Abstract: For many Aboriginal people the missionary experience has been a defining one.  Therefore Christian missions comprise an important aspect of the debate about the history of contact between Aborigines and colonisers. The revisionist contact histories that emerged in the latter decades of the twentieth century generally failed to look closely at missionary/Aboriginal encounters and promulgated the stereotypical and often simplistic assessment of missions and missionaries as the arch dispossessors of Aboriginal cultures. This case study of the Presbyterian Mission at Ernabella in the far north-west of South Australia reveals the specific and unique features that are glossed over by such generalisations. There is evidence at Ernabella of minimal intervention in tribal life, of dynamic, diverse and creative responses on the part of Aboriginal people and missionaries in preserving the vitality of religious life through periods of rapid change. Starting from the premise that Christianity was regarded as important by Aboriginal people rather than a foreign imposition, a more nuanced aspect of contact history is revealed that goes beyond the assumed crude binarism in respect to Aboriginal beliefs and Christianity. It is one that fits better with the lived reality of many Aboriginal people who embrace multi-layered approaches to spiritual life and regard the mission times and their relationship with missionaries in a positive light.

Keywords: Missions, Ernabella, Aborigines, Postcolonialism

Copyright © Carol Pybus 2015. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged.