# 34650


Koonibba Mission, South Australia : a small archive of private photographs, sent by Nurse Semmler to members of the Duldig family, 1924-29.

$1,300.00 AUD

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Group of 14 (fourteen) gelatin silver prints, various formats up to 85 x 110 mm, printed on Kodak paper; thirteen are inscribed verso in fountain pen or pencil by the Mission Nurse, Miss H. E. Semmler, most with a caption describing what is happening in the photograph, and a short greeting addressed either to her friends, Johann and Friederike Duldig (in English or German) or the Duldigs’ children, Renate, Gerhard and Milton (in English), for whom she signs herself ‘Tante Nurse’; the earliest is dated December 1924, and the latest January 1929; the prints are overall in good condition, with a short edge tear here and there and remnants of glue at the corners of the versos.

A significant visual record of the Lutheran mission to Aborigines at Koonibba, on the West Coast of South Australia, during the 1920s.

The photographs were taken with different cameras – some, almost certainly, by Pastor Carl Hoff, who was superintendent of the mission from 1920 to 1930 – and others possibly by Nurse Semmler herself, who mailed them at intervals across a five-year period to her friends, the Duldigs, a South Australian Lutheran family with German heritage: Johann Alfred Edwin Duldig (1884, Peters Hill, S.A. – 1971 Fullarton, S.A.) and his wife, Friederike Wilhelmine (Georg) (1885 Emmaus, S.A. – 1963 Black Forest, S.A.), and their children, Renate Theodora Duldig (1912-1966), Gerhard George Duldig (1913- ), and Milton Edward Duldig (1917-1977). 

‘The Lutheran Church acquired land for the Koonibba Mission in 1899 on the West Coast of South Australia, near the traditional lands of the Wirangu, Kokatha and Mirning people. The first pastor arrived in 1901 and church services began immediately, but it was not until 1903 that the church itself was erected, built by two Aboriginal men, Thomas Richards and Mickey Free (Michael Free Lawrie).

Many Aboriginal people in the area moved to or travelled regularly to the Mission, seeking work, rations, or to visit nearby ceremonial grounds. Some men already had experience working on stations and hoped the Mission would give them the opportunity to work their own land, but although these men were paid for their work, they were not offered land of their own, and could earn better wages on nearby stations. To encourage these men to stay, and increase the uptake of Christianity, religious conversion was tied to wages, ration distribution and better food and housing, creating a tiered workforce.

The Mission children’s home and school were used as a training ground for creating ‘reliable Christians’ and future workers, but work at the station changed irrevocably after World War I when the station moved from the production of wheat, to the less labour-intensive industry of sheep grazing. This left many without meaningful work, and these people sought work on nearby properties, returning to the Mission periodically to be with friends and family, or simply because they could not find permanent accommodation elsewhere.

In 1931 the Lutheran Church decided to sell the Station, without consulting the residents – who protested the move – but despite their struggle to find a buyer, the Church did not let Aboriginal people work the land autonomously as they petitioned, and farming was eventually abandoned in 1933.

Even with the station closed, the Mission continued to regulate residents lives into the 1940s and 1950s and in 1958 the population ‘walked off’ in protest over the extent of this control. The State Government took over the mission in 1963 and in 1988 the Aboriginal Community bought the land and commenced self-management.’ (SLSA)