Easter Sunday this year held a special meaning for 100 people who gathered at an outdoor church service in the Far North of South Australia, 140 kilometres further along the Birdsville Track from Marree. The service was part of a weekend of activities known as ‘Back to Killalpaninna’, acknowledging the Lutheran mission which was established 150 years ago at the site, 800km north of Adelaide.
The mission only operated for 50 years before closing due to extended drought in the region, but it had a lasting impact on the survival and revival of the language and culture of the local Aboriginal people, the Dieri.
The majority of the congregation which attended ‘Back to Killalpaninna’ were descendants of the Aboriginal people who lived around the mission. Others were descendants of the German Lutheran missionaries and mission workers, anthropologists, linguists and people with some connection to or interest in the Australian Lutheran Church’s first mission to the Aborigines.
Combined with a 150th Anniversary celebration, the event was hosted by Dieri people, who planned and organised it. Neville Doecke, the Finke River Mission’s Arrarnta Support Worker at Hermannsburg, led the service based on the theme ‘Beginnings and Endings’.
‘This spot had its beginning as a Lutheran Mission 150 years ago’, he said. ‘Some missionaries and lay helpers had a plan that they should bring the message of Jesus as the Saviour of the world to Aboriginal people living in this area of Australia.
‘Now it is Easter morning, 100 years after the missionaries left, and we are still celebrating the happiness and wonderful news that Jesus is alive. What a wonderful reminder of what had happened at Killalpaninna Mission a long time ago.’
Neville said highlights of the weekend included: ‘Young families teaching their children about their “country”; Colin Jericho and Gwen Leske (grandchildren of mission worker Hermann Vogelsang) and their cousin, Olga Radke, sharing old photos and talking about the history of the mission; 86-year-old Rene Warren smiling broadly as she talked Dieri with her son Reggie who interpreted her stories; a group of eight Lutherans at dusk on Easter Sunday praying and singing hymns on the original site of the Lutheran church; sitting in deck chairs on the Saturday night listening to live country music; exploring the mission site to discover evidence of the past; and praising and worshiping God at the Easter morning service.’
Aboriginal mission anniversaries in 2016
150 years – Killalpaninna/Bethesda
130 years – Hope Vale Mission, North Queensland (11 September)
120 years – Old Hermannsburg Lutheran church (21 September)
75 years – Jay Creek, west of Alice Springs (November)
50 years – Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Hermannsburg (25 September)