In 1876, as a German Lutheran scouting party of three entered Western Arrernte country to explore the Hermannsburg lease where they would set up a mission, a small Arrernte boy was watching. His name was Tjalkabota. He came to embrace the Christian faith and took the name Moses, becoming an evangelist of the new ways. KIERAN FINNANE previews a biography of this important man by Peter Latz. It will be launched on Thursday.
Her name was Frieda Keysser. She was the wife of a famous man, mother of another, but The Tale of Frieda Keysser by John Strehlow, her grandson, will be more particularly her story and, we are promised, a widely encompassing one – this 1000 plus page book (a Volume 1) is sub-headed "Investigations into a Forgotten Past".
I'm not usually quite so arrested by the book as an object but this one asserts itself beyond its obvious imposing size. The care that has gone into crafting it signals a particular approach – the story will be unfolded, taking the time and space it needs. Turn to the title page and the promise of the sub-heading is amplified: the author quotes Thomas Carlisle on books as holding "the soul of the whole past time ... when the body and material substance of it has altogether vanished like a dream".
Turn a few more pages: there's a photograph of a grave in the desert, that of Carl Strehlow, Lutheran missionary at Hermannsburg for 28 years. For 27 of them Frieda was at his side. She was an extremely emotional and passionate person with strong self-belief, a conviction, like that of her forebears, that her life would be purposeful. She found purpose through her marriage to Carl and her work at the mission, in particular with the women and children and combatting infant mortality. Her grandson John (pictured at right), in telling her tale, hopes it will lead to "a major reappraisal of the era", in particular the role of Christianity in The Centre. He spoke to KIERAN FINNANE.
Photo of Frieda, crop of the original, courtesy the Strehlow Research Centre.