Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Zwar, Henry Peter (1873–1959)

by Carole Woods

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

This is a shared entry with Albert Michael Zwar

Albert Michael Zwar (1863-1935) and Henry Peter Zwar (1873-1959), tanners and politicians, were born on 17 July 1863 and 2 December 1873 at Broadford, Victoria, two of eleven children of Michael Zwar, farmer, and his wife Agnes, née Zimmer, both Sorbs from Saxony. Their cousin was T. B. Zwar. Educated at the local state school, Albert joined Eliza Tinsley & Co. (England) at Melbourne as a clerk before opening a small business at Yarrawonga. In 1888, with his brother William and Leonard Lloyd, he purchased the Ovens Tannery near Beechworth. Albert married Harriet Augusta Lawrence on 10 May 1893 at Beechworth with Presbyterian forms.

Forceful and enterprising, Albert became 'the uncrowned king of Beechworth'. When the tannery was destroyed by fire in 1915, he resisted economic inducements to move to Melbourne and rebuilt on a larger scale; by 1919 the firm's exports to London were valued at £72,714. As chairman and managing director, he incorporated the tannery in 1920 as Zwar Bros Pty Ltd. Next year he increased the tannery's supply of pure water by purchasing from the Rocky Mountain Extended Gold Sluicing Co. Ltd a tunnel which ran under Beechworth and was fed by springs. He travelled overseas in 1922 and bought the latest machinery for processing high quality leather. In 1925 fuel-oil engines were installed to generate electricity and Zwar contracted with the shire council to supply Beechworth with electricity. Between 1930 and 1931 the company took over two major customers in Melbourne, Goldings Pty Ltd, Canterbury, and Robert S. Don, Brunswick. The tannery, employing nearly two hundred people by 1935, was Beechworth's main industry.

Belonging to the Victorian Farmers' Union and the Country Party, Zwar was member for North Eastern Province in the Victorian Legislative Council in 1922-35. Formidable, conservative and a staunch Anglican, he was president of the Beechworth Technical School Board, the Ovens District Hospital, and the local bowling and rifle clubs. He died on 23 February 1935 at Beechworth and was buried in the local cemetery. His wife, three sons and a daughter survived him; his estate was sworn for probate at £43,718.

Henry Zwar attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School on a scholarship, but left at 15 to work on his father's farm. Later apprenticed to his brothers, he was admitted to the partnership in 1901 after William withdrew to buy the Parkside Tannery at Preston. On 28 March 1899 Henry had married Jane Frier Cunningham at Beechworth with Congregational forms. With Albert, he bought the Parkside Tannery from William. Lloyd sold out of the Beechworth partnership in 1914 and Henry became the sole owner of Parkside in 1919, having relinquished his share in the Beechworth tannery. As managing director of Henry P. Zwar Pty Ltd, he employed over one hundred men at his premises in Cramer Street, Preston, producing leather, mainly for automobile and furniture upholstery. A member of the Commonwealth Leather Board during World War I, and of the Tanners' Wages Board of Victoria, he was sometime president of the Federated Master Tanners' Association of Australia and of its Victorian branch. Known locally as 'H.P.' or 'Dick', Zwar was also a member (1929-35) of the Preston City Council and mayor in 1933-34.

He was president of the local branch of the National Federation in 1927 when he unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Heidelberg. Winning it in 1932 for the United Australia Party, he held the seat until its abolition in 1945, increasing his vote in the Labor stronghold of Preston to a large majority. In parliament Zwar voted independently, claiming 'conscience as the final court of appeal'. His overriding concerns were for the unemployed and for the plight of widows and deserted wives: as president (1929-32) of the Preston unemployment relief committee, he had helped many people and was able to draw on this experience to advocate more humane government policies. Zwar stressed the value of secondary industries and heaped contempt on Labor's alliance with the Dunstan Country Party government in 1935-43, arguing that it had led Labor members to betray their responsibilities for social welfare. In 1945 as an Independent Liberal he unsuccessfully contested the new seat of Preston.

Tall and dignified, with a brush moustache, Henry was gregarious and philanthropic. A life governor of several Melbourne hospitals, he was also tireless in his efforts to assist returned servicemen: the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia honoured him repeatedly (awarding him their gold medal of merit) and the Limbless Soldiers' Association presented him with their silver medal. President (1944-47) of the Victorian Football Association and a trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he was associated, usually as president, with numerous Preston sporting and athletic clubs. An Anglican and a member of the local branch of the Australian Natives' Association, he was involved with Preston's school boards, citizens' band and horticultural society. Zwar was chairman of H. H. Webb & Co. Pty Ltd, importers and merchants, and a director of the Bendigo Certified Milk Co. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1950. The tannery was sold by the family in 1957. Survived by two daughters and a son, Henry Zwar died on 12 January 1959 at Kew, Melbourne, and was buried in Preston cemetery. His Victorian estate was sworn for probate at £50,590. A local sports reserve, and a fountain at the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, commemorate him. His portrait is in the Preston City Library.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Kenyon, The Story of Australia (Melb, 1936)
  • M. Fiddian, The Bullants (Melb, 1983)
  • C. Woods, Beechworth (Melb, 1985)
  • R. Wuchatsch, Westgarthtown (Melb, 1985)
  • Ovens and Murray Advertiser, 25 Apr 1928, 27 Feb 1935
  • Preston Post, 14 Jan 1959
  • J. J. Macaulay, The Beechworth Tannery, 1888-1961 (two manuscripts, 1971, University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Carole Woods, 'Zwar, Henry Peter (1873–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/zwar-henry-peter-9299/text16313, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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