Our Daintree aristocrats

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - LOOKING BACK -

Who would have thought there was Ger­man aris­toc­racy liv­ing in our midst?

Sil­via von Key­ser­lingk and her part­ner Frank Hober live in what some peo­ple call Par­adise Val­ley – an 80 acre prop­erty in Daintree.

But Sil­via’s name also in­cludes Gräfin which mean Count­ess and she is one of four chil­dren who grew up in the ‘The Daintree Cas­tle’, built by her fa­ther Geb, her mother Corinne — Count and Count­ess von Key­ser­lingk.

In 1970 the von Key­ser­lingk fam­ily mi­grated to Aus­tralia, en­cour­aged to do so as Geb held qual­i­fi­ca­tions in agriculture. Sil­via was five.

“My par­ents bought a 360acre cat­tle prop­erty in Daintree in 1974,” Sil­via ex­plained, “fa­mil­iar with this work as they had a per­ma­cul­ture farm in Ger­many with one of the first elec­tronic dairy sys­tems.

“My fa­ther was con­sid­ered a bit ec­cen­tric and when he gave 150 acres to World Her­itage in the late ’80s the tag of ‘gree­nie’ was bandied about.”

Not long af­ter the fam­ily moved onto their prop­erty they recog­nised there was lit­tle money in rais­ing cat­tle so they looked to cof­fee pro­duc­tion.

“We ended up grow­ing 2000 cof­fee trees and opened the place up for tourists as The Cof­fee Plan­ta­tion Daintree,” Sil­via said.

Sil­via’s English mother was also an ac­com­plished per­son in her own right. She had been a pro­fes­sional bal­let dancer with the Royal Cana­dian Bal­let when she met Geb.

“My mother loved grow­ing things and you would al­ways find her in the gar­den,” she said, “but look­ing back, I think her life in Daintree may not have pro­vided her with the cul­tural pur­suits she en­joyed.”

Sil­via re­calls how care­free and “un­tamed” her child­hood was in Daintree.

“I re­mem­ber a school ex­cur­sion day, the whole school (which was about 12 of us) swam across the river to go for an all-day walk,” Sil­via said.

“The lit­tle ones were taken over by boat but the rest of us swam – you would never do that now.

“Every­one used to swim in the creeks and rivers all around here but the crocs weren’t as pro­lific and of course, many of the farm­ers shot them back then.”

The area was well pop­u­lated with in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters ac­cord­ing to Sil­via – not only her fa­ther.

She re­calls an English­man, Reg­gie Laird, who had lived in the bush around Daintree for about 40 years and he al­ways wore khakis and a pith hel­met.

“My Mum would of­ten stop and talk to him, and take him to Cairns when he needed in our Kombi van – which ev­ery Ger­man im­mi­grant fam­ily had,” she laughed.

Al­though ti­tled, the von Key­ser­lingk fam­ily did not use their sta­tus once they left Ger­many be­cause, as Geb von Key­ser­lingk ex­plained to his chil­dren, it didn’t mean any­thing in Aus­tralia and it just sounded “pre­ten­tious”.

“I have to say that my ti­tle helps enor­mously when I go through cus­toms and im­mi­gra­tion when I visit Europe,” Sil­via laughed, “but I can’t see any point us­ing it here.”

The von Key­ser­lingk fam­ily’s his­tory is fas­ci­nat­ing, es­cap­ing from the Rus­sians into Ger­many from Prus­sia with all that could be packed on a cart and horse.

“Ap­par­ently the fam­ily es­tate was ex­ten­sive,” Sil­via ex­plained, “and I have a few pieces of sil­ver cut­lery that catered for 1600 set­tings and has the fam­ily crest em­bossed on the han­dles.”

When Sil­via was 20 she went to Ger­many to meet her fam­ily, and worked with her aunt and un­cle who ran a mas­sage spa.

“Af­ter I got over the lib­eral Euro­pean at­ti­tude to nu­dity, I got to love mas­sage and this sparked my in­ter­est in be­ing qual­i­fied,” she said.

“Oh, the nu­dity thing – as a fam­ily we were pretty used to it and peo­ple around Daintree knew that we ran around our house of­ten with noth­ing on.”

Af­ter work­ing in sev­eral lo­cal jobs upon her re­turn, Sil­via stud­ied and ob­tained her Di­ploma of Swedish Mas­sage in 1989 and worked in Port Dou­glas “when Port was still Port”.

Sub­se­quently, Sil­via has also achieved her qual­i­fi­ca­tion as a Yoga In­struc­tor and runs ses­sions at her Daintree home dur­ing the week.

“I have worked on farms around the dis­trict, cas­trat­ing cat­tle, wait­ress­ing, as a teach­ers’ aid – I love va­ri­ety and it pays to be multi-skilled.”

Sil­via and Frank es­tab­lished their fam­ily home not far from ‘the cas­tle’ and have raised three daugh­ters – Ge­or­gia, Hannah and Zoe.

They also tried their hand at rais­ing os­triches how­ever due to a range of cir­cum­stances, this was not very suc­cess­ful.

“We trav­elled around Aus­tralia years ago and I guess I still have the travel bug,” Sil­via said.

“I try to go on a big bush walk once a year,” she said, “and I have been lucky enough to have trekked around Cape Town and in New Ze­land and lots of Aus­tralian tracks like the Over­land in Tassie and around Hinch­in­brook Is­land.

“Of course I have walked around all the lo­cal spots like Thorn­ton’s Peak,” she said, “and that’s why it is just so great liv­ing here.

“I love that feel­ing of be­ing away from all our usual com­forts.”

Sil­via still works at sev­eral lo­cal busi­nesses in Port Dou­glas, does home visit mas­sages and teaches Yoga. She be­lieves that for the mo­ment she is very con­tent but is not sure how long it will be be­fore she goes search­ing for more stim­u­la­tion.

“We don’t have any in­ten­tion of mov­ing from here at least in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture,” Sil­via said, “as we are only 20 min­utes from town – it’s per­fect.

“When I look at what we have here – it is just lovely.”

Main pic­ture: MOYA STEVENS

Clock­wise from top left: Geb and Corinne in a fun photo of build­ing the house (Kombi in shed). The von Key­ser­lingk fam­ily in the early ’80s (Sil­via sec­ond from left); the Daintree Cas­tle in the early ’80s

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