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A Jew Walks into a Bar…

The fascinating story of Gustus and Rosetta Lubler whose community-building legacy includes an unlikely intersection between brewing and Jewish education.

The Remarkable Methods of Community Building of Gustus and Rosetta Luber

The fascinating story of my husband’s great-grandparents, Gustus and Rosetta Lubler, whose community-building legacy includes an unlikely intersection between brewing and Jewish education.This article was published in Gesher in 2022.

In June 2022, news of the opening of the Eclipse Brewing Company in the Western Australian Wheatbelt town of Northam sent ripples of excitement through international branches of an extended Jewish family. The brewery was the brainchild of seven friends connected by ties extending back to kindergarten in their hometown of Northam. It was also a homage to Eclipse Brewery, established in the same town in 1897 by Gustus Luber.

Northam, which stands almost 100 kilometres east of Perth at the confluence of the Avon and Mortlock rivers, was founded in 1833. For decades the town was a launching point eastward into the vast interior of the continent. However, it was the extension of the Eastern Railway from Northam to the eastern goldfields in the early days of the region’s goldrush that saw its population expand significantly.

In 1894, the same year in which the Northam railway station began operating, Gustus and Rosetta Luber moved with their young children, daughter Annie and son Joshua, to the growing town where they opened a general store. The couple, who married in 1889, had each arrived in Fremantle in 1887. Gustus came from Kherson Russia, via London, and Rosetta travelled with her family, the Shrimskis, from England (her parents were originally from Poland).

In researching this article, I came across – and have drawn heavily from – a fascinating historical overview of the Jews of Western Australia written by David J. Benjamin. His four-part essay series was published between 1946-47 in the Australian Historical Society Journal, of which Benjamin was also editor. Serendipitously, the final part of Benjamin’s historical examination focuses entirely on the Jewish community of Northam in the final decade of the 19th century. At the centre of this short but pivotal moment stood the inspiring figures of Rosetta and Gustus Luber.

The Lubers were the second Jewish family to move to Northam, preceded by Moses Cohen, the local tailor, and his family. Other Jews followed, many of whom were related to – or soon married into – the Luber’s extended family. For the next few years, Northam played host to a vibrant, close-knit Jewish community.

For those who knew them, the impact Gustus and Rosetta would have on the town they were to call home for seven years would likely have been predictable. They had already contributed to the building of important Jewish institutions in the colony on the Swan River in the few years since their arrival. Gustus Luber had been central in the establishment of the Fremantle and Perth Hebrew congregations as well as the first Hebrew school in Perth. Launched in 1891, the school boasted two teachers, one of whom was Rosetta Luber, herself not yet twenty years of age.

In Northam, classes were offered to the Jewish children of the town in the Luber general store within a year of the family’s arrival. Taught by Mark Rosenberg, Gustus’ newly appointed accountant, there were 16 children enrolled in the school at its peak in 1897. During the family’s years in Northam, Gustus was also a key contributor to civic life as well as a leading business figure in the town. He was instrumental in the development of the Northam Town Hall and was invited (but declined) to stand in the mayoral election.

Following their return to Perth in 1901, the Luber family took on their natural position as pillars of the city’s small but strong Jewish community. Rosetta Luber served as president of the Jewish Women’s Guild from 1909 to 1949 and was respected for her many communal activities. Gustus continued his leadership role within the community so that on his death in 1945 he was acknowledged as the “Grand Old Man” of Perth Jewry (Benjamin, David J., Australian Historical Society Journal, 1946, Vol 2, Part V p. 246).

While the activities of this impressive couple have been well documented, it was not until the publication of an article in the West Australian this past June that their descendants learnt that Gustus’ accomplishments included the creation of a brewery. This unexpected news inspired the imaginations of his progeny (and their spouses), and the discovery was shared through a chain of family WhatsApp messages around the world.

So captivated were some descendants that they contacted the owners of Eclipse Brewing Company to express enthusiasm for the project. Although the company’s founders claimed no previous knowledge of the existence of the vast network of Luber descendants, already extending to five generations, they have welcomed contact from family members (including me, in relation to this article). I like to think that the vibrant dynastic legacy of Gustus Luber enriches the modern Eclipse story as much as the brewery’s rebirth acknowledges and revives Gustus’ entrepreneurial spirit and dreams.

“A brewery in a town is a synonym of prosperity, and only in large and thriving towns are they to be found.” So said an article published on June 17, 1897, in the Northam Advertiser documenting the changing status and contribution of the Eclipse Brewery to the town. Despite its advertorial enthusiasm, there is a ring of truth to these words.

Gustus Luber started a brewery. It is easy to imagine that at the heart of his enterprise was an attempt to strengthen Northam’s regional and continental importance, and to build a business that would last. More than a century later, that brewery was reimagined and relaunched as a celebration of a town and a region. It was a nod to the past and a stride into the future.

In these commercial ambitions of Gustus Luber, there exists an unlikely parallel with Jewish education. Since the days of the academies of Hillel and Shamai, Jewish education has been the key to Jewish continuity. Gustus and Rosetta Luber understood this idea. They built schools in multiple locations and dedicated their lives to the Jewish communities in which they lived, one of which was Northam. Their descendants have emulated this commitment and have included founders of cheders, schools, yeshivot, shules, literacy programs, and other educational initiatives.

As David J. Benjamin offers in the final paragraphs of his series on Western Australian Jewry:

“The importance of the Northam school is simply this: it shows what can be done towards Jewish education by a small group, remote from

the great centres of Jewry, if it is properly and vigorously led.

“There is no better note on which this paper can end, no more cogent lesson for the future (and the task of history is to teach for the future), than the story of Northam can afford.” (Benjamin, p.430)

Legacy and legend come in many forms. This unlikely intersection of brewing and Jewish education illustrates how any of us – with vision, investment, and contribution – can shape and strengthen the future of the communities in which we live and serve.

Sources

Benjamin, David J “Western Australian Jewry 1829- 1897, Part I – Fremantle,” Australian Historical Society Journal, 1946, Vol 2, Part V, pp. 231-268

Benjamin, David J “Western Australian Jewry 1829- 1897, Part IV – Northam,” Australian Historical Society Journal, 1947, Vol 2, Part VII, pp. 427-430

Dupe, Cally & Collins, Simon “True Brew Group of Mates revive old Northam Brewery” The West Australian, 7 June 2022

Shrimski, John “Our People” https://www. jewishlives.nz/our-people/the-shrimski-family- story-from-posen-to-the-antipodes 14.10.2022

“The Production of Beer. What the Eclipse Brewery is Doing” Northam Advertiser, 16 June 1897, p.3

Collection Listing Pioneer Women’s Memorial Fund, PR 8894, J S Battye Library of West Australian History Ephemera Collection https://slwa.wa.gov. au/pdf/ephemera/pr8894vol5.pdf 14.10.2022

This piece can be found on page 76 of the 2022 issue of Gesher.

Part of my non-fiction collection.

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