THE HERMANNSBURG MISSION: What Set Aboriginal Art in Motion

Lutheran people and a group of visiting Luritja people at the Hermannsburg Mission, 1910s - photo by ANU Press

The Hermannsburg Mission was established by Louis Harms on 12 October 1849. The self-governing society was combined into the assignment of the Evangelical-Luther Mission in the Lower Saxony. For this reason, it turned out to be an establishment acknowledged by the state church.

In 1934, a Western Arrernte Aboriginal man by the name of Albert viewed an art exhibition at the Lutheran Mission of Hermannsburg, Central Australia – photo by Hermannsburg School

This Mission was established on the banks of the Finke River by Lutheran missionaries from the Hermannsburg Missionary Society and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia in 1877. The missionaries established a school and dormitories for children in the late 1890s. It operated under Lutheran control until 1982 when the land was returned to the local Arrente people.

The Hermannsburg Mission was founded by Lutheran missionaries on the banks of the Finke River in 1877. It was the last and longest-running Mission controlled by the Lutheran Church in Australia.

In 1896, a School House was built at the Mission and there were different hostels for boys and girls built in the period 1894-1904. Kids were compensated for going to school through the allocation of rations. The missionaries on the ground were educated on how to speak the Arrente language and interpreted a large amount of their spiritual and other educational materials, to make sure what they taught were understood.

School Children at Hermannsburg Mission, 1955 – photo by Northern Territory Library

The Mission conveniently managed about 100 children in the 1930s.

Hermannsburg Mission worked under the management of Lutheran until 1982 when the land was returned to the local Arrente people finally. On 13 April 2006, the Historic grounds of Hermannsburg were incorporated on the National Heritage List. The database record for the Precinct offers a comprehensive history of the Mission.

In 2014, those buildings used as School House and boys hostel were still there, but the girls’ hostel was damaged by fire in 1954.

The Hermannsburg Mission celebrated its 140th anniversary in the 500th year of the Lutheran Church in 2017, and it carries on with the custom of doing open-air bush camps with aboriginal pastors.

The History of Hermannsburg Mission

Portrait of Ludwig Harms – photo by Missionswerk in Niedersachsen (ELM)

The Hermannsburg Mission started as the Hermannsburg Mission Seminary on October 12 1849. It was this particular date that counted as the founding date for the Hermannsburg Mission. The mission was established by Harms who worked at Saint Paul’s Church and St. Peters Church, both in Hermannsburg as a curate and later became the pastor from 1844.

The entire community considered him a good minister with a great talent for making things happen and bringing things alive. All the villagers normally gather together in the hallway of the rectory to hear Harm on Sunday evenings. His stories developed people up, instructed, and entertained all at the same time. The home history gave him lively materials.

Hermannsburg Mission in the Present Day

There was an official amalgamation of Hermannsburg Mission into a state church in 1977. Nevertheless, it was possible to preserve the special character of the spiritual work of the mission by preserving the legal status of the foundation. The mission remained in its original location, being the Mission in the Lower Saxony. Reverend Xuan Martina was the head of the mission’s work since 2003.

There are quite a lot of imperative contributors to the work and progress of the mission. Moreover, a lot of parishes and friends of the mission supported its work. On the other hand, the ELM is supported by the work of the mission through private donations from numerous people in the region. At present, the missionaries and missionaries that the ELM sent out on mission assignment are working in Siberia, India, Latin America, and Africa.

Hermannsburg Historic Precinct – photo by Tourism Central Australia

The Hermannsburg mission still manages a mission seminary in Hermannsburg, where young theologians are normally equipped service in one of the ELM partner churches till today. The Ludwig Harms House located in Hermannsburg and the original location of the mission seminary is present at a contemporary conference centre with many amenities such as a bookshop, a cafe, and One World Shop. It hosts the Candace Mission Possible exhibition to notify all the interested people about the work and international network of the ELM.

Hermannsburg Mission Directors

The director is the overall head of the Hermannsburg Mission.

  • Louis harms who was baptized as Ludwig was the director of the mission from 1849 to 1865. Harms was born on 5 May 1808 and died on 14 November 1865.
  • Theodor Harms was the director of the mission from 1865 to 1885. He was born on 19 March 1819 and died on 16 February 1885.
  • Egmont Harms who was born 15 April 1859 and died on 4 December 1916 was the director of the mission from 1885 to 1916.
  • The director from 1890 to 1926 was Georg Haccius. He was born on 22 July 1847 and died on 4 June 1926.
  • Christoph Schomerus emerged as the director from 1926 to 1943. He was born on 23 November 1871 and died 8 August 1944.
  • August Elfers – 1943 to 1959. He was born on 18 July 1897 and died on 6 July 1959.
  • Hans-Robert Wesenick who was born on 18 December 1904, and died on 15 November 1988 was the director of the mission from 1959 to 1974.
  • Reinhart Muller was the director from 1975 to 1988. He was born on 8 April 1925 and died on 3 April 2006.
  • Ernst-August Lüdemann was Hermannsburg Mission director from 1989 to 2003
  • Martina Helmer-Pham Xuan is the incumbent director since 2003.