“H.P” – Henry Peter Zwar was born in Broadford on 2 December, 1873, the sixth son (and one of eleven children) of Michael and Agnes Zwar nee Zimmer, German immigrants who became naturalised Victorians in 1852.
After six years at Broadford State School, Zwar in 1873 won a scholarship to Melbourne Grammar and returned to the family farm and later tannery in 1892.
The Zwar name was first linked to Preston in 1900 when Henry’s brother William bought the Parkside Tannery on the corner of Mary and Cramer Streets. Henry continued with the family’s “Ovens” Beechworth tannery.
In the interim, Henry married Jane Freier Cunningham on 28 March, 1899, at Beechworth. He was then 25 years old, and she was 7 months his senior.
In 1911, William decided on a lifestyle change, opting for a property on King Island, although he retained a financial interest in the tannery for some years. Henry became the tannery manager at £5.10.0 per week, and he and Jane moved to Preston with their three children in 1911. Henry was then 37 years old, living in a comfortable, but modest home in Rosebery Avenue.
In 1913 they bought the large house called ‘Rothesay’ at 38 Gower Street (then only numbered between Plenty Road and High street, now 260 Gower Street). There was room for a croquet lawn and a tennis court beside the house, but Henry bought the block to the west (now 262) and extended the dining room sideways and then added a billiard room towards the street (260 is now Darebin Childcare, with 262 a non-descript block of flats).
“H. P“ as he was known locally, took sole control of the tannery in 1919, the company by this time employing over 100 people, mostly local residents.
Zwar’s leather was highly prized in the automotive and furniture trades – leather from the tannery was used to upholster the special rail car built to accommodate the Duke of Gloucester during his visit as part of the Victorian Centennial celebrations in 1934, for the furniture at Australia House in London, and for first-class seating in the “Spirit of Progress” when it first entered service in 1937 carrying passengers between Melbourne and Albury.
Another innovation of which it was said he was immensely proud of was the “Prestonite” brand which produced white footballs used for night matches at the Lake Oval in the 1950s.
The business grew rapidly and in 1930, Zwar, already a Justice of the Peace, became a Councillor of the City of Preston. He was Mayor in 1933-34, and in 1932 became the Legislative Assembly Member for the electorate of Heidelberg which at that time included the City of Preston.
During the years of the Great Depression, he became president of the Preston Unemployment Relief Fund and many families throughout the area had Zwar to thank for food on the table or wood for the fire in the depths of winter. (Contemporary reports reveal that trucks from the tannery were manned by unemployed workers regularly used to collect firewood from the Whittlesea and Wallan districts. Zwar later estimated the collections cost him around £2,000).
In 1945 after the abolition of the seat of Heidelberg, he tried again to enter politics as an Independent Liberal candidate for the new seat of Preston, but was narrowly defeated.
His contemporaries described him as “a man who shows a remarkable facility for dealing with diverse interests” and his personal motto was believed to be that “a busy man always has time for something else”.
The Preston Football Club Annual Report of 1947 contains a full page headed “Retirement of The President”, a remarkably apt title.
In 1944, concerned with the number of times he was being called to Preston Police Station as a J.P. to bail out local youths on minor charges relating principally to boredom rather than wilful intent, Zwar along with other identities Eric “Snowy” Robinson (First Preston Scouts), Bill Perry and Ray Goldspink called a meeting to organise a local football competition, subsequently the Preston District Junior Football Association.
The PDJFA started with just eight clubs fielding under-16 and under-18, but grew “like topsy”, with over 3,000 registered players by 1950 and in the 1970s when it was said to be the largest junior sporting competition in the world in terms of active participants.
In 1947, Zwar stepped down from his presidency of most of the organizations after periods of up to 25 years, leaving a massive void in many cases. It was estimated that he was a member of 100 sporting organizations and was, or had been, President of 40 of them!
Zwar is believed to have played cricket, football as a ruckman with the local team in the Ovens and Murray League and been a member of the local Rifle Club.
He headed at various times the local branch of the Australian Natives Association, the Jika Cricket Association, the Preston Football, Cricket, Rowing, Soccer, Rifle, Angling and Ladies Cricket Clubs, the Preston Citizens Band, the Preston and Northcote Amateur Athletics Association, the Regent Cricket Club, and the Prestonite Cricket Club which consisted of workers from the Parkside tannery.
His involvement with the Preston Football and Cricket Clubs (and many others) was of necessity that of a figurehead, rather than a “hands on” president, although he was renowned for his generosity and willingness to help players in any difficulties and invariably featured each year amongst the leading donors.
Described as “tall and dignified, with a brush moustache”, Zwar was a life governor of several Melbourne hospitals and was tireless in his efforts to assist returned servicemen of both World Wars.
The Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (the forerunner of the R.S.L.) honoured him repeatedly, awarding him their gold medal of merit for his work in investigated thousands of cases of returned soldiers for the Repatriation Department (the only Victorian civilian so honoured), and the Limbless Soldiers’ Association presented him with their silver medal.
Zwar was co-founder in 1944 of the Preston District Junior Football Association and the President of the Victorian Football Association in 1944 and 1945 (later a Life Member), and a trustee of the M.C.G., and Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. He was awarded an O.B.E. for his services to the community in 1950.
Henry Zwar died at his home in Kew on 12 January, 1959, the last of Michael and Agnes’ eleven children (some 109 years after Michael arrived in Australia) and was in turn survived by two daughters and a son.
He was buried in Preston Cemetery. Victorian probate records show he left an estate of a modest £50,590. His unpublished autobiography of 1949 suggests “I paid up my overdraft only before Christmas last year after all these years and selling up my small properties to feed and clothe those families.”
There are several histories of “H. P”. that have float around local sources, but none of them make anything other than the briefest mention of his wife, who by any standards was an exceptional woman in her own right.
Jean Frier Cunningham was born in Beechworth in 1873, her father Scottish, her mother Australian.
Usually known as Jane, she served with hospital auxiliaries for many years, being made a Life Governess of the Women’s Hospital, 1924 and also serving with the Queen Victoria Hospital from 1924, the Eye and Ear Hospital from 1927 until 1941, and became first president of the Central Council of Auxiliaries in 1931.
Locally she served as President of Preston Red Cross and the Mayoress’s Guild. 1933-34; President of Northcote Creche; as a member of Clifton Hill Women’s Hospital Auxiliary and Women’s Centenary Council, and a foundation member of the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital (PANCH) in July 1944 and a member until her death in 1952.
For her services to charity Jane was awarded a medal by the order of His Majesty the King to be worn in commemoration of their Majesties Silver Jubilee on 6th May 1935, and another medal for their Coronation on 12th May 1937.
She and H. P. combined forces at one stage and the combined auxiliaries of the Royal Melbourne and Royal Women’s Hospital held an annual ball at Preston Town Hall during the early 1950s.
The couple had three children – Beryl Carrick, (Mrs. Harry Hughes), Enid Jean and Herman Richard. Both daughters attended South Preston School and Presbyterian Ladies’ College, Henry was educated at West Preston School and Melbourne Grammar School.
Jane Zwar died at the family home on 29 April, 1952 and was buried in Preston Cemetery, funeral arrangements conducted by Ern. Jensen and Sons.