Our Stories


Accessing records can be the key to identity

by Janette Lange

I handed her the photo. Taken in the early 1900s at Koonibba Mission on South Australia’s west coast, it showed a young Aboriginal man on his confirmation day. She looked at it for a few moments, taking in the image of her grandfather, then tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘Thank you! This is just what I’ve been looking for!’ Such can be the power of the records we hold at Lutheran Archives.

Hundreds of photos like this capture life at Lutheran missions in South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. These are securely maintained in our Adelaide archives. But, for many Aboriginal people, distance means they can’t browse the photos and viewing them online may not be an option. So Lutheran Archives is building partnerships with communities to find other ways to provide access.

An important step is making personal connections and discussing how to go forward together. It has been wonderful to have Aboriginal elders and traditional owners from Koonibba and Wujal Wujal – site of the Bloomfield River Mission in Far North Queensland – visit Lutheran Archives as part of this process.

In 2016, we digitised 800 photos and films relating to Koonibba Mission and these are now available through community centres in Ceduna and Koonibba. Likewise, a project with the State Library of Queensland and the Wujal Wujal and Hope Vale communities has seen almost 1500 photos digitised and provided to those communities. We hope these images will jog memories, spark stories and provide opportunities for people to feed information back to Lutheran Archives.

We hope to build similar partnerships with other Aboriginal communities, as access to personal information is vital to healing and to establishing identity. Mission registers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials provide Aboriginal people with important details about themselves and their families.

Last year Lutheran Archives renewed its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia’s Link-Up SA program, which assists survivors of the Stolen Generations to access records. Lutheran Archives was the first organisation to establish such an MOU with Link-Up, back in 2000. We are pleased to have assisted many Aboriginal people with locating family information since then.

However, there is more to be done. Hundreds of pages of mission records are yet to be indexed and there are more mission photos and records to digitise. So hopefully we’ll hear those words again, ‘Thank you! This is just what I’ve been looking for!’

Janette Lange is Acting Director of Lutheran Archives.

More details: phone 08 8340 4009, email Lutheran Archives or visit their website,

Booklets online

To celebrate the International Year of Indigenous Languages in 2019, Lutheran Archives partnered with the State Library of Queensland to make available online children’s booklets written in the Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimidhirr languages. Find them here.

Index to registers

A 2.5cm-thick index of all of the names in the Lutheran Archives mission registers makes it easy to see what records we might hold for a particular person. It’s available in larger libraries – or contact Lutheran Archives to find out more.


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