Aranda Aboriginal pupils with Pastor C. Strehlow


The backdrop to these stories is the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct which reflects the principal characteristics of bush missions. It has a modified ‘village green’ layout, with a central church bordered by residential buildings and communal facilities, including a school and eating house. Against this backdrop the people of Hermannsburg worked, laughed, cried and worshipped, building a legacy that continues to shape the settlement of Ntaria.

History of the mission

The Hermannsburg Mission was established in 1877 following an arduous 20-month journey from South Australia. It was managed by Lutheran missionaries and the Lutheran Church from 1877-1982 and is the last surviving mission developed by missionaries from the Hermannsburg Missionary Society in Germany under the influence the German Lutheran community in South Australia. 

Living on the mission

From triumphs to heartbreak, Hermannsburg runs the gamut of human experience. Set against a backdrop of frontier violence, Hermannsburg provided a place of refuge for Arrarnta people. However, life was far from easy with repeated droughts, new diseases and the constant challenge of reconciling traditional life with the missionary agenda.

Arrarnta creativity

Arrarnta people are renowned for their creativity and artistry. Since the days of the first missionaries Arrarnta voices have been raised in song in a magical mix of English and Western Arrarnta language. The watercolour traditions of Namatjira and his followers need no introduction and innovation continues through the work of contemporary painters and potters. 

Arrarnta culture

Altjira nima 'that is, it is always.’ Arrarnta people and their civilisation pre-date the mission period by tens of thousands of years. The history (pre- history) of the people prior to European contact is an important, although largely untold, story that helps contextualise the mission as a part of a larger cultural landscape and a deeper history. This culture is arguably one of the most studied in Australia and yet much of it remains unknown to other Australians.

People and relationships

Since its establishment in 1877 there have been many remarkable people associated with Hermannsburg Mission. From the earliest missionaries to the well-known Arrarnta men and women that lived there. Together their stories of triumph, faith and struggle form a remarkable legacy for current and future generations. 

Speaking Arrarnta

Like all Australian Aboriginal languages, Arrarnta was a spoken language. The first missionaries used their German alphabet as a platform to write down the Arrarnta language. They discovered an affinity between the German language and Arrarnta. The community at Ntaria is proud of their language and the traditional orthography pioneered by Carl Strehlow. Today the orthography of the language has evolved and is summarised in simple terms in the ‘Western Arrarnta Picture Dictionary’ which is used in the local school (Roennfeldt ed. 2006).

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