A Circle Closed – Australian author Tim Bonyhady traces his Austrian heritage

1 November 2013

Australia's Ambassador to Austria, David Stuart, recently hosted a dinner for Australian author and academic Professor Tim Bonyhady, who was in Austria to launch the German translation of his book "Good Living Street – The Fortunes of my Viennese Family" (Wohllebengasse. Die Geschichte meiner Wiener Familie). The occasion brought together representatives of key Viennese cultural, academic and heritage institutions.

The story of Tim Bonyhady's family, who escaped as refugees from Nazi Vienna in 1938, is a model example of how a migrant family has contributed to and enriched Australia's society. The book brings to life the late 19th and early 20th century in Central Europe, in particular in Vienna, and the 1940s to 1970s in Australia.

The book is of high interest to both Australian and Austrian readers. Australians learn about the experience of three migrant women in Australia, and what it was like for them to settle into an environment hitherto unknown to them. For Austrians, it is an insight into life in Vienna in the last decades of the Empire and in the troubled years of the 1920s and 30s. Fittingly, the presentation of the German translation of the book in Austria coincided with commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Nazi Kristallnacht (9 November 1938 when Jewish synagogues were destroyed and looted throughout Austria and Germany, and 6,547 Jews were arrested in Vienna alone) and with the 75th anniversary of the family's escape from Austria.

The book tells the story of three generations: a Jewish family that made its wealth in the gas lightning business and became a prominent sponsor of the Vienna arts scene at the beginning of the 20th century (Gustav Klimt, for example, painted a full-size portrait of Professor Bonyhady's great-grandmother Hermine Gallia, which is now held at the UK's National Gallery); the grandmother and great-aunt who rescued the collection and a few months after the Nazis took power in Austria in 1938 were able to escape to Sydney, where they built up their lives under totally different conditions from the ones they knew; and Tim Bonyhady's mother Anne, who as a teenage girl arrived in Australia with her mother and aunt, settled into Australia's society and became a teacher of German.

The book also describes an exceptional private collection of turn-of-the-century art, furniture and design, including works by internationally renowned artists such as Gustav Klimt and Joseph Hoffmann. Miraculously, the owners of the collection were able to move much of it out of Austria under the eyes of Nazi executors and to bring it safely to Australia. After being held privately, the collection, termed 'Gallia' after the family name of the collection's founder, is now owned by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It was on display as part of the NGV's Vienna: Art and Design exhibition in 2011.

Last Updated: 2 December 2013
Tim Bonyhady
Author Tim Bonyhady (Photo © Leonhard Hilzensauer)