Three Arrarnta men

Western Arrarnta people

‘Our Elders live on in us - the younger generation. We look after the old mission because it is part of our past, but it is also part of our future. We hope that tourism will help us build a sustainable community’. (Nicholas Williams 2019)

Adjacent to the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct is the modern township of Ntaria, in Ljirapinta Ward of the MacDonnell Shire, on the traditional lands of the Western Arrarnta people. The community is proud of its Lutheran traditions and the stories that have been passed down through the generations.

The Western Arrarnta people are a distinct cultural group within the larger Arrernte language group. The traditional lands of the Arrente covered 47,000 square miles (120,000 km2) at the time of first European contact. Within that, the traditional lands of the Western Arrarnta extend west of Alice Springs, out to Mutitjulu and King's Canyon. The mythology and spirituality of the Western Arrarnta people merged with the Lutheran teachings and remain focused on the incredible landscape of river flats, spectacular gorges and mountains created in the Dreamtime and which continue to inspire artists with their unique beauty. Altjira is the creator being of the Inapertwa that became all living creatures, and his work can be seen today in the surrounding landscape.


On June 2, 1982, after around 104 years of management by Finke River Mission, the title to the land comprising Hermannsburg Mission was handed back to traditional owners(1). Today, over 1,000 Arrarnta people are distributed between Alice Springs, Ntaria and a number of outstations across the old lease. There are many challenges facing people living in such a remote area including a lack of employment opportunities, access to education and other services. Despite these challenges the Western Arrarnta will not be separated from their traditional lands and strive to build a strong community that nurtures its children through innovative language initiatives at the local Ntaria School.

The Hermannsburg Historic Precinct is an important focus for local tourism and part of the community’s plan to build a sustainable economic future for future generations. This initiative is strengthened by the strong artistic tradition amongst the Western Arrarnta people as evidenced by the Hermannsburg potters, the Ntaria choir, the Hermannsburg painters and several successful musicians and vocal artists.

1. Stoll cited in Albrecht, P.  2002 From Mission to Church 1877-2002, Finke River Mission. FRM p:90

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