Academic journal article Oceania

Narratives of the Encounter at Ntaria

Academic journal article Oceania

Narratives of the Encounter at Ntaria

Article excerpt

PREAMBLE

In the month of July, 1876, Western Aranda resident in the area marked out by Ltalaltuma, Emalkna, Ljaba and Roulbmaulbma - the area west of Uruna now called Missionary Plain, and bordered to the north by the Western MacDonnells - may have sighted the first European settlers on their lands. It was during this time that a forward party from a Lutheran mission group set out from Dalhousie Springs, some 285 miles south, to inspect the mission lease along either side of the Finke River complex (Bowman n.d.:68-9). It was about a year later that the main party arrived via Owen Spring, the first cattle lease established in Central Australia. Initially they travelled to the area south of Jalpalpa, now known as Glen Helen. Then the Lutherans travelled South, to a point on the Finke below Ntaria waterhole. They sank a well and determined to build their community there; at the place they would call 'Hermannsburg'.

Once the Lutherans were settled, they were probably observed by people from Kaporilya and Nguamina (inside Palm Valley), though these latter may have received earlier news of the party's progress up the Finke.(1) Other explorers, including Gosse and Giles had been that way before, and certainly the Aranda around Missionary Plain would have known of the cattlemen at Owen Spring. Yet, the missionaries were distinguished by the size of their retinue, a covered wagon, horses and cattle, and a large herd of sheep. They were also distinguished by their presence in countries that had not been host to settlers before. The Aranda had not been consulted by the colonists. They were probably surprised, in the light of heavy rains marking good seasons ahead, that these newcomers were so aggressively on the move.(2) And in the written accounts of the missionary arrival, there is no indication that the missionaries had a sense of occupying exploited and interpreted land (see Leske 1977; Scherer 1963-4; T. Strehlow 1979). The missionaries were required to cross station land at a rate not less than five miles a day. The South Australian government set no such requirement with regard to land inhabited solely by Aborigines (Lohe 1977:13).(3) Whether or not the Aranda saw the missionaries as invaders in a way that might be imagined today remains a moot point. Aranda today say the relha (people) were frightened, and inclined to hide (cf. Morphy and Morphy 1984; Rose 1984). They met the missionaries without resort to violence.

The Lutherans give the date on which the well was sunk as June 8th, 1877. In August of that year, a dwelling house and stockyard were completed. In the following year, a kitchen was erected. By August 1877, the principal missionary, Kempe, had had some contact with Aranda men, but the progress of the missionaries proved a slow affair. Impressed at the outset by the bearing, physique and intelligence of the men, over time the missionaries became less optimistic. Slow progress in evangelism made them critical of Aranda culture. This displeasure was heightened in 1887 when some of the first baptised Christians proved disappointing to their Lutheran tutors (Schmiechen 1971:69-82). After 1888, the rate of baptisms quickly declined. In 1891 only two Aboriginal baptisms were recorded by the mission.(4) The first set of pastors in fact became discouraged and had all left Hermannsburg by 1891. Administrative and financial disputes among the Lutheran Synods in South Australia hurried their departure (Schmiechen 1971). Kempe was the last to leave, having lost his wife and a son to illness during the course of his missionary endeavour.

In 1894, when Baldwin Spencer passed by Hermannsburg in the course of the Horn Expedition to Central Australia, he observed that the mission was 'more or less in ruins. A few blacks, the remnants of a larger number . . . remained, living in a squalid state in dirty wurlies' (cited in T. Stehlow 1979:29). His European judgment was confirmed by Carl Strehlow's in October of the same year. …

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