Pastor Paul Albrecht was appointed Field Superintendent of Finke River Mission, which included oversight of Hermannsburg in 1962, a position which he held until 1983. This period saw the transition of the settlement through the period of Aboriginal self-determination from a mission for a township. He retired in 1998.
Reflecting on his early career as a missionary Paul recalls that:
“When I entered the service of the Finke River Mission at the beginning of 1957, the Assimilation Policy, commenced after the end of World War II, was gathering pace. Previously, Government policy towards Aborigines in Central Australia had vacillated between neglect, the provision of rations, the appointment of Protectors and the setting aside areas of land, like the one in the Peterman Ranges, from which “Whites” were excluded. In the case of the latter, it was hoped Aborigines would continue their former nomadic hunting gathering way of life.” 2
In the 1960-1980s, consistent with a growing call for Aboriginal land rights and self-determination, Aboriginal people asserted their independence by establishing outstations. The eventual handing back of the mission to Aboriginal people in the 1980s was an act repeated across Australia where missions and reserves were returned to Aboriginal ownership under a variety of laws in different states.
In the 1970s The Finke River Mission (FRM) Board saw a self-sufficient future for the Arrarnta, with the Finke River Mission recording in its minutes of the board meeting of the 30 April 1970:
"The purpose aim and function of the Finke River Mission in its spiritual ministry to the Aboriginal people shall be to work towards independent, self-supporting congregations with Aboriginal pastors and workers as part of the total church." 1
Observing the government’s efforts at implementing the assimilationists policies of the day, it became increasingly clear to Paul that ‘only the people who are faced with the need to change can successfully bring about social change. It cannot be forced on them successfully from outside, nor can it be socially engineered—something the assimilation policy was attempting.’ Applying this to the case of Hermannsburg he concluded that,
“...if there was to be meaningful social change at Hermannsburg, then the mission had to be de-institutionalised. Authority had to shift from the mission to the Aborigines themselves, so that they could make their own decisions—changing what they considered needed changing, and this at a pace they themselves determined.” 2
Paul Albrecht reflects back on the reappraisal of Aboriginal culture that occurred in the 1970s saying that he was in no doubt that:
“It was a seminal event in the history of the FRM. Before this, there were crucial aspects of the Aboriginal culture, such as Tjurrunga ownership, initiation of boys, traditional healers, which Aborigines could not freely discuss with missionaries because the mission considered these to be anti-Christian. The mission’s changed attitude to the culture, opened the way for full and non-judgemental discussions on all aspects of Aboriginal culture, and so made it possible for Aboriginal people and missionaries together to look and seek to understand what it means to be a Christian in an Aboriginal context”. 3
Paul Albrecht 2018 The reflections of a reluctant missionary Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives Issue 28 pp37-51
- Board minutes as quoted in Albrecht, P 2002 From Mission to Church, 1877-2002; Finke River Mission. p41
- Paul Albrecht 2018 The reflections of a reluctant missionary Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives Issue 28 pp37-51
- Albrecht, P 2002 From Mission to Church, 1877-2002; Finke River Mission. p 206.
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