Hermannsburg Mission was managed by the Lutherans continuously from 1877 to 1982. The structures and landscaping of the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct reflect the changing phases of missionary and government policy towards Aboriginal people over this period.
The mission functioned as a refuge for Aboriginal people during the violent frontier conflict that was a feature of early pastoral settlement in central Australia. The Lutheran missionaries helped mediate conflict between pastoralists, the police and Aboriginal people, and spoke out publicly about the violence, sparking heated national debate.
The German influence
The influence of German pastors and tradesmen of German origin in South Australia is clearly visible in the planning and layout of the mission, and in the design and construction of the masonry buildings. Residential buildings incorporate features of traditional German farmhouses, also seen in German Lutheran settlements in South Australia.
These features illustrate common themes of Aboriginal mission life in the late 1800s and early 1900s including the distribution of rations, communal meals for Aboriginal people, the separation of Aboriginal children from their parents, and a strong emphasis by missionaries, in particular the Lutherans, on church, schooling, work and self-sufficiency.
Hermannsburg Historic Precinct has a special association with Albert Namatjira and his distinctive Aboriginal school of central Australian landscape painting. Namatjira grew up at Hermannsburg and the mission was pivotal to his development as an artist. He was the first Aboriginal artist to be commercially exhibited nationally and internationally. Namatjira's work became widely acclaimed and a national symbol for Aboriginal achievement.
Lutheran missionaries based at Hermannsburg Mission made a singular contribution to the record of Aboriginal traditions through their work in this region. This was principally through the early research of Pastor Carl Strehlow and his son, Professor T.G.H. Strehlow. T.G.H. Strehlow spent his early years with Aboriginal people at Hermannsburg and became the leading anthropologist of central Australia in the 20th century.
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