1890 Jindera German Wagon

Era: Cultural background: Collection: Theme:Agriculture Settlement

Funk Wagon in the Jindera Pioneer Museum. Image courtesy of the Jindera Museum
German Wagon in the Jindera Pioneer Museum. Courtesy Jindera Museum.

Jindera Museum, Jindera, Australia.

Object Name
German Wagon.

Object Description
The wagon is made from local timber and iron. There is evidence of damage at the rear and along the side of the wagon. The wagon is in fair original condition. Dimensions: approx 3000mm long x 1500mm wide x 2100mm high.

This wagon is located in the machinery section of the Jindera Pioneer Museum. This particular wagon was donated by the Funk family; one of the original German pioneering families who made arduous treks by wagon in 1867 and 1868.

The new colony of Australia became an increasingly popular destination for immigrants from European countries in the middle of the nineteenth century. Germany was one such country, which made a major contribution to the migrant population at this time. Although German immigration was initially undertaken to avoid religious persecution the majority of immigrants were motivated by depressed economic conditions in the homeland and the desire to escape conscription. For most it was the desire to obtain land, have debt free ownership of a farm, and practice freedom in making a living that drove immigration to Australia.

While all states in Australia are known to have been destinations for German immigrants in the 19th Century, for this discussion South Australia (Port Adelaide) is of the most significance for in addition to receiving the highest percentage of German immigrants of any port in Australia in the mid to late 19th Century, it was also the port of arrival of the majority of German settlers in the Riverina. German immigrants who had initially settled or had intended to settle in South Australia became discouraged by high land prices, limited availability of land, and poor yields. As a result some settlers made the decision to relocate to other regions in Victoria and New South Wales. The latter state settlement was initiated by the Robertson’s Land Act of 1861, which opened up large areas of New South Wales for selection. Such relocation required an arduous trek inland with immigrants having to carry all the possessions they could in their German wagons. The majority of these German settlers in the Riverina formed cohesive communities bound by their Lutheran faith, and as a result maintained strong cultural and linguistic links with their German heritage up until the beginning of World War I.

This wagon is the original used by a German migrant family who moved to the Jindera district in the Riverina in 1868. The wagon was owned by Johann Funk, who is believed to have arrived as a single man in South Australia aboard the Johanne Ceasar in 1854. Johann Funk resided in South Australia for a period of four years before moving to Hochkirk in Victoria, where he married, and established a business as a blacksmith. In 1867 Johann made the decision to select land for farming in the Riverina, and subsequently moved his family, via wagon to the Jindera district in 1868.

The German wagons were not only used for the transport of household goods and farm equipment, but were covered with fabric and also served as sleeping quarters for the length of the journey-fulfilling the same function in the new settlement until homes were built.

This particular wagon has been kept under cover for most of its existence and thus is in very good condition, still displaying evidence of its original blue and red paintwork, which was typical of the German wagons. This colour combination was first used in early Lutheran churches, with blue symbolising heavenly love or the colour of truth, and red representing the colour of blood or fire and symbolising confession as well as the Holy Spirit. Over the years this distinctive blue and red combination was transferred to the German wagon, with the wheels painted red and the body blue.

These traditional horse-drawn German wagons were quite distinct from their British counterparts and were recognised as being ‘typically’ German in design. The German wagon is typified by outward sloping sides, with four upright standards set into the ends of the cross support timbers over the axle beds – attached to these standards are the distinctive slatted sides, which angle outwards and are easily removed providing numerous adaptations. The wagon is spring less and has spoked wheels that are noticeably larger at the rear than the front. The German wagon as built by the first settlers in South Australia is basically the same as an illustration appearing in an 1817 publication, showing a wagon used by the Romans for conveying casks of wine-hence the wagon represents a traditional design which has been used by Germans for agricultural purposes for upwards of two thousand years.

German wagons due to their weight and bulk could not be imported and thus were manufactured, leased or bought once in Australia 1. The German wagons which were made chiefly of timber, were constructed from hard durable red gum and blue gum which was in abundance in South Australia due to extensive clearing for agricultural purposes.

German wagons used for the journey from South Australia to New South Wales had previously been used in South Australia for transporting farm produce, for picking up new arrivals from Port Adelaide and transport to church services. Other uses for the wagon included its role in wedding ceremonies with the bride and groom arriving at the church in a procession of wagons decorated with traditional garlands.

The German wagon has historical significance as an original example of the style of wagon introduced to Australia by German settlers. While there are other German wagons in existence, there are only two others currently identified in the Riverina. Of these three, the Jindera wagon is the only one where no attempt at restoration has occurred, which increases the significance of the item through the integrity of the original fabric and paintwork.

The Jindera wagon has aesthetic significant being constructed in South Australia using German craftsmanship with local timbers. As the wagon was an essential part of life it would have been one of the first items the immigrants produced in Australia and thus provides perhaps the first example of a German manufactured item in Australia.

The Jindera wagon has intangible significance for German communities as evidence of the transcontinental journeys which took place as land was opened up for selection contributing to the migrant story of South Australia, the settlement of Hochkirch in Western Victoria and the Jindera district in the Riverina. As the wagons formed an important part of farm activities once settled in the Riverina the wagon it is significant as an early tool of agricultural development. In the nineteenth century the characteristic design of the wagon identified its owner as German even to a casual onlooker.

The Jindera wagon represents represents the continued use of German quality of work, and this construction style in wagon making that had long been a tradition in Germany. The continued use and manufacture of this wagon in Australia long after immigration had occurred illustrates a traditional German cultural practice that survived despite exodus from their homeland.

The Jindera wagon has strong interpretive significance in communicating the story of everyday life of the German settler. The wagons provided the only means of transport for families and were used not only for farm activities but also for church and social engagements on a regular basis. The colour scheme of the wagon also gives the wagon cultural significance for in its unaltered state it provides strong evidence of the use of the blue and red colour scheme which was religiously motivated by the Lutheran faith.


1 Buxton. The Riverina 1861-1891


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Written by Gaye Sutherland
Heritage Futures Australia
February 2007

Edited by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
February 2007 – updated 2011

Crown copyright 2007©

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