Museums, Missionaries and Middlemen German Ethnographic Museums and their Lutheran Missionary Collectors in Central Australia – 1890s to 1914 by Olaf Geerken

Panel: Collecting Strategies and Collectors‘ Networks in European Colonies
Monday, 21 June, 3:15 p.m. - 4:45 p.m. (CET)


Two Lutheran missionaries at the Central Australian mission station of Hermannsburg were particularly instrumental in supplying German museums with substantial collections of Aboriginal ethnographica: Carl Strehlow and Oskar Liebler.
Prompted by Spencer and Gillen’s publication on the Central Australian tribes in 1899, and reports from various missionaries describing the Aranda/ Arrernte people of Central Australia, German museum directors contacted, encouraged, and guided the missionaries to collect ethnographic information and materials for their museums from the early 1900s, until, in November 1913, the Australian Government proclaimed an export ban on ethnographica to control the flow of objects to overseas collections.
By tracing original correspondence between these two missionaries, museum directors and their middlemen, the paper seeks to describe the discreet networks and circumstances through which the Aranda/ Arrernte collections reached their, so far final, destinations in German museums.


Olaf Geerken is an Anthropologist who currently works as an academic researcher with the Georg-August University Goettingen on the PAESE project “Provenances of Tjurungas at the Landesmuseum Hanover and the Hermannsburg collection”.
Olaf studied Ethnology, Anthropology and Aboriginal Studies in Munich and Adelaide, Australia. Following his studies, he worked for 22 years as an Anthropologist with and for the Central Land Council in Central Australia, primarily on Aboriginal land rights matters. In the course of his work he collected valuable experiences in relation to Tjurungas (Aboriginal secret-sacred objects), both in terms of their ongoing use and ceremonial value among current Aboriginal communities, as well as relating to provenance research on secret-sacred objects held in german-speaking museums in Germany and Switzerland.