Frieda and Carl -
In July 1894 the Horn Scientific Expedition passed through the abandoned mission station of Hermannsburg in Central Australia, 80 miles west of Alice Springs. Looking at its collapsing buildings and Aranda population ravaged by disease, Oxford-educated Prof. Baldwin Spencer pronounced the work a failure, predicting the aborigines’ extinction within 100 years. Later in 1894, the young German missionary Carl Strehlow, still only 22, arrived, and with his wife Frieda at his side, set out to prove Spencer wrong.Today there are more Aranda people than in Carl and Frieda’s time, and their number and influence is growing, yet Carl fought a 30 year battle to save the Mission, with Spencer determined to shut it down at all costs, mounting a personal vendetta which reached as far as London intellectual circles and Sir James Frazer at Cambridge University. In the intervening years Carl wrote a major anthropological work in German (The Aranda and Loritja Tribes) questioning certain assumptions underpinning Spencer and Gillen’s ground-breaking work The Native Tribes of Central Australia, including the claim that as a primitive people the aborigines were racially inferior and so doomed to ‘die out’. The course of this conflict, the issues it raises, and the conclusions to be drawn, bear heavily on contemporary debates in Australia today, so have been covered extensively, as have the personalities involved. Frieda’s unusual background and deeply romantic nature in contrast to Carl’s cool pragmatism and intellectual detachment are a further matter of investigation.Drawing on Carl’s letters and Frieda’s diaries covering the period, the first volume of this double biography traces their extraordinary story against the background of growing tension between Germany and England which was to culminate in World War One, when Carl was officially classified as an enemy alien despite his Australian citizenship while Spencer agitated for Hermannsburg to be turned into a training institution for half-caste children.

 

 

 

 

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