German Missionaries in Queensland

By Bonnell, Andrew G. | Queensland Review, February 2010 | Go to article overview

German Missionaries in Queensland


Bonnell, Andrew G., Queensland Review


German Missionaries in Queensland (hosted by Griffith University website at http://missionaries.griffith.edu.au)

On the home page of the German Missionaries in Queensland website, the reader is immediately confronted by two contrasting images: a fine, arresting photograph of a seated bearded missionary, wearing a dark buttoned-up jacket, with a male Aboriginal youth, in European clothes, standing next to him, apparently with his right arm resting lightly on the missionary's left shoulder. Lower down the page, there is the slowly rotating facsimile of a letter from a German missionary on Thursday Island in 1891, with the unmistakable curlicues of nineteenth century German handwriting. This is a good introduction to an internet resource that combines original archival research into the activities of German missionaries in Queensland from the 1830s on with significant visual material and contemporary multimedia technology.

As one might expect from a project involving Regina Ganter with the assistance of Anna Haebich--both of them distinguished researchers in Indigenous and 'contact' history--the home page signals a particular focus on the relevance of missionary history to the history of contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Queensland. The issues of the Indigenous experience of 'missions and reserves, the breaking up of families and removals of children from their parents' are flagged as key reasons for an engagement with the missionary past for anyone seeking a better understanding of the post-contact history of Queensland Indigenous people. The fact that the German-originated Lutheran and Moravian missions were largely run by German speakers (up to 1914) also highlights an aspect of multiculturalism in the state's history: Queensland's white history was never exclusively the history of English speakers.

An introductory page provides useful background information on German Lutheran and Moravian missions, including discussion of missionaries' training, differences between denominations, and the German emphasis on philology and linguistics, which promoted an interest in translating the scriptures into Indigenous languages. Practical difficulties encountered by missionaries are also highlighted.

The German involvement in mission activity in Queensland (or what would later become Queensland) began at Zion Hill in 1838, although the main phase of German mission activity occurred from the 1880s on. Under the heading 'Queensland Missions', each of the significant sites of mission work--from Aurukun to Zion Hill--is listed and details can be searched for. The entries on each mission are enhanced by a map showing their location, and by documents (occasionally in facsimile) and illustrations. Some sites, such as the entry for Cape Bedford (Hope Vale) are particularly richly illustrated. The facility of the web in allowing reference entries to be cross-referenced by hyperlinks to other entries listing other places and names of people featured on the site is used to full advantage here. The editors and writers of the site point out that some people, especially Indigenous people and women (e.g. missionary wives) can be hard to track in archival records. Being able to search for their names electronically (and linking the references by hyperlinks) enables researchers to overcome this problem as far as it is possible to do so. A search function in the website enables one to search for names and topics. For example, a search for 'child removals' leads one to cases of this in Mari Yamba in the 1890s. (The user is referred to the 'search this site' function on the left-hand side of the screen. …

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