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Hermannsburg, NT

Birthplace of Albert Namatjira and the first mission to Aborigines in Central Australia.

The Hermannsburg Mission, as it was originally known, is the most famous of all of the religious missions to Aborigines largely because of the iconic role played by the settlement's most famous son, Albert Namatjira, whose landscape watercolours were an integral feature of the lounge room wall of so many Australian middle class homes during the 1960s and 1970s.

Today Hermannsburg is the centre of a significant Aranda Aboriginal community with some 300-400 living in and around the township and another 600 living in camps beyond the community. It is an important historic settlement that can boast that it was the first Christian community in Central Australia; it was a monument to the building skills of the Lutheran missionaries; and it was a vital part of the early understanding of the culture of the Arrernte people.

It is interesting that the German missionaries wrote the name of the local Aboriginal group as Aranda but by the 1980s this had changed to Arrernte (a singularly difficult word to pronounce). Still the community acknowledges the original German spelling preferring to use Aranda on their official website: http://www.hermannsburg.com.au.


Hermannsburg is located 127 km south-west of Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive. It is 565 metres above sea-level.


Origin of Name

Hermannsburg was named after the town of the same name in Lower Saxony, Germany where the two Lutheran missionaries who established the Hermannsburg mission in 1877 had done their training before immigrating to Bethany in South Australia's Barossa Valley.


Things to See and Do

Hermannsburg's Buildings
The National Trust classifies the heart of Hermannsburg, known as the Hermannsburg Historic Precinct, because it contains a number of significant buildings and it is the first European-built settlement in Central Australia. The Heritage Precinct consists of 16 remaining buildings and a cemetery on 2.5 hectares of land. Although the Lutheran missionaries first arrived at Hermannsburg in 1877 the buildings, most of which were build by Pastor Carl Strehlow, date from the 1890s. Using galvanized iron, stones from the nearby Finke River, mulga logs and lime made in a locally constructed kiln, Strehlow built a school, mess house, manse and living quarters. The church, which is now a museum, is distinctive because Strehlow planted two gums in front of it and erected the church bell between them.

Hermannsburg's Art and Artifacts
Hermannsburg is an excellent place to purchase authentic Aboriginal art. The artists (mostly elderly women from the local community) work on their art and the end products are sold without the commercial intervention which characterises all the art sold in the galleries in Alice Springs. There are watercolours in the style of Namatjira and dot paintings.


Other Attractions in the Area

Finke Gorge National Park
Located 19 km south of Hermannsburg and 138 km from Alice Springs, the Finke Gorge National Park was declared a national park in 1967. It covers an area of 45,856 ha. The major attraction in the park is the unique Palm Valley with its 12,000 palms (of which 3,000 are adult specimens) of the genus Livistona mariae (a variety of cabbage tree palm). The palms, which are an anomaly in such a harsh desert environment, date from about 15,000 years ago when the centre of Australia was much wetter. The nearest similar palms are found on the coasts of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The explorer Ernest Giles was the first European to see the palms. In 1872 he attempted to cross Australia from South Australia to the coast of Western Australia and during that journey he travelled up the Finke River. He saw Palm Valley but decided not to enter it because of an impending storm and the realization of the dangers if the Finke River flooded. Consequently Europeans first explored Palm Valley in 1877 when people started travelling into the lands around the Hermannsburg mission.

As early as 1923 parts of Palm Valley were designated a flora and fauna protection area. The park has over 400 plant types and more than 30 of those are considered rare. For both a useful fact sheet and a 4WD Route Information Sheet which can be easily downloaded, check out http://www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au/parks/find/alice-springs-region/finkegorge#.UfmtfGSPfR0

Palm Valley Walk
The Dreamtime story of Palm Valley, known to the Aranda people as Pmolankinya, is connected to a disastrous bushfire in which many ancestors were burned. The younger men were carried off in flames by strong winds and dropped in this area where they became palms and cycads. According to Aranda laws the palms blackened trunks represent the suffering of these fire ancestors while the palms leaves represent the long hair of the young men.

The Palm Valley Walk is 2 km long and takes about 1 hour. It is an easy walk along the creek bed and to the main concentrations of the rare red cabbage palms (Livistona mariae). There is a longer 5 km walk.

This is 4WD- only country. The last 16 km is along the rocky bed of the Finke River and its tributary which flows through Palm Valley. The drive is exceptionally beautiful. The red rock cliffs rise on either side of the gorge in twisted and fantastical shapes. The sky is impossibly blue and the valley has glorious stands of ghost gums. For more details check out http://www.nt.gov.au/westmacs/things/activity/50



* Prior to the arrival of European missionaries the Aranda people lived successfully on the lands around Hermannsburg. The area was rich in food and there were good, reliable water supplies. The Finke River was a trade route through the area and had powerful connections with the stories of the Dreamtime.

* The first Europeans into the area were explorers attempting to cross Australia from east to west and using the Finke River as an important route. These explorers included John McDouall Stuart who passed through in 1860 and named the Finke River; Ernest Giles who, in 1872, became the first European to see Palm Valley; and Peter Egerton Warburton, who named Ormiston Creek in 1873.

* In 1877 two German Lutheran missionaries who had walked from Bethany in the Barossa Valley established the Hermannsburg Mission. They brought livestock, equipment and salvation and set up a permanent mission. By 1879 they had established a school and by 1881 they ministry had been so successful they had baptised seven boys and one girl.

* The arrival of pastoralists in the area in the 1880s resulted in massacres and maltreatment of Aborigines which resulted in Hermannsburg being a sanctuary in an increasingly dangerous frontier world. The pastoralists accused the missionaries at Hermannsburg of harbouring cattle killers.

* The first period of Lutheran missionary activity lasted from 1877-1891 and during this time the missionaries studied the Aranda people and learned the Aranda language. There was an ulterior motive in this cross-cultural relationship because, by 1891, the Lutherans had translated the New Testament into Aranda.

* In 1891 the missionaries left. For three years Hermannsburg was without European missionaries.

* In 1894 Pastor Carl Strehlow arrived and took charge of the mission. He remained at Hermannsburg for 28 years and such was his relationship with the local people that his son, T.G.H. Strehlow (who became an important anthropologist), was fully initiated into the customs of the Aranda people.

* In 1896 Pastor Strehlow with the help of a builder named Dave Hart and an Aranda work force started to build the buildings that are now classified by the National Trust.

* In 1902 Hermannburg's most famous son, Albert Namatjira, was born on the mission. He was baptised by Strehlow. As the result of a visit by the Melbourne artist Rex Battarbee in 1934, Namatjira produced a series of watercolours of the area around Hermannsburg which became famous and hugely popular in Australia.

* Strehlow's successor was Pastor F. W. Albrecht who in 1925 began a program designed to develop skills and trades for the local people. This led to the establishment of a tannery in 1936.

* In 1930 Hermannsburg became the first outlying settlement in the Northern Territory to use a pedal wireless.

* In 1975 the local Aranda people regained their independence.

* In 1982 the land around Hermannsburg was returned to the traditional owners and divided into five separate areas which are now held under freehold title by the Uruna, Roulpmaulpa, Rodna, Ltalatuma and Ntaria family land trusts. Hermannsburg falls with the boundaries of the Ntaria Land Trust.


Visitor Information

There is visitor information at the Historic Precinct in Hermannsburg, tel: (08) 8956 7402.



There are cabins as well as powered caravan sites and camping. Contact (08) 8956 7480 for more details.



The Kata Anga Tea Rooms are open for lunch and morning and afternoon tea, contact (08) 8956 7402.


Useful Websites

The local community's website is http://www.hermannsburg.com.au.

Got something to add?

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3 suggestions
  • My wife and I visited Hermannsburg in the late 90s; stayed at the small caravan park. The amenities were first class and the lady cleaner kept them immaculate. We shopped at the local supermarket and spoke with some of the local people, an experience we will not forget.

    Lindsay and Lilly
  • Hi, I notice that you have not mentioned the Hermannsburg Potters. The Hermannsburg Potters have an international reputation for their work and examples of work by the Potters can be found in state and national art collections. The Pottery, which is decorated outside with colourful paintings, has a small gallery where visitors can view and purchase artworks made by the Potters. The gallery is open to visitors on weekdays 10.00am-3pm with the exception of public holidays and significant local events.

    Karen Weiss
  • i request what the enviroment looks like and feels like there