Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hammerman, Bernhard (1913–1983)

by J. Tampke

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Bernhard Hammerman (1913-1983), furrier and arts patron, was born on 6 April 1913 in Berlin, Germany, eldest son of Samuel Hammermann, furrier, and his wife Basia (Betty), née Bernfeld, both from the small Jewish settlement of Kalush, Austria (Poland, Ukraine). On leaving school Bernhard became an apprentice furrier. Interested in the arts and in film-making, he worked during the Depression for the German film company Universum-Film A.G., known as UFA, as a cameraman. His hopes of eventually producing his own film were cut short in 1933 with the Nazis’ seizure of power and the subsequent discrimination against Jews. After he intervened to help an elderly Jewish milkman who was being tormented by a group of young Nazi thugs, he knew he should leave Germany.

On arriving in London in August 1933, Hammerman found employment with a British fur company, Revellion Feres, and learned English. In 1937 the Home Office refused to renew his residence permit unless he established a business that would employ British labour. The British Jewish Refugee Committee obtained a passage to New Zealand for him. When his ship docked at Sydney in April 1937 he decided to stay; he worked as a furrier for David Jones Ltd. Naturalised in October 1938, he helped his parents and siblings to travel to Australia before World War II. In 1939 he set up his own fur business, Bernhard Hammerman Pty Ltd, which grew to have nine retail outlets around Australia, some of them franchises in David Jones. Forty-two people were employed in his Sydney workroom alone. Hammerman was president of the Fur Traders’ Association of New South Wales. On 4 March 1941 he married Ida Moses, a stenographer, at the Great Synagogue, Sydney. She was the daughter of a Sydney dentist, Phillip Moses, and granddaughter of Rabbi Abraham Tobias Boas.

Hammerman was a man of culture and a patron of the arts. From the time of his arrival he frequented the world of Sydney artists, whose paintings he bought, and intellectuals, who gathered in cafés and restaurants in eastern Sydney and Kings Cross; he mixed with writers, including Frank Dalby Davison, Xavier Herbert and Dymphna Cusack, the poet Peter Hopegood, and the painters Elaine Haxton, James Cant and Sali Herman, and participated in amateur theatre at Circular Quay with Thea Rowe. He was keen to improve his English through acting but his German accent marked him for roles of a foreigner, such as that of a German scientist in Robert Sherwood’s play Idiot’s Delight. His accent was also helpful for his role in the Australian Broadcasting Commission radio program `English for New Australians’. He played the character of Paul, a new arrival prone to language mistakes; his career ended when his pronunciation was not deemed to be sufficiently foreign.

In 1952 Hammerman was a co-founder of the All Nations Club, an organisation that at its peak had more than 1300 members, and whose aim was to build a bridge between `old’ and `new’ Australians. According to Hammerman, many `New Australians’ could find their way in business or religion in their adopted country but found it hard to make cultural contacts. The All Nations Club attempted to address this problem. By the 1970s it had outlived its purpose, as the integration of the post-World War II immigrants had largely been achieved. Hammerman was also very active in the production of the Bridge, a magazine for the Australian Jewish community.

In 1972 Hammerman was appointed an inaugural governor of the John Power Foundation for Fine Arts because of his `unique contribution’ to Sydney’s cultural life. He was awarded the OAM in 1982. Survived by his wife (d.1991) and their daughter and two sons, he died on 21 April 1983 at The Hague after attending the Frankfurt Fur Fair. He was buried in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery following a service at the Chevra Kadisha, Woollahra. Rotund, with twinkling eyes and a ready smile, he celebrated the human capacity for creativity and adaptation.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 3 June 1953, p 42
  • Wentworth Courier, 27 Apr 1983, p 11
  • series A12217, item L11536 (National Archives of Australia)
  • H. de Berg, interview with B. Hammerman (transcript, 1981, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. Tampke, 'Hammerman, Bernhard (1913–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hammerman-bernhard-12587/text22667, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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