Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Liebe, Friederich Wilhelm Gustav (1862–1950)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Friederich Wilhelm Gustav Liebe (1862-1950), building contractor and farmer, was born on 18 January 1862 at Wittenberg, Prussia, son of Edward Liebe. After leaving school at 15 he completed a builder's apprenticeship in Germany before, in 1879, going to Vienna where he studied building at a technical school. He worked on the construction of the Budapest Opera House and, in Bulgaria, in partnership with his brother-in-law Joseph Klein, on the parliament house; they also built a military barracks, colleges, a bridge and other structures. They migrated to Adelaide in 1885. Their work attracted attention from Melbourne architects and Liebe moved to Carlton where his contracts included the Newmarket markets and Carlton houses.

Liebe went to Perth in 1892 and dissolved the partnership four years later; he was naturalized in 1900 and set up in Murray Street as a builder. He worked with leading architects, notably Porter & Thomas, J. H. Grainger and W. G. Wolf. Accustomed to construction in the grand style, he erected some of Perth's most imposing buildings, including Queen's Hall (1899), His Majesty's Theatre (1904), the art gallery (1908), several banks, and stations for the Midland Railway Co. of Western Australia Ltd. He specialized in hotel construction, the finest example of his work being the Peninsula Hotel (1906) at Maylands, classified by the National Trust in 1974. Its outstanding features included wooden architraves over the wide doors; a tulip motif in the wood, glass and plaster; pressed jarrah ceilings; a massive square dome; external lacework and Victorian decoration. The hotel was originally the headquarters of the German Club, to which Liebe belonged. An astute businessman, he had acquired prime land at Carlton and in Milligan Street, Perth, where he built substantial apartments.

In 1908 Liebe secured 6000 acres (2428 ha) at Wubin. He always denied that he suffered from expressions of anti-German sentiment but, because of the decline in building work on the outbreak of World War I, he relinquished his Perth contracting business in 1914 to concentrate on wheat-production. At one stage he employed 140 men to clear and establish his property. In the 1929-30 season his crop yielded 100,000 bags of wheat, an Australian, possibly world, individual record. Because of a depressed market, he claimed to have lost £52,900. Undaunted, he sold his city properties, extended his overdraft and turned his attention to sheep. In 1945, from a flock of 23,000, his woolclip exceeded 450 bales.

At his Waddi Forest property Liebe, noted for his strength of character, created a fraternal community based on mutual respect between employer and employees. His excellent building techniques were reflected in the quality of the seven staff camps and the farmsheds; Liebe himself lived in style at number 1 camp. Committed early to mechanization, by 1930 he owned twenty tractors, twelve trucks and much other agricultural machinery; in one year he paid £11,000 for fuel.

Stocky, with curly hair, an expansive forehead, bulbous nose and broad shoulders, he was extraordinarily strong: he thought nothing of humping a crate of galvanized iron or fighting off a raging bull. He was a genial boss, esteemed for his perspicacity. He resented high taxation, insisting that it retarded progress, employment and production. He died in Perth on 4 March 1950 and was buried in the Congregational section of Dalwallinu cemetery. Although not uninterested in women, he had never married. His estate was sworn for probate at £194,768.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • Western Mail (Perth), 1 (9 Mar 1950), no 30, p 21
  • West Australian, 6, 18 Mar 1950
  • CSO 1395/1900, PR 1121/1 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Liebe, Friederich Wilhelm Gustav (1862–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/liebe-friederich-wilhelm-gustav-7192/text12437, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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