There’s gold in Olga Radke’s library of tattered, worn magazine clippings, and treasured pearls in photos discovered from centuries past.
Olga is a seasoned treasure hunter, seeking out real-life gems from magazines, letters, photos and archives, which unearth a glimpse of the lives and work of early Lutheran settlers in Australia’s red heart.
And, with the dogged determination and charming humour reminiscent of Hollywood’s Indiana Jones, the octogenarian is digging up a mother lode of stories about the Lutheran church’s Centralian history – shining a light on the bond between Aboriginal communities and Lutheran missionaries there since the 1800s.
Olga is one of several Alice Springs historians who have spent two decades fossicking through letters, articles, photos and oral histories of Aboriginal and early Lutheran missionaries, to share their stories from the Finke River Mission (FRM). It was a ministry which began in 1877 at Hermannsburg, on the banks of the Finke River, 125 km west-southwest of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. From her home in Alice Springs, Olga is helping to uncover local history and showcasing it through events and photo displays which highlight the resilient, dedicated early missionaries and their families, and help reconnect Aboriginal families with their ancestors.
She says many hours are spent on research and putting names to faces on photos and recording stories. ‘Many locals have contributed to, and assisted, the local Living History Team. These people have helped greatly in keeping history alive’, Olga says.
Her work in bringing history to life began back in 2001 when she was asked to catalogue cartons of old letters from Hermannsburg, which were gathering dust in the FRM office since the retirement of Lutheran Pastor Paul Albrecht. The son of Hermannsburg missionary Pastor FW Albrecht and Minna Albrecht, Paul grew up at Hermannsburg, served at nearby Haasts Bluff from 1957 to 1958, then took the reins from his father as Field Superintendent of FRM, retiring in 1998.
Reading the letters brought the past to life, and so began Olga’s quest to find out more: ‘We had no mission or plans in mind; it has simply evolved.’
‘We’ve been working on this for 20 years now, and we are getting so many people coming to us for information – authors, genealogists, university students … the requests are never-ending and, in spite of our frugal existence, we are able to meet their requests, for which they are grateful.’
A key source of information about the Lutheran connection to Central Australia comes from Olga’s own personal collection of old Lutheran Herald newspaper clippings and The Lutheran magazine articles, which she had accumulated over her 33 years as a Frau Pastor – wife of Lutheran Pastor Doug Radke, who passed away in 1990. Together they served in seven parishes across four Australian states while bringing up a family of four. This included serving at Hermannsburg from 1965 to 1969, which developed her ongoing connection to the community. Arriving when her youngest child was three months old, Olga says the development of an extended family with the Aboriginal people was her fondest memory of her time there. ‘The friendships are still there’, she says. ‘I never dreamed I’d be coming back here and helping in this way.’
Now 82 years old, Olga says the projects ‘keep the brain activated and the heart useful’. And the volunteer work doesn’t end, whether it is organising reunions, conferences, symposiums or anniversaries for FRM, the Mission Block Cottage children, the church, or the Strehlow Research Centre (see breakout).
It can be quite demanding, but, Olga says, always offers successful and enriching outcomes.
Through all these achievements, fellow congregation members of Alice Springs Lutheran Church and the community at large have been a great source of practical help and encouragement for her.
In 2015, Olga’s service was acknowledged with an Order of Australia Medal and a Northern Territory Seniors Award for community service. ‘My life has been full and fulfilling, so it is only natural to want to give something back to community’, she says. ‘Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!’
Her rich life has included co-authoring a book in 2011 on the history of the Alice Springs Mission Block, and publishing two books of organ music for worship in 1974 and 1978, following earlier studies at the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music.
Olga finds early classical music contemplative and uplifting, fuel for the soul and energising to a positive mind and attitude, with her favourite hymn being ‘In dir ist Freude’ (In You is Gladness).
Always encouraged and inspired by God’s promises, Olga cherishes the symbolism of Knud Knudsen’s sculpture on community as a reminder of how we encourage one another; the Prayer of St Francis to know ‘it is in giving that we receive’; and the Traveller’s Psalm, Psalm 121, which reminds her that ‘My help comes from the Lord’. She says it also helps to remain young at heart, and useful. ‘I’m not ready to be playing bingo just yet’, she declares.
Helen Beringen is a Brisbane-based writer who is inspired by the many GREYT people who serve tirelessly and humbly in our community. By sharing stories of how God shines his light through his people, she hopes others are encouraged to explore how they can use their gifts to share his light in the world.
Know of any other GREYT stories in your local community? Email the editor firstname.lastname@example.org
This feature story comes from The Lutheran February 2019. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
Strehlow Research Centre
The centre is one of Australia’s most important collections of film, sound, archival records and museum objects relating to Indigenous ceremonial life. The Strehlow Collection was accumulated by Lutheran Pastor Carl Strehlow and his son Professor Ted Strehlow over two generations of anthropological research with Aboriginal people in Central Australia.