Hermannsburg Mission

Just after sunset we came to the mission across low sand hills having passed the last dead beasts and camel about a half mile before. We could just see a few native wurlies and an aggregation of white buildings as we came. The whole population was turned out, yelling away in Arundta 7at us.

unloading truck

Some of them fell to and helped unload the truck, which then departed again for home. Soon after the car arrived with Davies, Wardlaw, Murch and Larnach driven by Johannsen.

car with desert oak

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We had a huge tea in the German style in Albrecht's quarters and the sweat absolutely poured off us. After this, sleeping quarters were alloted. Murch and I are rooming together in the house where we will do our experiments, if any. The others are scattered about the village. It clouded over during the night, these being the first clouds we have seen since leaving Quorn. Consequently the night was very hot and we didn't sleep much. Quite a superfluous number of mosquitoes about and towards morning plenty of flies.

10th January 1933

This morning we unloaded and unpacked all the gear and assembled some of it. In the afternoon the balance was set up and most things got into order. The refrigerator was got out and Davies spent all day trying to get it to go but without much success.

setting up equipment

In the evening Davies got out his gramophone and all the lads of the village came over to listen.

During the day I was appointed meterologist and set about making a place for the anemometer and thermometers.

11th January 1933

Today much the same as yesterday. Most of us loafed about while Maurice and Wardlaw played with the Haldanes8. Mrs Albrecht9 continues to pour big greasy meals into us which we seem able to get through pretty well, but with a bit of congestion inside.

The mission station was a collection of lime and rubble dwellings with a church of the same material and a few outhouses. In addition there were some 50-60 small thatched roofed huts for the natives and several wooden compounds of sorts. Every house had a

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rain water well beside it and was fenced off from the sandy waste in front of it by a wooden fence bound together with raw-hide and kangaroo hide straps. The natives of the station were mostly of the disappearing Arundta tribe with a sprinkling of the Loritchas and an odd Pintaby and Nallia. To a large extent they were the young of both sexes who were carefully locked up at night in separate huts. The rest were 'married' families inhabiting the huts.

thatched huts

group standing

Left to Right: Barry, Joseph, Wardlaw, Davies

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12th January 1933

Davies has now got his refrigerator running well and has lapsed into gin and sleep. We have got some amusement out of it by giving the 'uncivilized' natives ice.

We spent most of the afternoon talking to Rolf (Jacky of Lasseters last Ride ) and hearing from him practically what the other people connected with that show said, viz:that Lasseter knew nothing of the country and was lying about a gold reef in order to finance himself in the hopes of finding one. Rolf was able to tell all about it, up to the time that Lasseter left Ilbilla, never to return.

13th January 1933

Today was Hugh Barry's 21st birthday which he and I celebrated by raiding Pete's10 supply of gin before breakfast. During the day a stockman called Miller rode in with a plant of horses and a bad arm, mainly caused by his putting turpentine and horse blister on a sore. He was duly patched up as were a couple of natives.

In the afternoon the camel mail from Rumbelara rode in and then the station stockman came back with a few brumbies off the run.

Camel Mail - Bony Bream Tillmouth

In the evening the whole crowd: stockmen, camel drivers and missionaries came over and we had a late night extracting the oil from them.

The camel mailman, one Bony Bream Tillmeth was a real wizened up man of the desert and a tremendous mine of information. He ran a vaguely fortnightly run to Oodnadatta and back, knew everyone and every station for miles on each side, used the bed if the Finke as his highway, had 10-11 camels in his string, carried goods, mail orders etc. and women and blacks bought dresses, kitchen-ware, materials, cutlery, even sewing machines from his stocks. People gave him money and orders for things they wanted from Adelaide or even Anthony Hordens in Sydney, and took delivery often six months later, knowing that he never forgot and was totally trustworthy. He was worth listening to but was talking of giving it up because of age.

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14th January 1933

Larnach and I were up well before light to try pumping Bony Bream some more, but he was so busy getting the train organized that we felt 'de trop.' Yet we learnt quite a bit just watching his skills with camels: some Afghan words that camels understand, some principals of loading, camel care, prevention and treatment of sore backs, and general sound advice and camel lore from an expert. I still find it hard to love camels though.

camel on rope

Camels with packs

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After the camel train had padded away we spent most of the morning up at the stockyards watching the black stockboys breaking and riding the nags they had brought in: a very rough and ready process and certainly the dead opposite of the right way to handle horses that I learnt at Widden from Alf Thompson and Norman Larkin. There was no great future in being a horse in the Centre.

Horse breaking

In the afternoon Murch did a quick portrait of me for practice and then did a really good one of Bony Bream and a black boy called Billy. We managed to get a few horses later on and Murch, Maurice, Davies and myself went off to see a spring a few miles away in the mountains. We were escorted by Kurt Johannsen, Miller and the mechanic called Course who was stranded in this place for a week.


Left to Right: Manasseh, Barry, Miller, Davies, Joseph, Johannsen

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We had a bit of rabbit shooting round the waterhole and then had tea. After dark we rode back a few miles and then left Miller to take Davies and the horses back to the mission. We then walked up into a gorge for a mile or so in the dark where we were supposed to find decent water. However when we got there and turned a light on it, what there was of it appeared to move away. Closer investigation showed an army of frogs moving off. We strained a billy full through Maurice's fly veil and had a drink of the foulest water that I have ever tasted.

Shortly after we got there the moon rose and showed that we were in a sandstone river bed about 40 yards wide with steep jagged rocky sides rising to a great height. The gully is called Munukeruka (Gilberts Gorge) and up to a year ago was used as a sacred spot for the celebration of corroborees and other rites by the Arundta.

As we were ostensibly after wallabies Kurt and Murch took the first watch, sitting up in the rocks above the waterhole while the rest of us went to sleep down below. At about half past one we were awakened by the 12 bore. Kurt had fired at a Euro and missed. I then went up on the rocks with Murch and we stayed there until daybreak without anything but rabbits and frogs coming down. During the night (which soon became bitterly cold) a porcupine (echidna) was discovered making a getaway. He was secured and hung on to.

15th January 1933

We set off up the gully at about 6 a.m. to go to the next waterhole as we had all had as much as we could stand of the frog water. We climbed up the side of the gully and crossed a ridge of hills before climbing down into another stone watercourse which eventually led us down to the Finke which pierces the Krichauff ranges on its way to the south. The tops of the mountains carry a fair amount of grass and in a few places clumps of a species of eucalyptus something like the mallee country.

Kurt digging for water

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On the way down we collected a few wild plums, not quite ripe but still very good considering the nasty taste in our mouths. Also growing in spots were wild passion-fruit trees and what is called a wild cucumber plant which ripens just before winter and is said to taste like an apple.

When we got to the water hole we found it very salty, so we used it as a swimming pool and dug a soak about two feet down in the sandy bed of the Finke. These soaks when first dug were still pretty salty but if left for a time they gradually lost the salty taste. The sand of the Finke not only contained mica crystals but also glistened and sparkled with salt crystals.

The porcupine was produced and made an excellent breakfast tasting very rich and nice and tender.

Cooking echidna

Left to right: Johannsen, Course,echidna, Joseph, F.J.A.P

We spent an hour or two shooting at crows of which there are thousands and then arose with our attendant flies and climbed and scrambled a few miles across the ranges through very bizarre and spectacular country to cut into the Finke on another part of its course. The walk entailed a climb of about 1500 ft, and from the heights we got magnificent views of the higher part of the range two to three miles off, as far as I could judge distance in this country. I found, from shooting at a target, that I was underestimating distance badly. The puffs of sand were so far short that my boasts of past income earned as a marksman in the Sydney University Regiment tickled Kurt Johannsen's Scandinavian sense of humour (not easily achieved).

We climbed down onto the river bed again and walked along the soft sand in great heat and argumentative spirit for a couple of miles, passing right into the heart of the

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mountains. The mountains here are very rugged and massive and many of them are very high and precipitous whilst the Finke river bed (all sand) is in places half a mile wide and runs straight off a plain through the range and then out onto the larger southern deserts where it is lost, though theoretically it runs into Lake Eyre.

Many huge white gums grow along the banks. In a few places we came across the emerald green wild orange tree. It grows a fruit pyriform in shape, perfectly green and about the size of a large mandarin. It contains a yellow slimy flesh with many huge seeds like an enlarged passion fruit. They are about the best wild fruit I have ever eaten, being very strong in their taste, but with a high sugar content. However, most people can't stomach them at all and they are supposed to be an aquired taste.

When we came to the next waterhole we found it to be a huge thing about 30 yards long and well up to the umbelicus in the middle. We spent many hours there and with Kurt's revolver we even caught half a dozen bony bream, each weighing half a pound. The ratio of flesh to bone is low and they are not a delicacy.

We left after the heat of the day and started back, stopping at our first water hole for a swim and putting up a dozen duck, which are very common on the Finke. We then walked back in a pretty good sweat to the mission station just in time for tea.

16th January 1933

Today we found that a wild tribe of Luritcha had turned up during the weekend. So, (to get them to take part in the water metabolism tests) they were inveigled over to the house, shown the various instruments and given tobacco and pipes. We tried some of them with ice out of the refrigerator and also with cigarettes but the ice didn't go down too well and they blew rather than sucked at the fags.


With natives: Barry, Davies, Ntjikijikurrpa, Albrecht, FJAP

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Having set up the meterological station in the prescribed manner I found that the novelty of low humidity and high temperature was wearing off.

Today I decided to try to get out with Larnach and Murch on the camels for a trip to Mt Liebig about 100 miles away. We are going out with a black boy called Titus who is returning to his tribe as a kind of black missionary. We are taking another black to bring us back.

I decided to try to convince Prof. Davies that the problem of finding suitable native subjects for the experiments might be best served by a first hand report of the tribes west of Hermannsburg by the least gifted member of the party. Especially as the time left for the experiments was bound to be inadequate and another attack on the problem would obviously be needed the next summer. I planned to catch him in a jovial, gin sodden mood that evening. Hugh and Maurice were willing to do the met readings, in return for my offer of sharing any booty in the way of churingas 11, artifacts etc that I managed to collect.

We find that the Arundta call anyone not of their tribe Loritcha or Luritcha and that these people who have come into the station are probably Pintaby and not true Loritcha. Loritcha may be the language that Arundta and Pintaby use when talking to each other.

The natives gave us all a name, mine was Catavelia12 (I gather a small active lizard) This enabled them to relate to us in some way as a part of the tribal grouping. So we had each a theoretical mother, father, brothers, sisters and, most importantly, aunt or aunts. The marriage taboos seemed to be based on an uncle - aunts relationship which dictated the totems. As a result there were some of the tribe we could not even speak to, and some potential allies. This was complex and hard to live by in our ignorance. It made it possible to offend unintentionally. I suspect that it was bound up to a large degree with their sense of humour because they certainly seemed to get an inordinate amount of fun out of trying to explain the logical consequences. There was also a lot of laughter at our attempts to wrap our tongues about many of their words. Especially those that started with the 'ng' sound. All names I have written are purely phonetic attempts and the validity and proper understanding of many things doubtful. For example, few of them could count beyond three. It was one two three, big mob. Big mob could be four or thousands, yet they seemed to be able to arrange corroborees and meetings, which took weeks of preparation, months ahead. I think some of this was done by moons but any explanation of anything beyond tomorrow was hard to obtain and almost impossible not to misunderstand. The stars had names, or at least some of them. The Plieades and Venus for certain but they immediately wandered off into dreamtime stories quite unconnected with any practical use of them which I suppose was natural when no crops or timing formed part of their life. They believed that the kangaroo was born in a pouch, but so do most country people, however white.

17th January 1933

I obtained official sanction from H.W.D. Hugh and Maurice helped a lot. To cap it all Albrecht at breakfast suggested, off his own bat, that someone should do something with an eye to the future, and Davies, though a somewhat subdued man that morning, confirmed the previous night's arrangement.

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Today was a little hotter than usual going to about 109F and the humidity was also rather high and has been rising for the last few days. When the day gets on a bit it usually clouds over and then looks very black and threatening about sunset. At sun-up however it has all blown away and left a perfectly clear day. The colours in the evening clouds stretched from horizon to horizon and range through the spectrum. Even when looking at the display one hardly believes it. The red earth, reflected back from the clouds and the dust in the light of the setting sun again colours the ranges so that the plains seem heliotrope and Mt Sonder and Mt Zeil away to the north go purple. Murch says, "If I tried to paint this, people in the south would think me mad."

The lowest temperature we have had since we got here has been 70.5F in the early morning yesterday but when it is below 80 here it is pretty cold without more clothes.

At lunch some Bilbees (ngaiyaa) or striped bandicoots were brought in by the blacks and went for three bob each to Larnach who was collecting animals for the anatomy school. Murch spent most of the afternoon photographing them during which time the old man died.

A few days ago an inland crocodile or prenty lizard (goanna) was brought in by one of the stockmen and Larnach and all of us have been checkmated by the problem of killing and preserving it. The decision is now in favour of chloroform and formalin into the heart.

prentie lizard

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18th January 1933

This morning Albrecht spent an hour or so discussing this trip with us and made many suggestions about things which would never have occurred to us. Larnach and I spent a fair time going over the plans while Murch was painting a couple of black kids surrounded by his usual admiring audience male and female. In fact when we went out to talk to him we found him with a couple of kids and a dog squirming in front of him, a crowd behind him and two solid lines of people right down the sides of the fairway.

children with Barry and FJAP

We did him a good turn by taking a number to watch the killing of the prenty. We bound him down to a box, half chloroformed him injected 10ml of formalin into his heart and then opened him up and injected his arteries with formalin. Murch again had a go at photographing the surviving bilbee and her two young with little success.

In the evening a bit of a storm came up and we got several spots of rain amid the dust. Some of the camels which came in a team from the Alice two days ago have gone back to the Alice again and a few more have gone out to Gilbert Springs where they are building some yards to catch a few wild horses.

I have been making pals with the head stockman called Henke for the last week and he shouted me a short ride on his camel to get the feeling before we go out west. One sits behind the hump on a saddle with an iron frame and goat skin sides. The feet are in a pair of stirrups and one steers the animal by a rope attached on one side to a

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mushroomed pin through its nose. The getting up is rather astonishing at first but once up they are rather easier to steer than a horse and they have a long swinging walk which is very comfortable, at least at first.

We saw them throw a young camel which was being broken to a pack for the first time to the accompaniment of loud protests from the camel. Whenever one approaches a camel it makes a noise like being sick inside and chews the cud vigorously with the intent to spit, but as soon as they are off and away they generally stop it.

Working on camels

Both Bony Bream and Henke admitted that one must be vigilant with a camel. They could kick with both fore and hind legs, and given a chance, they constantly complained. A favourite trick was to stand up suddenly at the split second a foot went into the stirrup. One must keep the left foot standing on the bent foreleg until the last possible moment, and the left elbow behind their chin to stop their spitting aim getting on line. I learnt the saddling technique pretty well. The trick was not to be distracted or

Hugh Barry mounted

Hugh Barry mounted with Manasse on sitting camel

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made careless by noise, eructations, farts, stink or attempts to bite. The price of freedom was indeed eternal vigilance. They do not naturally go without water, they have to be trained. They have to be accustomed to go without water for chosen periods, up to 10 days is possible but it takes some weeks of training. Everyone advised that it was unwise to ride a camel more than four miles the first day. The rider needed to train too.

We got news today that the donkey waggon had broken down about 30 miles away.

It seems now that we will be going out to Titus's place on our own book, Tetus being in my opinion a bit of a fool. Hezekiel who will be our camel boy now looks a bit more intelligent.

23rd of January 1933

Today it was decided that we should push off on our trip on Monday 13 evening if all goes well. I am very glad to get out of this place now as it soon palls and Mrs Albrecht gives us about twice as much to eat as we need. Her ideas of diet in a hot climate coincided with her ideas of diet in the colder parts of Germany and like all good Housfrau she was greatly perturbed and insulted if anything was left over.

We have worked out that the camel trip will cost us about the same as if we stayed here so it isn't any great expense with the camels at six bob a week. Hezekiel will get ten bob a week, his tucker and an accepted tobacco ration.

Albrechts with children

Pastor and Mrs Albrecht with their children Helen and Theodore

Everyone here at the mission is very congenial. There is Albrecht, a short thick, blue eyed Nordic type. He was very earnest, very keen and as broad minded as could be

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expected from a Lutheran Missionary. His wife was condemned to die of T.B. when they came out three years ago, but has now lost every sign of symptom. She was a tremendously hard worker, efficient, no sense of humour and as fair a Saxon as one could find. They had two small brats and an infant who were treated as equals by the native children and who seemed to have their habits as well.

The other active members of the mission are Petering, a man of 6' 3", school master, cleric and rather unfathomable (or just negative, I don't know which) and Strehlow, an expert on dialects and a decent chap.

Course,Petersen and Strehlow

Left to right: Ross, Petering and Strehlow

Strehlow was the son of the previous head of the mission and had grown up with the Arundta tribe and understood as much of their language, beliefs and customs as it is possible for a white man to understand. He was a blood brother and fully initiated 14 member of the tribe and had acquired as part and parcel of himself the dreamy, impractical, carelessness and lack of foresight of the natives and yet he could on occasions give vent to wonderful tales of his tribe.

Strehlow and Petering will probably make the first two days of the trip with us before going off for a short run in another direction.

7: Spelling usually attempts to reflect pronounciation. Variants include: Arrentte, Arunta, Arundta, Arranda

8: The Haldanes was a sensitive balance used in the water metabolism experiments.

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9: A seven-man expedition from the University of Sydney under the leadership of Professor H.W. Davies arrived. They were studying Aboriginal needs for water. Albrecht felt he could not refuse their request for accomodation and camels teams for a six-week period, though he knew that feeding them would be difficult. It was at the height of summer and there were no fresh vegetables. Trying to provide for everyone was difficult for Minna. Every nook and cranny seemed to have someone sleeping in it.

Barbara Henson, A Straight-out Man F.W. Albrecht and Central Australian Aborigines, (University of Melbourne Press 1992) P.78

10: Professor (Pete) Davies career was unfortunately marred by alcholism.

11: A churinga or tjurunga was a secret-sacred object carved in stone or wood. Some traced ancestral histories back for generations. Each contained a story about the family of the man who carved it and about his position in the tribal group.

12: In the pencil manuscript F.J.A.P. writes this as Cupailja.

13: The 23rd of January 1933 was a Monday.

14: Much could be written about T.G.H. Strehlow. Although he was considered a member of the tribe, he himself said that he was never initiated. He left Hermannsburg at 14 after his father's death in 1922 and went to school in Adelaide. After graduating from Adelaide University with Honours in English he returned to Hermannsburg on a grant from the Australian National Research Council to Study Aranda culture.

In May 1933 Gura (Tjenterama) the last of the great ceremonial chiefs of the gura bandicoot centre known as Ilbalintja confided in Strehlow that neither he nor any of the other old men had sons or grandsons responsible enough to be trusted with the secrets of their sacred objects (tjurungas) and ceremonies. They were worried that all their secrets would die with them. According to Strehlow, he was asked to accept responsibility for the preservation of all their sacred activities. He began systematically recording the religious beliefs, social systems and history of what was left of the songs, myths, chants, and legends of the Aranda people. Even in 1933 there were groups where all the fully trained elders had died and the only source of information was from the old men who had acted as ceremonial assistants.

Strehlow witnessed and recorded hundreds of sacred ceremonies, most of which are no longer practised. His academic stature grew with the publication of Aranda Traditions (1947). This work had been assembled in 1934 but Strehlow delayed publication until all his informants were dead. He gained considerable recognition for the linguistic work which his father had begun. In 1971 he published a monumental work Songs Of Central Australia. Strehlow's career and his role as the custodian of Aboriginal secrets has been dogged by controversy which has followed him beyond the grave. He died in 1978.

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