934]

“My father and mother now came to live here and father split slabs and built a house which is still standing at the “Ranch”.“ [p.1 1934]


John begins the 1935 article describing his school days:

“I started to go to school at six years of age. The school was run by a Mr. Hammersley. The schoolroom was attached to his house, where his daughter, Miss Hammersley, lives today. Mr. Hammersley was a highly-educated man and a fine teacher, but, unfortunately, died before reaching thirty years of age. …
… our next teacher was a Mr. Deaking, a young man and a fair teacher. We had to pay our school fees every Monday morning; for one child from a family the charge was I/– per week, for two, 9d, and for three or more, 6d each. There were at times fifty scholars and the little school was very crowded. At that time the Sydney Road was being made … the stone was carted by two horse tip-drays from quarries across the Dry and Sunday Creeks, where temporary bridges were built …. “
[p.1 1935]

Police Escorts and Bushrangers

“One day as we came out of school at dinner hour, we saw the Police Escort coming along the road opposite to where the Strawboard Mills now stand, and, as there were a greater number of police than usual, we came to the conclusion that they had Power, the bushranger, on board, as he was then robbing in this district, so some of us bigger boys ran as fast as we could to get to the hotel to get a glimpse of him. The escort passed us before we got to the bridge, but we were there before the horses were unyoked. There were two prisoners in the coach handcuffed together, but not Power. There were four extra mounted police, and the reason was that the coach contained nearly half a ton of gold from the Ovens and Beechworth gold diggings and they were taking no risks.” [p.4 1935]

Ned Kelly

“Some time later, I have no recollection how long it was, Power arrived at Seymour riding Gillighan’s horse and Young Ned Kelly riding the other. They dressed alike and gave out that they were shearers… Arrangements were that they ride around to the Bank, Kelly to hold Power’s horse while he went in and robbed the Bank, but when it came to the time Kelly funked and point blank refused to have anything to do with it, as he felt sure that they would be captured and hung – that was his fate twelve years later – .” [ p.5 1935]


“Then there were the mail coaches run by Cobb & Co, six horses in most. ‘The Mail Coach from Melbourne arrived about 5 o’clock, having left Melbourne at noon. Another went through to Melbourne sometime during the night, and a three-horse coach at midday. There were also five horse coaches that carried only passengers to the gold diggings, and did not run at so great a pace as the Mail Coaches. …Then there were the police escort coaches, drawn by six horses and escorted by ten police, eight mounted and two in the coach. … the railway was built to Seymour in 1870 [from Melbourne, and went through Broadford.”


After 1870 it was easy for the Zwars to go to Melbourne by train, and it seems they did go ‘to Town’ quite often, and they often had visitors from Town, particularly the Zimmers from Thomastown. – K.Z.]

Broadford was a busy place:

“There were 39 horse teams carting wood into the railway station.“ [p.10 1935]

Puckapunyal Tribe

‘’In those days there used to be blacks making periodical visits to Broadford. They lived in Gunyahs made of bushes about midway between where our State School now stands and the cemetery. They were the remnant of the Puckapunyal tribe, and there were about twenty in number. … I knew four of them fairly well, one of whom was called Billy Hamilton (and claimed to be the son of the Chief of the Puckapunyal tribe) his lubra, Mary, Gelibrand and Lankey.“ [ p’s 1,2 1935]


“Some time later “Billy’‘ was bitten by a snake near Tyaak and a man put him into a dray to take him to Broadford to a doctor but at the foot of the Oak Hills he died. They buried him in a patch of ferns in a gully about three hundred yards from the gate leading into R. Zwar’s paddock. The patch of ferns is still there to-day. A few days after ’‘Billy’s” death his wife Sarah came to our place and stayed a week. She built a little gunyah for herself in McKenzie’s paddock and used to come to our place for food. She seemed to me to be fairly old and very stout.”

“When the blacks were becoming a nuisance to the white people, the Government removed them to reserves for blacks in Gippsland.” [ p.2 1934]


When John Zwar was about 10 years old he went to a political meeting with his father:

“My father also put his ‘spoke’ in. He said, ‘’Duffy, politically, I look upon you as no good, and Webster, after advising these men to go out on strike, I consider you are a ‘damned site worse”. I asked my Dad the next day how could a man be worse than ‘no good’ but he refused to enlighten me.“ [p.7 1935]


“One day I had to cross the Sunday Creek on horseback, and when I got there the bridge and approaches were covered with men, to me it was an awesome sight. I had never seen so many men together in my life. With a number of others I was waiting for a chance to get through, when a kindly man came over to me; he was evidently a Londoner with a cockney accent. He asked me where I lived and when I told him he said “Sonny, don’t try to get through – something has happened and the men are very angry and if you try they might pitch you off your horse – so take my advice and go back home,‘’ and I did. The next day we heard what was the trouble. Rumour had got abroad that there were detectives amongst them and they were trying to find them …. and rumour proved to be correct.” [p.8 1935].

Farmer at Dookie and Mt. Piper

About 1880, when he was a young man, John Zwar had a farm at Dookie and grew wheat. He sold the farm after about two years, as he and his brothers believed they could make more money at Broadford working in partnership with each other. John was able to buy the Mt. Piper property near Broadford.

“I was the first farmer to introduce the double furrow plough to the district,” 
[ p.3 1934]


John married Alice Coombs at Avenel on 10th March 1886. They went to live at Mt. Piper Park in a house that stood at the back of the present house, built about 1902. This house has not changed much since the day it was built. (John Zwar 1982)

Mt. Piper Park was part of the original sheep station, originally called Mt. Piper Park, the original Crown Grant. According to John’s writings the original grant was made to an archdeacon Brown from Tasmania in 1839. John reports that after a few years the archdeacon grew tired of station life and “sold it to the Misses Gavan.”


The Gavan sisters made interesting neighbours for the Zwars. John recalled that

“When I was a little boy about your age I used to see the Misses’ Gavan riding on horseback. They wore large brimmed straw hats with two ribbons about two feet flying behind and two or three kangaroo dogs following them, because at that time there were great numbers of kangaroos about, and they loved to run after them. In after years they gave up riding and sent to Ireland for two carriages. One was for one horse and the other was for two horses. They sat in the back and the coachman or driver in the front with a man generally beside the coachman to open the gates.‘’ [ p.3 1934]

‘’They had blue blood in their veins, being grand-daughters of a British King, their father being a natural son of George III.“ [p.10 1935]

‘’One day a blackfellow came to the Station and asked for food and given some he told the Misses Gavan that he was the son of the Chief of the Puckapunyal Tribe and that the name of their district was not Mt. Piper but “Taatooke” which meant in the native language “Pleasant Places’‘ or “Nice Surroundings” so they decided to call the Homestead where they were living ’‘Taatooke’‘. “[p.1 1934]

“Miss Emily Gavan … advised me to call my place Mt. Piper as I owned the greater part of the original Mt. Piper Crown Grant.‘’ [p.3 1934]

John had bought the property about 4 years before he married.


Their first child Grace was born on Christmas Day in 1886.

Three years later they had a son Walter but he died in 1890 aged 21 months. There is a printed card:

“In Loving Remembrance. Walter Coombs Zwar. 
Died May 22 1890. Aged 21 months.”

with appropriate verses.

The following year (1891) Arnold was born and he would spend all his married life on Mount Piper Park, just as his father did before him.

Their fourth child Myra was born in 1897.

Life on the Farm

On the farm they did a lot of cropping, mainly of oats, and they had lots of haystacks. John worked in partnership with Adolphus and Charles as ‘Zwar Bros’. They worked their land together, although most of Mt. Piper Park land was never part of the partnership. They also milked a lot of cows and sold the milk to the Butter Factory in Broadford.

Interests and Characteristics

John was a great conversationalist. It was natural that he would be the one to write stories about the early days at Broadford. He had enjoyed exchanging stories all his life.

Several descendants remember that John had quite a temper. His grandson John also recalls that his grandfather had developed an extensive profane vocabulary, and at the appropriate moment he would string it off, and then he’d say, ‘’God forgive me.“ To some people he seemed overbearing. His son Arnold was a complete contrast in size and nature.

John loved to read and study literature, particularly history.

“He would rather sit and read ‘’The Historians History of the World” of 25 volumes which he bought in 1908 than go out in the paddock to do the farm work.“ 
(John Zwar Canberra 1982)

John served on the Broadford Shire Council from 1893 until 1917, and was an original member of the Water Trust.

Broadford Butter Factory

The Broadford Butter Factory played an important role in the Broadford District. John Zwar was a key figure on the Board for about 40 years, and in the early years Zwar Bros were the largest milk suppliers:

“John was one of the founders of the Broadford Dairying Company and was appointed a director in 1892 and became Chairman of Directors in 1897. He retired in 1933 when J. M. Neill became chairman and Arnold Zwar was appointed to the Board to ‘Fill the vacancy.”
(p. 184 BROADFORD History).

Wife Alice

“His wife Alice was a hard worker. I was only 6 years old when Grandma died. I came home from school, and couldn’t understand why Dad wasn’t smiling. His mother had died. The doctor had been to see her and said she’d have to come to hospital. My mother went in to ask her mother-in-law what clothes she wanted her to pack for hospital. Mother wondered why she kept smiling – and then realized she was dead. They said it was a clot on the heart.” 
(Grandson John Zwar, Canberra 1982)

Alice died on 10th October 1933 in her 70th year. She had been a great supporter of the Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Women’s Mission Union. There is a memorial to her in the Broadford Presbyterian Church:

“To the Glory of God
 And in loving Memory of 
 and of her devoted service
 for many years to
 this Church and the PWM Union
. Called to be with Christ
 10 October 1933.”


Grandson John Zwar recalls:

“After Grandma died, the house on Mt Piper Park, which had been built for them when Dad and Mum married in 1923, was dismantled and taken to Broadford where it still is. It was decided that Grandpa would have the late spring and summer at Broadford, would then go to Grace in Sydney for a few weeks and then to Myra in Brisbane for the winter. On the return journey he again stayed with Grace for the time. This arrangement continued until the end of 1942 when wartime restrictions on interstate train travel made it impossible to continue.” [Feb 17th 1993]

There is a photograph and a brief description of John Zwar in the book, “Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina” by Henderson (1933?),

“He has been engaged in pastoral pursuits all his life, and his splendid property of 800 acres is situated within two miles of the township. He was a well-known breeder and judge of blood and draught horses in his younger days. … His wife was Miss Coombs, a daughter of a pioneer, of Mangalore, and was the first white girl born there.‘’

John’s later Years

John W. W. Zwar was a huge man physically, although not quite as big as his brother Albert. He was over 6 feet tall and a heavily built man. He had a goatee beard and a moustache. His large size meant that he found it more difficult to get about as he grew older.

In his last years he had thrombosis of the legs as well as leg ulcers and he had difficulty walking. He lived in the hospital from about 1941 – at first he wasn’t sick, but he just needed care. Finally he became bedridden and died in the hospital at Broadford at the grand old age of 93 years. A lot of new history was created in Broadford in his lifetime and he was proud to be part of it.

© Kevin P Zwar