Hermannsburg, a small village 125 km west of Alice Springs, is a one-time mission settlement established by two German Lutheran pastors. These pastors, A.H. Kempe and W.F. Schwartz, arrived in Central Australia in 1876, bringing with them cattle and thousands of sheep. Kempe and Schwartz wanted to introduce Christianity to Aboriginal people, while at the same time offering the Aboriginals protection against the white Australian settlers threatening their lives. In return for safety, food, and clothing, the pastors expected the local Arrernte Aboriginal people to attend the Lutheran church, adopt white cultural traditions, and abandon their own way of life. As the Arrernte were facing the extinction of their community, they agreed to adhere to the pastors’ policies. Kempe and Schwartz thus established the first township in Central Australia.
When Pastor Karl Strehlow arrived in 1894, he restored the mission, which had fallen into disrepair. Strehlow dedicated his life to studying the culture and language of the Arrernte who had joined the mission community. His son, Ted Strehlow, continued his father’s interest in the Arrernte, and wrote several books on their traditions and culture. He gained the friendship of the Arrernte people, who entrusted him with many of their sacred items, in the hopes that with Strehlow’s protection the objects might survive the slow degeneration of their traditional lifestyle. These items are now in Alice Springs, held in a vault at the Strehlow Research Center.
The buildings of the original mission still stand today. These include Carl Strehlow’s house, a church constructed in 1897, a home for colonists helping the missionaries, a smithy, tannery, and meathouse. There is also an old schoolhouse, built in 1896, used to teach Arrernte children traditional school subjects and also skills such as gardening, carpentry, and needlework. The Manse, Pastor Strehlow’s family home, is now a museum that exhibits the watercolor paintings of Hermannsburg artists. And across from the Manse is the Hermannsburg Art Gallery, which houses the earliest watercolors ever done by Aboriginal painters, including those of Albert Namatjira, Australia’s most famous and beloved Aboriginal artist.