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4 min read

The ability to be transformed: Henkell Family Fund

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 11/10/2023

It’s quite frankly impossible not to be swept up in the exuberance of an encounter with German-Australian philanthropist Hans Henkell.  

The zest he brings to his passion projects spills over in any interaction and underpins his approach to philanthropic giving.  

Since establishing the Henkell Family Fund at Australian Communities Foundation in 2004, Hans has been a public and avid supporter of the arts, and in particular, opera.  

“I just love it!” he says with gusto.  

“The word opera means ‘the works’ in Italian and for me, it titillates so many senses. The sense of movement, of colours, sound and dance. It has always had a huge impression on me. 

“Supporting opera is a bit like an addiction, like a drug that has so many powerful effects,” he continues.  

“I think that going to church and going to the opera have similarities in that respect. They change your consciousness, your mental state and your disposition, and you come out of that experience with a more creative mindset. You are different afterwards.  

“Opera gives me that ability to be transformed.”  

The journey 

Hailing from the family for which Henkell sparkling wine is named, Hans immigrated to Australia in 1982 and built a successful Melbourne-based property business from the ground up.  

“I’m an immigrant and I always say I have two lives,” he explains. 

“The first part of my life was the life of a champagne producer. The second part, after the family business changed ownership, was here in Australia.” 

Hans credits his business success as a major driver of his philanthropic giving.  

“I couldn’t be charitable without it,” he says.  

The establishment of the Henkell Family Fund came about after a discussion with the family’s solicitor.   

Australian Communities Foundation gives me that ability. I pre-donate money into the Fund in order to be able to give it out when I want to

“I was thinking at the time about creating a foundation on my own, but my solicitor explained that you need to have a few million dollars to get started and I didn’t have that sort of size,” Hans explains. 

“Instead, my solicitor suggested a fund at Australian Communities Foundation as a sort of ‘in-between’ and that has worked out very well. 

“I’m very proud to have been with Australian Communities Foundation for all these years.” 

For Hans, one of the benefits of using a Named Fund (sometimes known as a donor-advised fund) is the ability to plan for the future, making giving decisions and distributions at a time that suits.  

“I compare it to being like a farmer who has a dam where he stores the water,” Hans explains. “The water isn’t needed immediately for the pastures but it’s good to build up that supply.  

“Australian Communities Foundation gives me that ability. I pre-donate money into the Fund in order to be able to give it out when I want to.” 

Over the years the Henkell Family Fund has provided support to the German-Australian community and hardship relief via a range of organisations, but Hans’ primary passion is his support of Australian opera.   

“I’m not faithful to any one opera company,” he says.  

Naming fellow countryman Richard Wagner as his favourite composer, it should come as no surprise that Hans was a major sponsor of Australia’s first regional staging of the Ring Cycle in Bendigo in April 2023 by Melbourne Opera.  

“The German-Australian Opera Grant is a competition that sends an emerging singer of elevated skill and talent to a German opera house for one year.  

“I have been doing this for 20 years and it is a little bit of personal exertion because it is my office and my PA and myself in that we organise the competition, so that’s sort of more than just giving away money. In a sense it’s becoming artistic oneself.” 

Hans credits his family as the source and continuation of his love for the arts.  

“My parents were very much my role models,” he explains.  

“My mother was a hobby artist as a pianist and my father was a collector of the visual arts.  

I’m very proud to have been with Australian Communities Foundation for all these years

“Even today, in my own family, while I am a fan of the opera, my wife is a painter and we always jokingly say that I am the vocal department and she’s the visual department.”  

While opera may be less revered in the cultural landscape in Australia when compared to its long and illustrious history in Europe, it hasn’t dimmed Hans’ ebullience.   

“I’m really proud of my second life, living in Australia and being part of things that are similar to what I came from in Germany, from the opera and music and arts point of view.  

“The fact these things take place makes me so proud.  

“There aren’t the battleships of opera houses here as there are in Germany that were started hundreds of years ago by aristocrats for vanity reasons.  

“It’s different here, but it’s full of enthusiasm, and that’s what I like.” 

The German-Australian Opera Grant Finale takes place on Saturday, 18 November at Federation Square, Melbourne. Entry is free but bookings are essential.

To learn more about opening a Named Fund, click here.