Australian grass-roots history is something that fascinates author Dale Jacobsen, and her latest book uncovers the fascinating past and people of Teutoburg, the area we now know as Witta.

by Gay Liddington

“European settlers arrived on the Blackall Range in the 1880s to carve out a place to live among tangled vine scrub. Selection offered them a chance to establish a place of their own, clearing the land using hand tools, felling trees, and sawing them into timbers to establish homes, and fence smallholdings. 

“The predominantly German pioneers named their new home Teutoburg, in memory of the forest they had left behind.

“For 30 years they built a community centred around dairy farms and their Lutheran faith. All that changed in 1916 when, due to anti-German sentiment, Teutoburg was renamed Witta,” said writer Dale Jacobsen, who joined with archaeologist and anthropologist Dr Steve Chaddock, both Witta residents, to record the history and personal stories of those early pioneers. 

Dale and Steve’s efforts, spanning three years, have produced a book, Teutoburg to Witta: How European Settlement Helped Make Maleny.

Steve Chaddock moved to Australia from the UK with his family 17 years ago where he had an established career in cultural heritage. He had worked in the UK and Europe for about 20 years when he met his wife who is Australian.

“We moved to Witta and I have worked as a heritage consultant in my own business, but more recently I undertook a PhD in anthropology and now work as a post-doctoral research fellow at the School of Architecture – University of Queensland.”

Dale Lorna Jacobsen is an author whose passion centres around Australian grass roots history. She explains how the Teutoburg to Witta project began.

“It came about one night when my partner Doug was watching The Repair Shop on television. There was this huge urn with a bas relief around its middle, obviously a battle scene. They told the story about the Battle of Teutoburg, a well-known story of how the Germans defeated three Roman legions in AD 9. 

“Doug wondered if there was any connection with our local Teutoburg Road and asked if anyone had written the history of Witta.

“I put out a query on social media and the answer was that there were lots of booklets and personal reminiscences but no actual book. Lynda Burgess, Chairperson of the Witta Recreational Club, suggested that I get in touch with this man, who incidentally lived 800 metres up the road from me.

“I met Steve Chaddock in a café and asked if he’d be interested in a collaboration. Steve downloaded his comprehensive research onto my computer, then I gathered all the booklets, began a chronology, bringing everything together. My aim was to tell the story of a community, not of individuals.

“These were a generation of strong, young, vital people, mostly men who came up here after their German parents had settled down around the Logan area. They grew up, wanted to move on, and this area was opening up, so they came here and carved their homes out of the bush. 

“They worked to develop the community of Teutoburg and it’s that young, vibrant part of the story that I felt honoured to bring forward.”

Much of the book was written using information sourced from three highly successful Wittafest events held in 2015, 2016, and 2018, celebrating community and heritage. 

Steve explains: “When I moved to the Sunshine Coast, I worked as the Heritage Project Officer at Caloundra and then the Sunshine Coast Regional Council and was surprised at how little information there was about Witta, the area in which I lived. That’s where my interest in Witta’s history began.

“I had lived in Germany because my father was an officer in the British army, I can speak German, and was interested in German heritage. It piqued my interest that the street names in Witta are German. My research at the Queensland State Archives gave information that forms part of the book.

“I’m also interested in the local community and as a resident, wanted to connect with people, so I scoped around and asked questions. I collected information from oral history interviews and research, also through settler family members who were generous with their photos, family albums, letters, and writings.

“The outcome was that the Witta Recreational Club was keen to hold an event that would enable people to come along and learn about the history of the area and so, I worked with them to create Wittafest.”

Another feature in the book is the Old Witta School opened as the Maleny Provisional School in 1892. Three months later, the name was changed to Teutoburg Provisional School and to Teutoburg State School in 1909. It later became Witta State School in 1916.

The Old Witta School committee produced a publication for their centenary. It contained the reminiscences of many families and became a key research document for the project.

Dale and Steve, who self-funded the project, acknowledge local real estate business RE/MAX Hinterland who assisted with design and printing costs. Also, Express Print and Mail at Kunda Park who Dale says are her printers, “and do a beautiful job in both printing and design”.

Teutoburg to Witta tells how the settlement of Maleny Parish began in Teutoburg, now known as Witta. The cemetery, the old school, the church, and recreational grounds, mark a palpable sense of place reminding us that it was once the centre of a vibrant community. 

It was the dairy boom which happened at the time of the global recession that moved the centre of development to Maleny, where the supply of water was integral to processing the product at the Butter Factory.

Complex family trees, birth certificates, interviews, and countless hours of research led to the publication of this significant book. Its creators Dale Jacobsen and Steve Chaddock agree that their commitment to the project is about making local history more available to the community.

Book Launch

Dr Judy Powell, archaeologist and historian will officially launch Teutoburg to Witta at the Witta Recreational Club, Sunday, May 15. Free entry, food and drinks available from 11am with the official launch at noon. Steve and Dale will give a talk on the history, sign books, and answer questions.

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