Concerns have been raised over a considerable period of time (over many many years) by residents, concerned organisations and visitors over the proliferation and unsuitability of commercial signage and general clutter in the Main Street of Hahndorf.

The following letter was sent to the District Council of Mount Barker in 2004 with no satifactory reply to the questions asked apart from referral to yet another consultancy study of the problems being carried out.

As a result, The National Trust declared Hahndorf to be an Endangered Town and placed it on their endangered list for 2004. This had no obvious effect on any insistence by the Council for the Main Street traders and building owners to comply with the existing Master Plan. In fact, apart from a few exceptions, the situation deteriorated, and has continued to do so.

Letter to Mount Barker Council - 14 January 2004

From National Trust S.A. - Hahndorf Branch

Mr Andrew Stuart,
Chief Executive Officer,
Mt Barker District Council, 23 Mann St, Mt Barker, SA
14 January 2004

Subject: HAHNDORF – Non-Compliance with Objectives and Principles as stated in Development Plan – Mount Barker (DC)

Dear Mr Stuart,

Since attending your Council’s Master Plan meeting on 15 December 2003 at the Old Mill, I have met with Hahndorf National Trust Branch members and the Trust’s Director Rainer Jozeps to discuss some of the issues raised. We are all most concerned at some of the commercial trends that are actively preventing the achievement of the objectives on pages 112 –114 of the Development Plan for Mt Barker under the Development Act 1993 as issued by Planning SA.

The above 'Development Plan' states the following Objectives under the heading -



Objective 1: The conservation and reinforcement of the historic heritage of Hahndorf.

Objective 2: A township in which development that is compatible with the East German heritage is encouraged but in which development of Bavarian or other inappropriate cultural tradition is discouraged.

Objective 3: Conservation of the attractive rural settings surrounding Hahndorf.

Objective 4: To encourage the continuation of the original uses, or the sympathetic adaptation to new uses of existing land, buildings and structures of heritage significance.

The layout of Hahndorf is typical of Silesian traditions due to the early settlers originating from the provinces of Silesia, Brandenberg and Posen which were part of the Prussian Empire. It is the oldest surviving German settlement (Klemzig was the first) and as such, presents a broad spectrum of the pioneer German way of life…….There are at present twenty five places along Main Street and Victoria Street that are already protected, or earmarked for protection, and located within a State Heritage Area. It is however the scale of advertising that is of concern…….While the process of residential and commercial expansion has from the beginning been an integral part of Hahndorf's development, the time has come to strike a balance between pressures for further commercial expansion and the need to preserve the historic elements of the township that form the basis of the area's attraction as a tourist destination. This can only be achieved if further development respects and upholds Hahndorf's important cultural significance by the careful choice of building materials, scale, juxtaposition and restrained advertising. These policies along with other initiatives, will provide the basis for Hahndorf's blueprint for revival.

An examination of the Main Street during the Master Plan meeting and in subsequent weeks by Branch members indicates that the above 'Objectives' are not being achieved. The identified and well researched visual and structural elements that make up Hahndorf’s historical character are being distorted and overwhelmed. This is having and will continue to have an adverse effect on tourism. Urgent action is required to correct and reverse this trend if Hahndorf is to retain some semblance of its heritage and historic characteristics, which, after all, are its main claim to fame.

We believe that tourists are currently attracted to Hahndorf by the fact that it is the oldest surviving German settlement in Australia with a unique history, 19th Century buildings and 10th Century hufendorf layout.
It is now quite common to hear visiting tourists state:-

  • 'Hahndorf is no different to any other tourist town.'

  • 'What has happened to the German heritage?'

  • 'You get more of the same, just more of the same.'

  • 'We can't take photographs of the buildings due to all the signs.'

This last comment was emphasized recently when a group of visiting Japanese architectural students strongly criticised the number of advertising signs obscuring some of the buildings. They perceived it as mutilation of recognised heritage buildings. They then queried why we do this, when other countries are refraining from this type of visual pollution. Who’s responsibility is it to control it? As the Swiss tourism industry found to its economic disadvantage, the eternal cluttering of the beautiful landscape once admired by residents and visitors alike caused a downturn in visitation. A Swiss tourist operator’s pithy comment on overdevelopment is quoted in an extensive study of this phenomenon, “First the cows leave, then the people. Who can we milk now?”

Hahndorf is currently the 5th most visited destination in South Australia. The continuing escalation of advertising signs is a major concern that was also discussed at the Master Plan meeting in December.It would appear that the traders are in competition with each other to see who has the most dominant advertising signs with little regard or concern for location, number, quality and size apart from creating the maximum visual advertising impact. Allowing such continued breaches of the Development Plan is actually rendering this historic site listed on the National Estate Register in 1981, a national disgrace.

The 'Development Plan' states the following under the heading


Objective 2: To encourage a high standard of outdoor advertising which reflects the historical origins of Hahndorf and which does not detract from the heritage value of its historic areas.
It is important that outdoor advertising reflects and enhances the historic character of Hahndorf's Main Street. Much of the advertising that has occurred in the past has distorted the town's historic origins and reduced its attractiveness as a tourist destination……


“2. Buildings of National, State, or local heritage significance including those listed in Table MtB/12 should be conserved, and where appropriate, restored …….

6. Buildings and structures should harmonize, in form, texture and colour, with the character of the zone ……...

11. All outdoor advertising should:

(a) harmonize with and reflect the heritage character of Main Street

(b) be of scale which respects both the building to which it is attached or related and that of the built form of Main Street.

    12. Advertisements should wherever practicable use pictorial representation to maintain the character of the street and ready recognition by tourists.

    13. The total area of all advertisements should not exceed 10 percent of the area of any facade of the building on which it is displayed.

    14. Advertisements should not be displayed on the roof or above the silhouette of any building.

    15. No advertisements should protrude beyond the footpath.

    16. Advertisements should not be illuminated unless:

    (a) they are front lit in a manner that does not cause glare or light spill; or

    (b) the lighting does not flash.

      17. Corporate signs, logos and symbols should only be displayed where their size and location is compatible with the objectives of the zone.”

      There has been a complete disregard for most if not all of the above for a large majority of the buildings in Main Street, Hahndorf. For example, a quick survey carried out on 1 January 2004 on only one section of Main Street, yielded the following breaches. It should be noted that although most removable signs, banners, and tables and chairs only come out when tourists are present and are taken in at night, they still have a major deleterious visual impact on the heritage aspects of Main Street.

      Commercial Signs:
      There are about 15 signs installed on the roof or above the silhouette of buildings.
      Every building now seems to have a multitude of fixed commercial signs of all types placed on facades, above entrances, on side walls, in and on windows, and it appears on any available space.
      Some of the above signs are small, but most are large, gaudy and unattractive, and completely distract from the heritage nature of Main Street or the buildings on which they are installed. Several of them completely dominate the building using from 80 to 90% of the available area.

      Movable Signs:
      There are about 48 normal size and 8 large removable sandwich boards located on footpaths.
      There are about 43 other similar movable type signs located on footpaths, either free-standing or alongside the building.
      Some traders have more than 5 or 6 such boards and signs for their particular building.
      A small number of sandwich boards are located on street intersections where they are obtrusive and could be seen as a traffic/pedestrian hazard.
      There are also numerous clothes and goods racks, boxes, display shelves etc which are located outside buildings. These usually hide the facade of the building.

      There are also some extra large bright commercial banners strung across several buildings which are considered to be completely out of keeping with Main Street,eg Otto’s Bakery.

      There are several places (including the hotels) which have claimed substantial public access space (footpaths) for their own purposes. This includes the placement of tables, chairs and umbrellas adjacent to the roadway for eating areas. This seems to be on the increase with the recent addition of a large area for this purpose divided off with large and substantial advertising screens each side by Caffe Casalinga.

      There is a floral mural painted for the full length under the elevated verandah area of one building with a large fixed sign in the centre. Although probably relevant to the commercial interests of the trader, it is completely in odds with the heritage nature of Main Street.

      The Hahndorf Branch of the National Trust of SA would therefore appreciate your urgent consideration and reply to the following:-

      1. Does the Mount Barker Council place any importance or authority on the 'Development Plan', and if so how does it intend to implement the 'Objectives' and 'Principles' of the Plan in relation to Hahndorf ? There is no lack of research on this subject as evidenced by my six page list of studies etc undertaken since 1960 recently sent to Council.

      2. What corrective action does the Mount Barker Council intend to make with regards to the matters raised in this correspondence, and what degree of urgency to that action does the Council consider necessary ?

      3. What is the Council's policy in relation to the proliferation of sandwich-boards, other similar movable signs, menu blackboards and other such items of a non-permanent nature, but which are placed on or against buildings and/or footpaths whenever tourists are present ?

      4. Are traders allowed to extend their commercial business and operations onto footpaths up to and adjacent to Main Street kerb-way, and if so under what conditions? In particular, does Council allow eating out areas (tables, chairs and umbrellas) and ice cream carts to be located as above ?

      5. Does the Council consider built and natural heritage aspects to be of any importance when considering applications of a non-complying nature ?

      6. Why has the situation in Hahndorf been allowed to deteriorate to the present extent when these problems were clearly identified some years ago when the current 'Development Plan' was originated ?

      Yours faithfully,

      Anni Luur Fox
      Chair – Hahndorf Branch, National Trust of SA

      Copies to:
      Rainer Jozeps, Director, National Trust of SA
      Cr David Haines

      (Note: Apart from acknowledging receipt of this letter, no other comments/answers have ever been received from Council)

      Comments re Hahndorf Main Street

      Heritage or Kitsch?

      Is Handorf's Main Street full of 'kitsch' ?
      Has Hahndorf become or is it becoming 'kitschy' ?

      There have been recent comments made that visitors to Hahndorf consider the Main Street to be full of 'kitsch' and that Hahndorf is 'kitschy'. Similar comments have also been made in the past - what do you think ?

      Definition of 'kitsch' (n) - garish, pretentious, or sentimental art, vulgar and worthless.
      Definition of 'kitschy' (adj) - tasteless, tawdry, garish, gaudy, coarse, crude, vulgar, unstylish, pretentious, sentimental, worthless.

      If this is really the case - is it important ?
      Does something need to be done about it, or doesn't it matter ?
      Is it possibly a perception by certain visitors only, due to their comparatively short stay in Hahndorf ?
      Or have we completely lost the plot ?

      Further Action

      As at December 2006, after extensive consultation with the relevant parties, another consultants report has been prepared and submitted to Council for their approval. This new Hahndorf Master Plan includes many other aspect apart from signage and although completed has not as yet been endorsed by Council. It is very much hoped that when endorsed, the Council will ensure that the recommendations made within the Master Plan are satisfactorily complied with, otherwise it will be another wasted effort.

      On Tuesday 15 April 2008, a public meeting was held at St Michaels Church Hall at 7.30pm at which the Mt Barker Council presented and discussed the 'Hahndorf Main Street Master Plan Report and Guidelines' which included the signage problems.
      The contents of this report have still to be endorsed by Council, however it did include a 'Draft Implementation Strategy' with a report to Council on June 2008.
      During discussions, Council representatives admitted that the proposed Master Plan did not give them any powers that they have not already got (and have not enforced). It is to be hoped that some enforcement will occur this time. The impression was also given that some watering down of the consultants report will occur with further discussions with the traders.
      The meeting did not present a great deal of confidence that this matter will dramatically change.

      New Rules for Hahndorf Signs

      As reported in the 'Courier' newspaper dated 27 August 2008, the Mt Barker Council has approved new rules to control business signs in a bid to protect the character of the historic town.
      As stated in the 'Courier' article:
      Developed over five years, the Hahndorf Main Street Design Guidelines also aim to fix traffic, parking, streetscape, tourism and outdoor dining problems.
      It will force traders to apply for development approval for their existing signs, with many expected to need replacing because they do not meet the new requirements.
      The council will launch an audit of signs along the historic precinct to determine if they breach the rules, which restrict sign size, design, colour and placement.
      Traders will have until March 31 next year to comply or face penalties.

      Sign Guidelines are basically:

      • Maximum of two business label signs per building or business.

      • One A-frame per business.

      • Total area of signage limited to 10% of building facade.

      • Limits on size - wall signs maximum 1.5m x 50cm, verandah signs limited to 1.8m x 30cm.

      • Colour and materials must be appropriate to the building.

      • Restrictions on flags, flashing lights, inflatable and novelty installations and A-frames.

      • Business owners have until March 31 next year to gain approval for their existing and new signs.