Drysdale’s German Shopkeeper

A Childhood Portrait of Gustav Wagner Taken at Albury

The budding gardener in this photograph, Gustav (Gus) Friedrich Wagner (1881-1950) was the third of the six children of Peter Christian Wagner and his wife, Johanna Hermina ‘Mina’ (nee Rosler). Gus would become a mainstay of Jindera society, operating Wagner’s store for 36 years until his death and was reputedly the subject of Russell Drysdale’s sketch The Shopkeeper.

His father, Peter (1841-1927) was born in Germany, and after completing an apprenticeship as a baker in London, migrated to Melbourne in 1864, arriving in Jindera in 1874 where he established a general store in partnership with Julius Herman Rosler. Although the partnership was dissolved in 1884 the link remained as Johanna, his wife and Gus’s mother was the daughter of Rosler.

In 1907 Gus married Ottilie (Tilly) Emma Schmidt whose family had travelled from South Australia with the Rosler’s. In the same year the present Wagner’s Store was completed with two entrances and separate departments for grocery, drapery, ironmongery, and boots and shoes. After the retirement of his father in 1914, Gus took over the running of the store and his family moved into the residence. Wagner’s Store, now the core of Jindera Pioneer Museum was a true emporium carrying everything locals required, plus more, and was the town’s focal point.

The photograph of Gus as a child was taken at Burton Brothers Studio in Albury in 1883. Gus is holding the spade in order to keep both his hands still while the photograph was being taken, rather than being an indication of a love for gardening as the same spade is seen in another Burton Bros photo of a young girl.