Aboriginal/Indigenous Ministries



The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has a long and positive history of ministry and care among the Indigenous people of Australia. The early German missionaries worked hard to preserve culture and language while also protecting the people from the many threats that existed during this time.

Today those missionaries are honoured by Aboriginal Lutherans for the respect, dignity and care they showed. As a consequence of the hard work and foresight of those early missionaries, many thousands of Indigenous Australians are now included in the Lutheran family. Lutheran ministry among Aboriginal people continues today, largely through the efforts of Indigenous church leaders based in their own remote communities and family groups with active support and involvement from the following three organisations:


Finke River Mission

Lutheran ministry among the Indigenous Christians in central Australia is conducted under the auspices of the Finke River Mission (FRM). FRM supports over 60 Aboriginal pastors and church leaders who, together with FRM personnel and the Alice Springs Lutheran Church, share the Gospel with more than 6000 Aboriginal Lutheran people in and around Alice Springs.

Through FRM the LCA also provides Christian secondary education at Yirara College in Alice Springs and Kintore to approximately 200 indigenous boarding students from remote Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. FRM operates a general store service and the Historical Precinct in Hermannsburg at the request of the local community.

FRM has served the Indigenous people in central Australia for over 130 years. We have a new website. Please visit us.

Far North Queensland Mission

The Far North Queensland Mission serves the Cape Yorke communities of Hope Vale, Wujal Wujal and Coen, and Cairns urban Aboriginal people. Read more ...

Aboriginal Ministry South Australia

Aboriginal Ministry South Australia (AbMinSA) works with Aboriginal people in the greater Adelaide area, Port Lincoln and the Far West Coast of South Australia (Ceduna, Koonibba and Yalata). Indigenous pastors and other leaders are supported in their ministry by field workers employed by the LCA. Read more ...

General History of Aboriginal Missions in Australia

From the earliest days of settlement, Lutherans have been involved in mission work to the Aboriginal people. Early efforts at Adelaide and Brisbane were short-lived. In the 1860s a mission was started at Killalpaninna on the Cooper's Creek in South Australia, but it survived for only 50 years. In the 1870s the Finke River Mission was started at Hermannsburg in central Australia and it still continues. In the 1880s the Hope Vale Mission was started in northern Queensland and also the New Guinea Mission. In South Australia the Koonibba Mission was started in 1901 and the Yalata Mission in 1956. The preaching of the gospel continues in these areas today.

One special feature of Lutheran missions has been the use of the local indigenous languages. Lutheran missionaries had the view that if they were to present the gospel message successfully, it had to be done in the indigenous language. So they first needed to learn the language and also get an understanding of their beliefs and customs. [read more]

The linguistic contributions of the following missionaries are well-known: Schürmann, Teichelmann, and Meyer in early South Australia, Koch, Schoknecht and Reuther at Killalpaninna, Kempe and Strehlow at Hermannsburg, and Schwarz at Hope Vale.

When the Dieri New Testament was translated by Reuther and Strehlow and printed in 1897, it was the first translation of the complete New Testament into any Aboriginal language. The Aranda New Testament by Strehlow was the next one to be printed in 1956.

Schürmann and Teichelmann's Vocabulary and Grammar of 1840 has become the basis for the recent reclamation of the Kaurna language in South Australia.

Mission schools were established for the Aboriginal children to assist them to adjust to the changed Australian society. As well as learning to read and write their own language, they learnt English and other subjects.

The Koonibba Children's Home was begun to prevent the Aboriginal children being taken away by the government. The children were able to remain in their home community and attend the mission school.

In the 1970s and 1980s the mission lands were given back to the Aboriginal people. In 1975 the administration of the Yalata Reserve was transferred to the Yalata Community. In 1982 the Hermannsburg lands were transferred to the local Aboriginal land trusts. In 1986 Hope Vale land was given to the Community Council.

Despite wonderful work by Lutheran missionaries over the decades, there were times when our church failed the indigenous people, usually by excluding them from full discussion in the affairs of the church. So, in 2000 the Lutheran Church of Australia conducted a rite of reconciliation with the Aboriginal people. The LCA President, Dr Lance Steicke, stated: 'On behalf of the rest of the people of our church, I am sorry for the suffering and hurt that your people have had to endure. We ask God to forgive us for the evil we have done, and the help we have failed to give you. We resolve to work together with you, to share and learn together, to accept and respect each other. Help us to listen to you and learn from you. We promise to work with you and others for justice and harmony in relationships. We recognise the contribution which indigenous peoples are making. We are sorry for the bad things that have happened in the past. Please forgive us.'

Pastor Jimmy Haines, representative of the Aboriginal people of central Australia, responded: 'We do not hold a grudge against white people for what happened. There are people who always want to only talk about the bad things the white people did. We, however, would rather remember that many white people helped us and many are our friends to this day. More than anything, however, we thank God that he sent his messengers to us with his word. The missionaries taught us about God and stayed with us for a long time. Today there are many Aboriginal Christians and pastors in central Australia. We are really happy about that. We are also happy that the Lutheran Church continues to help us.'

More specific history information is located within each of the organisation pages above. [close]