Elke’s only wish was welfare of beloved animals
Camels and escapee emu in a perplexing case for public trustee
IT was one of the most unusual last- wish lists the Public Trustee had ever come across.
Elke Wieszniewski, 65, led an extraordinary and complex life, but it was following her tragic death – tangled in a camel harness – that matters really became complicated.
Most often it is the people left behind who cause the most trouble, wrangling over wealth and possessions, even taking their grievances to court.
But when Elke passed away in January, officials found her only concern was the welfare of her much- loved animals – for she dedicated her life to helping all creatures great and small.
So it was left to the Public Trustee, a State Government agency which administers about 1500 new and revised wills annually, to sort out Ms Wieszniewski’s wishes.
She was a fully competent, very well off cameleer and veterinarian who migrated from Austria to South Australia 10 years ago to escape her then circumstances at home.
She lived at a well- appointed animal sanctuary at Point Pass, about 11km north of Eudunda, in the Mid North.
In addition to her three camels, she cared for two dogs, a cat, chickens, two adult emus and other rescued wildlife.
Complicating matters was that Ms Wieszniewski was not in contact with any next of kin in Austria.
She was, however, friendly with a Cairns animal shelter to which she left everything; there was nobody to help organise her animals or property.
“The deceased was a respected veterinary surgeon in Austria and a true animal lover,’’ Nicolle Rantanen, the current Public Trustee, said.
“Her property is equipped with high- end camel facilities, including a brand- new undercover dressage arena.
“The property also included a consult/ operating room, where the deceased cared for injured wildlife, particularly Australian birds. There was a large aviary annexed to a consulting room where she monitored birds in preparation for release back to the wild.”
Tragically, Ms Wieszniewski died while caring for the animals she loved so much.
In late January, she was found tangled in the harness of one of the camels within the dressage arena.
It’s thought she was trapped for some days before being discovered by her neighbour.
“Due to the nature of her death, and the lack of any next of kin, the Public Trustee office had to act quickly and diligently to secure her assets, confirm the welfare of the animals, and arrange her funeral as per her wishes,” Ms Rantanen said.
“We attended her property only a week after her death to survey the property, search for important documentation, check on the animals and collect any valuables like cash,
Some of Elke Wieszniewski’s camels.
and jewellery.” That was the easy part, Ms Rantanen said.
But the deceased’s will provided clear instructions that the animals were to be gifted to an animal shelter in Cairns, a 30- hour, 2600km drive away.
“We made immediate contact with the charity and began discussing the welfare of the animals but, unfortunately, the charity was unable to take the dogs, cat and chickens,” Ms Rantanen said.
“We therefore liaised with Elke’s neighbour, who agreed to adopt the chickens, and they were able to identify some friends of the deceased who were willing to rehome the dogs and the cat.
“This left us with the big animals – the camels and emus.”
What followed was a crosscountry odyssey of animal wrangling, escapes and rehoming that only now has been settled.
One of the emus had “second thoughts about the trip” and promptly escaped.
“After the escape, the charity thought it unfair to transport a single emu all the way to Cairns,’’ Ms Rantanen said.
“We arranged the emu to be permanently rehomed at Wildwood Park Sanctuary Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, east of Tanunda.
“This facility has a purposebuilt emu enclosure with high fences, fox protection and a small mob of adolescent emus who would integrate well with the additional emu.”
But after several weeks on the run, the missing emu was recaptured and reunited with his partner.
Both have been rehomed at Wildwood.
Cairns’ tropical climate then posed the next problem.
“We had contact from the neighbour, friends of Elke and camel experts familiar with the deceased’s particular cam
The late Elke Wieszniewski, whose will presented significant challenges. Pictures: Public
Trustee els,” Ms Rantanen said. “They all raised serious concern about the camels being transported to Queensland, as camels are not suited to the tropics. Camels are particularly susceptible to tropical parasites and foot rot due to the humid and wet conditions.
“These concerns were shared with the charity, who eventually renounced their interest in the camels.
“We were able to rehome the camels at Beltana Station in the Far North, where they have been happily integrated with a large train of camels and are cared for by Camel Treks Australia.
“The station is over 1500sq km and is the perfect environment for dromedary camels.”
And Ms Wieszniewski’s final wish was made possible by the Public Trustee, which gained council approval for her to be buried on the property she shared with her animals.