Hermann Thumm was born in 1912 to German Lutheran parents at Katharinenfeld (today’s Bolnisi) in Georgia – then part of the Tsarist Russian empire. Katharinenfeld had been founded a century earlier by German colonists from Swabia. Thumm was brought up in a well-to-do German vintner family, speaking only German at home and at school. His second language was Turkish, as all the labourers at the family vineyard were Turkish, and he had a close relationship with them.[i]
After occupation by the Red Army in 1921, the town was renamed Luxemburg in honour of the communist Rosa Luxemburg.
To escape Communist rule in his homeland, Thumm made his way to Iran, where he pursued a range of business interests until he was arrested in September 1941 by British forces after the combined British/Soviet invasion of Iran. With several hundred other Germans residing at that time in Iran, he was sent to Australia for internment. He was detained in Camp 10 at Loveday from late 1941 to the beginning of 1945, when he was transferred to Tatura in Victoria. He was finally released from internment in August 1946 and made his way to Tanunda in the Barossa Valley.
Reflecting on his years of internment in Australia, Thumm later wrote:
It was a time for pondering and learning, for whoever wanted to work could work but the wise ones used the time to study. We had an extensive library at our disposal. Amongst us there were many academics, lecturers, professors from the Tehran foreign colleges, so whoever wanted had the great opportunity to study and to spend the time improving themselves. The courses were given official status by the German Standard and by the Academy of Science. I really and honestly can say that three out of those years I spent in the library studying hard.[ii]
Raised on a vineyard, when in Loveday Thumm was able both to apply his knowledge of wine-making and prepare for a life beyond internment:
I was not a great believer in post-war Europe and prepared myself for a life in Australia hoping I would be allowed to stay. In my dreams I already saw myself as a well-to-do wine and champagne manufacturer for I had an idea to revolutionise champagne making in the modern ‘tank fermentation’ way and that idea constantly pursued me as a great challenge.
In the camp my champagne in beer bottles was popping all over and under the huts. Winemaking was unofficially tolerated if we behaved ourselves. Our camp was right in the centre of the great winemaking areas of the Murray River and to get plenty of grapes was no problem. Occasionally there was a razzia and a clean-up if celebrations became a bit noisy and seemed to get out of hand or if some of our hot-heads caused trouble, but soon after the clean-up the bottles were popping again.[iii]
In 1947 Hermann Thumm founded Chateau Yaldara near the Barossa Valley town of Lyndoch and became renowned as one of the region’s most creative and successful winemakers.
[i] H J Thumm, The Road to Yaldara: My Life with Wine and Viticulture, Yaldara: Chateau Yaldara Estate, 1996, pp. 2-3.
[ii] Ibid., p. 41.
[iii] Ibid., pp. 42-42.
NAA: MP1103/1, R36799 Prisoner of War/Internee: Thumm, Hermann; Date of birth - 30 December 1912; Nationality – German
NAA: D4878 THUMM H. THUMM Hermann born 1912 - Nationality: German - Arrived Adelaide per Rangitiki 19 November 1941
H J Thumm, The Road to Yaldara: My Life with Wine and Viticulture, Yaldara: Chateau Yaldara Estate, 1996