Gympie rural legend dies aged 92, leaves strong legacy
GUENTER KATH, DECEMBER 17, 1925 TO SEPTEMBER 17, 2018
ONE of the Gympie region's larger than life characters passed away last night - retired Langshaw farmer, father of 12, and rural spokesman Guenter Kath, aged 92.
Mr Kath's eventful life began on December 17, 1925 in Danzig, Germany.
His father was headmaster at the local school and it was from him he discovered his love of academia.
As a boy, his diligence to his studies had him recommended to an elite German school for promising youth.
He was effectively "signed over" to the school and received a privileged education designed to produce the leaders of the future.
As all his peers were doing, he enlisted in the army and by the end of the Second World War held the rank of lieutenant and worked as an aide to Field Marshall Kesselring.
After he was released from an American POW camp, amid rejection by many Germans because he was perceived to be Nazi elite, he entered university to study philosophy, and politics, among other things.
He gained favour with Romano Guardini, a German Catholic priest and renowned philosopher who continues to inspire philosophic discussion to this day through his many published works, and who was lecturing at the university during the 1950s and 60s.
Guardini gave him a first draft of one of his theology books, complete with edits and corrections, which he later donated to monks studying the life of the philosopher.
Guenter said he found the fact that Guardini saw him as one of his favourite students amusing considering he has no religious affiliations himself.
After leaving university, Guenter started in the fashion industry, designing leather and fur coats.
The business was sporadic, but he did achieve some success early on.
"I was just short of selling my designs in Paris," he said.
Unfortunately, the business took a turn for the worse, and with the division of Germany into East and West, he decided to walk away from Europe and make a fresh start in Australia.
The family immigrated to Australia and started off in Canberra for six months before moving to Queensland and starting a small crops farm at Eudlo and then later moving to Mooloo.
According to records compiled by Mr Kath's wife Heidrun and published on immigrationplace.com.au, Mr Kath arrived in Australia in November 1960, together with his (then) wife Margarete and their five children, Adelheid, Alfred, Bernhard, Thomas, Christian, (aged then 12, 11, 8, 6, 3).
With them also came the two youngest of Margarete;s four children from her first marriage, Horst-Herbert (15) and Heidrun (18), who later became Guenter's second wife and mother of his seven younger children.
Disembarking from the migrant ship MS Aurelia in Melbourne, they were sent by train to the migrant camp Bonegilla, where the family celebrated Christmas.
Through the help of a migrant who had arrived earlier, Guenter had found work in Canberra's building industry, and in January 1961 the family moved into the Ainslie migrant hostel.
Margarete and her two older children quickly, too, found work in Canberra.
After the family travelled through much of the NSW countryside during weekends, Mr Kath made a trip to Queensland in autumn, to explore possibilities of life on a farm.
He made a down payment on a small farm in Eudlo, near Nambour, and the family moved to Queensland to start life on the farm. But despite quite productive cropping, additionally soon with a simultaneous partnership on a second farm at Thornlands, Guenter was declared bankrupt in 1964. This came as a result of weather and market hazards, as well as the bankruptcy of a factory he had supplied; but partly also because of a lack of experience.
Accepting DPI advice, Guenter then moved to the Gympie region, where he started afresh as a share farmer, eventually became one of southeast Queensland's major horticultural producers, at times also with interest in dairying and the cattle industries.
The legendary struggle of the family in the Gympie region at Calico Creek, then in partnership at a Mooloo farm, and since 1968 with its own big farm, Wilwarrel at Langshaw, became part of local history.
In the early years the main crops were fresh beans and tomatoes, which provided jobs for large numbers of locals as well as itinerant workers and overseas backpackers. In the mid 1970s at Wilwarrel, he expanded into tropical fruit crops, becoming Australia's biggest producers of papaws for the fresh food market as well as for processors, and with extensive plantings of lady finger bananas.
Time and again natural disasters and collapse of markets, as well as a few family-related ruptures, had caused threatening setbacks for the family company; from which recovery, often later followed by further expansion, was then all the more impressive.
Gradually it made Mr Kath a recognised industry leader, and from 1984 he became the regional voice for the National Farmers Federation. That led him to various non-party-political public involvements, through which he became quite an influential player on several levels.
Originally Mr Kath had hoped that his family would stick together and sons would eventually continue to run the family company and its properties as a mutual heritage.
But in advancing years he accepted that the sons preferred to pursue their independent lives. Finally in 2002, the family company and its Wilwarrel North subsidiary in Mareeba were liquidated and the properties sold. For a few years Mr Kath with his wife remained at the Wilwarrel homestead, acting as an adviser for the Gympie property's new owner, before they retired to Gympie, their local city for more than four decades.
Several local friends and admirers, including some media people, had urged Mr Kath to write the story of his life. Their arguments were:
(1) Having spent by far the longest time of his adult life in this area, his activities had become part of the district's history.
(2) His decades-long struggle to establish and to maintain Wilwarrel was typical for many battlers in the Australian bush.
(3) His long involvement in public matters as rural spokesman and as regional face of the National Farmers Federation had affected many people, left some marks on the rural industries and contributed marginally to the regional and national agenda.
(4) His unusual background and the scope of his life and his interests, would make his story interesting even to people he had never personally encountered.
His wife and mother of his seven younger children also urged and convinced him to leave his life story behind for his many descendants.
The result was his book, which was launched on September 20, 2005, at the Gympie Civic Centre : Guenter Kath, Recollections and Reflections, The German Australian Wilwarrel Saga.