Have you ever seen one of those Western Movies, where the John Wayne or Clint Eastwood character would ride around on horses and save the day? Well, on the weekend I was in one.
I drove to Hermannsburg (Ntaria in Western Aranda), about 130km West of Alice Springs
– where Albert Namatjiria lived, home of the Hermannsburg Potters and the world famous Hermannsburg Ladies Choir, to experience their yearly festival, Kaporilja Day.
To understand what this is all about, you must first know a little history of Ntaria. The community was originally founded as a mission by Lutheran Missionaries from Germany. The change from Germany to the harsh Australian outback must have been profound. Carl Strehlow (a name which is well known around Alice Springs
) came to the mission (as it was then) in 1894, and set about learning the creation stories of the people of the area, and also the language. He is credited with developing the written form of Aranda – up to this stage it was a spoken language only. He not only wrote the language, but also translated the complete New Testament into Aranda.
In the 1920’s there was a massive drought that hit Central Australia, which eventually broke in 1929. During this time, it claimed many lives, including a large percentage of children. Funds were raised in Melbourne by Violet Teague, who hired a taxi to take her from Melbourne to Hermannsburg when she heard about what was happening in the community, and then went back to Melbourne to raise money to create a pipeline to run from Kaporilja Springs (8km away) to the community. Teague was an artist and sold her works in Melbourne, as well as donated works from the Victorian Artists Society, as well as newspaper appeals to raise the money to make the pipeline. An interesting aside, Albert Namatjira, the world famous artist, was a camel boy and guide to Teague.
The pipeline was built by the Aboriginal men of the mission, and was 7km long and 1 metre deep. Stories go that there were men from all around that had heard about the pipeline being built and came to work on it. There were men from the community as well as from bush and when the water flowed on the 1st of October 1935, it was a great source of pride.
This event is celebrated to this day, hence the reason for my trip.
Now, although Hermannsburg is open to tourists (it is a stop on the loop road from Kings Canyon, as well as an attraction in its own, due to the historic precinct), please remember the following rules. You are on Western Aranda land. Think of the land like someone’s house. When you visit someone’s house, you are a guest, this is the same on this land (and indeed any Aboriginal lands you might visit). Remember that no alcohol is permitted. Hermannsburg is a Dry community. Remember to follow all signs – there are parts of the community that are off limits to tourists – please respect this, and only photograph with permission.
Now, back to what actually happened. Hermannsburg is home to a large amount of horses. They are usually bred from stockhorses that were turned lose on the former Cattle stations, and they are caught and broken in by the local people. A lot of people in the community are fantastic riders, and easily hold their own as stockmen and women. Due to this reason, part of the celebration revolves around horse events. This is where the Western comes into it. Nearly everyone on a horse was dressed up with Akubra hats, jeans, Western shirts, and Chaps. A lot of the cowboys had spurs also!
Horses owned by the women were decorated up, some quite detailed and dramatic. All the horses also were in really good condition – these people take good care of their livestock.
Riders were galloping around the community, almost racing each other. Racing up and down hills (and very steep hills at that), stopping, talking, and then all of a sudden, without any notice, racing up and down the hills again. It was an awesome sight to behold. Seeing the men and women dressed up proudly to commemorate the heritage of the community.
Around 4:30, we left the community to get back to Alice Springs
. Things were finished by this stage, although there was no ‘official’ notice that this had happened, apart from the local SES packing up their drinks stand. On the trip back to Alice Springs
, we talked about our experience, that we had visited Hermannsburg, saw the community on show, and vowed next year that we would return, this time in our Country gear to celebrate the gift of water. Hermannsburg is a must see, there's nothing like Australia's Outback!