Mt Victoria pioneers John Berghofer and Henry Rienits recognised

Two men integral to the early life of Mt Victoria are set to join the ranks of Blue Mountains giants like Norman Lindsay and Henry Parkes.

The graves of John Berghofer and Henry Rienits have been added to the list of just 23 Blue Mountains graves of significance. Their bedfellows include artist Norman Lindsay, Father of Federation Henry Parkes and author Eleanor Dark.

Blue Mountains City Council will chip in for the maintenance of the graves, in the Mt Victoria Cemetery, and headstone restoration work to the tune of $35,000.

This was welcome news to Margaret Berghofer, the wife of John Berghofer's great great grandson John, now deceased.

"Considering what he did for the community, it's very prudent to have that recognised," Mrs Berghofer said.

German-born Mr Berghofer, as first president of the Blaxland Shire, was the creator in 1907 of Berghofer's Pass, which was an alternative route to Victoria Pass. He built leasing cottages in Mt Victoria to capitalise on the tourist trade and owned the Mt Victoria general store and the old Victoria Inn at the bottom of Victoria Pass, renamed Rosenthal and later Rosedale. For many years he managed a sheep station in Kanimbla Valley.

Henry Rienits' great granddaughter Mary Mills was equally pleased her ancestor had been recognised.

"That's fantastic news," she said.

Mr Rienits was the principal of Mt Victoria Public from 1880 for five years. He resigned after various disagreements with the school inspector, Mrs Mills said, and went on to establish his own education facility for boys known simply as The School. This highly successful school in Montgomery St at one point had almost 300 boarders and many more day students.

Here, Mr Rienits was free to add as many subjects to the curriculum as he liked, which included shorthand - upon request from several former Mt Victoria Public students who had gone on to work in the civil service.

The Education Department had poo-pooed his request at the public school, saying "there were enough subjects taught in school", Mrs Mills said.

At the school he opened, Mr Rienits "taught shorthand and a wide range of maths and English-based subjects. Later on he expanded to include French and German," Mrs Mills said.

The German-born educator came to Australia as a child and was raised in Sydney, training as a teacher. His first posting was to a single-teacher school at Hill End where he met his wife to be, Kate, at a dance in Mudgee. They were to move to Bourke and started a family, before settling in Mt Victoria in 1880 where they lived thereafter.

John Berhofer's headstone was vandalised in 2017, and ever since, the Mt Victoria and District Historical Society and the Mt Victoria Community Association have been campaigning for the graves to be considered significant and therefore attract funding for restoration.

In the interim, a local stonemason volunteered to do the repairs free of charge, but then the headstone was damaged during a storm earlier this year, and upon advice from council, the broken pieces were removed for safe storage at Mt Victoria Museum.

"The society is also working to investigate the possibility that the Berghofer grave is of national significance and looking at the criteria for that process," said historical society president Tim K. Jones.

He said both Mr Berghofer and Mr Rienits stories presented a fascinating tale of changing attitudes to German immigrants.

"With the propaganda of World War I, Berghofer went from a pillar of society to being forced from his position as shire councillor due to his German heritage. This was effected by an act of state parliament which appears to be specifically aimed at ousting Berghofer from the council.

"I for one, think this is an important story that needs to be told, as it informs the discussion of immigration today."

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