Our Daintree aristocrats
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.”
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