The Central Australian Women’s Choir.

The Hermannsburg Choir

The records of the mission often mention the beautiful sounds of the Arrarnta people with their voices raised in song. Hermannsburg Mission has a long tradition of music including both pastoral music and popular country and western.

Song has always been a part of life at the Hermannsburg Mission and over the years there have been several choirs. The choir has its roots in work done by Lutheran Pastors Kemp and Schwartz in 1877 who created an Arrarnta language hymn book from which the choir sang in the early years. The missionaries with the help of local Arrarnta people drafted 53 hymns in three years in the local language, Western Arrarnta, and then taught everyone to sing in this new genre.

The current Ntaria Ladies Choir (or Hermannsburg Ladies Choir) sing in a mixture of English and Arrarnta. In 2015, the choir was invited by a Lutheran church in Bavaria to perform at the Kirchentag Festival in Stuttgart, a spiritual festival that attracted about 120,000 visitors from throughout the world over five days. The choir was a resounding success as they sang German hymns in the Arrarnta language.

The choir toured internationally as part of the larger Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir to international acclaim.

But while this modern version of the choir has become relatively well known there have been many other iterations of the Hermannsburg choir over the years. Church singing has always been an important part of Lutheran faith at Hermannsburg. Other choirmasters have included Pastor Carl Strehlow, Pastor Paul Albrecht, Mr Gus Williams and Mr David Roenfeldt.

In January 1956, the first interstate trip of a Hermannsburg choir took place. Seventeen men travelled to South Australia with conductor David Trudinger. Their recording is the called The Heart of Aranda. Again, in September 1967, twelve men and twelve women toured South Australia and Victoria with conductor Pastor Doug Radke and compère Mr Gus Williams. Their recording is called Hermannsburg Choir on Tour 1967.

Despite being referred to as a ladies’ choir, since the 1970s, it has had several male members. The choir has been the subject of the documentary Cantata Journey which tells the story of their performance with the Sydney Symphony in May 2003, which was recorded on ABC Classic. Collectively with other choirs from Central Australian communities they form the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir (CAAWC). Selected CDs are available in the gift shop.

Listen to a track form their CD Tjina Kngarra:

The current (as at 2020) choir members are Marion Swift, Clarabelle Swift, David and lily Roennfeldt, Sonya Braybon, Genise Williams, Damien Williams and Nicholas Williams.