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Aboriginal missions in South Australia: Koonibba

Guide to resources relating to the history of Aboriginal missions in South Australia including records created by these missions.


AIATSIS. South Australian Protector's reports can be browsed by year. Keyword searching within each report can locate relevant information.

Koonibba records

Records for the Koonibba Mission and Koonibba Children's Home are held at the Lutheran Archives in Adelaide.

The Library holds Guide to records of Indigenous Australians in the Lutheran Archives, Adelaide, SA which contains name indexes for various registers and files relating to the Koonibba mission.

For more information see Finding your own way, chapter 5 or the Find and connect website.

Getting started

This guide to sources relating to the Koonibba Mission was last updated by Library staff in 2016. It comprises selected material held by the State Library or available online.

To find further material relevant to this topic, try searching with this subject headings in the State Library catalogue:

Koonibba Mission

Or conduct a keyword search  using the following term: Koonibba

For more assistance, talk with staff at the Library's Information Desk or Ask Us.

Books and pamphlets

The Lutheran Church acquired land for the Koonibba Mission in 1899 on the West Coast of South Australia, near the traditional lands of the Wirangu, Kokatha and Mirning people. The first pastor arrived in 1901 and church services began immediately, but it was not until 1903 that the church itself was erected, built by two Aboriginal men, Thomas Richards and Mickey Free (Michael Free Lawrie).

Many Aboriginal people in the area moved to or travelled regularly to the Mission, seeking work, rations, or to visit nearby ceremonial grounds. Some men already had experience working on stations and hoped the Mission would give them the opportunity to work their own land, but although these men were paid for their work, they were not offered land of their own, and could earn better wages on nearby stations. To encourage these men to stay, and increase the uptake of Christianity, religious conversion was tied to wages, ration distribution and better food and housing, creating a tiered workforce.

The Mission children’s home and school were used as a training ground for creating ‘reliable Christians’ and future workers, but work at the station changed irrevocably after World War I when the station moved from the production of wheat, to the less labour-intensive industry of sheep grazing. This left many without meaningful work, and these people sought work on nearby properties, returning to the Mission periodically to be with friends and family, or simply because they could not find permanent accommodation elsewhere.

In 1931 the Lutheran Church decided to sell the Station, without consulting the residents - who protested the move - but despite their struggle to find a buyer, the Church did not let Aboriginal people work the land autonomously as they petitioned, and farming was eventually abandoned in 1933.

Even with the station closed, the Mission continued to regulate residents lives into the 1940s and 1950s and in 1958 the population ‘walked off’ in protest over the extent of this control. The State Government took over the mission in 1963 and in 1988 the Aboriginal Community bought the land and commenced self-management.

‚ÄčAnderson, Sue. Koonibba Mission, South Australia : aboriginal historic site recording..., 1998.

Brock, Peggy. Outback ghettos : Aborigines, institutionalisation and survival , 1993.

Burgoyne, Iris. Mirning : we are the whales : a Mirning-Kokatha woman recounts life before and after dispossession, 2000.

Eckermann, C. V. Koonibba : the Mission and the Nunga people, 2010. (This has been indexed, to see records enter the title in the source field of the Library catalogue.)

History of Koonibba Aboriginal School: 100 years centenary, 1898-1998, 1998.

Koonibba News. Community newsletter, published 1970-1974.

Second Koonibba jubilee booklet: 1901-1951, 1951.

Sexton, JH. Work among Australian aborigines: the Koonibba Mission Station: a visit, 1919.

Survival in our own land : 'Aboriginal' experiences in 'South Australia' since 1836, Ch. 24 ‘Koonibba’.

Wiebusch, CA. Koonibba Jubilee booklet 1901-1926, 1926.

Wilson, Neva. Our identity is our history and our future, 2003.

Koonibba Mission

View of Koonibba Mission. B 64269/2.

Archival material

Periodical articles

Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives, no.11, Oct 2001, p. 5-16, AH Kempe, '1600 acres in the hundred of Catt: Pastor A. H. Kempe's search for land for an Aboriginal mission in South Australia' (translated by Cynthia Rathjen).

The Lutheran, 1976 (includes several articles about Koonibba written for the 75th Jubilee.)

To locate more journal articles, access the State Library's eResources.

Selected South Australian newspapers, published prior to 1955, have been digitised as part of the National Library of Australia’s Trove website.

Further newspaper articles may be identified by using the following, Newspaper index : references to Aborigines in Adelaide newspapers, 1836-1940, 1989.