Nerang Creek (1869-1878)

Prepared by: 
Karen Laughton, Regina Ganter
Also known as: 
Nerang Creek Industrial Mission Reserve, Nerang Creek Mission, Aboriginal Industrial Mission Reserve

The 'Aboriginal Industrial Mission Reserve' at Nerang Creek was a private initiative of Pastor Johann Gottfried Haussmann in association with his nearby Bethesda Mission on the Albert River. It, too was an attempt to start a Gossner-type mission in a funding vacuum. It received much criticism and little support, during a period when there were no other mission efforts in Queensland.



An outrigger mission


In 1866 Pastor Haussmann had established the Bethesda Mission on the Albert River between Eagleby and Beenleigh as a place of worship for both the German and English congregations, and as a place to “settle Aborigines, train them to work … and bring them into contact with the Gospel of Jesus”[1]. The Nerang River mission was the continuation of Haussmann’s idealistic hopes of helping the Yugambeh in Queensland based on the principles of the Gossner Mission.  


In November 1866 a group of Yugambeh from the Logan and Albert rivers turned up at Haussmann’s Bethesda mission and worked for him under contract. One of these, Kingkame (or Kingkema, or Kingcame), whom he had known as a young man thirty years before, brought his family to attend devotions each day, and at some time in 1868 he expressed the desire to become a Christian.[2] In 1869 a group of Nerang people worked for him under contract at Bethesda.


In mid-1869 Haussmann reported visiting Nerang Creek with Kingkame:


After a number of petitions by natives of the Nerang Creek tribe to visit them, I decided to go down with Kingcame and another young man to visit them. After a two-day journey we arrived there. My two native friends soon found the camp of natives and Kingcame informed the natives who I was and what I wanted. They asked me to remain with them, as they wanted to live with me. …. My two native guides and friends decided to remain here so that they could be a mediator between the various tribes. [3]


Haussmann made the 30-mile return journey to Bethesda alone. In the same report he explains that he obtained 100 acres of land at Nerang Creek to establish a mission station. He felt it would be good to purchase some land at the Creek before everything was sold. He argued that the natives of Nerang Creek offered greater opportunities for mission work than those of the Albert River.


Since this report is the only primary document relating to interactions with Nerang Creek people regarding the establishment of the mission, and does not allow for more precise dating, it is impossible to establish whether Haussmann decided to purchase this land after consulting with the traditional owners (as his report implies), or first purchased the land and then consulted with them. The latter seems more likely, since he had to explain to them ‘what he wanted’, they had been asking to talk to him, and Kingcame may not have been a member of this group (he ‘found the camp’ and stayed on as mediator).   


On 18 May 1869 Haussmann applied for the lease of 100 acres on the Nerang River, also referred to as Nerang Creek. This application was accepted on 1 June 1869.


By February 1870 Haussmann had secured the lease of four other acreage lots (averaging 100 acres per lot), and in May 1870 he, along with Reverend Christopher Gaustadt, a recent arrival in Australia and missionary from Gossner’s Indian mission, successfully applied for the lease of further homesteads. It is not noted whether these homesteads were at Nerang Creek.


Plan of portions along the Nerang River

Source: Queensland State Archives, Series Id 14033, M/F 4482.


Shortly after his new acquisitions of land, in May 1870 at a conference of German pastors in Ipswich, Haussmann formed a committee to support the mission at Nerang Creek. With himself  as the president and Reverend K. Heiner (the Ipswich pastor) as the treasurer, Reverend Gaustadt and Reverend J. Haussmann Jnr. were appointed to commence the mission. Haussmann’s son was also given the formidable task to awaken the public’s interest in the missionary work.


On 21 August 1871 an ‘Official Notification’ appeared in The Brisbane Courier advising of the temporary reservation of 100 acres on the Nerang River for an Aboriginal industrial mission reserve. However, in a report to the Australischer Christenbote dated 3 October 1871 Haussmann writes that the government did not follow through with the promised land, hence ‘we decided to vacate the land near Nerang Creek in order to begin an industrial mission’[4]. It is an entirely cryptic reference. No industrial mission was commenced, and the government had not withdrawn its offer. Perhaps Haussmann had expected a larger, or a different allotment. Nothing more was heard from the venture until 1873, when Haussmann reports that ‘The Mission in Queensland is now sleeping’. He observed ‘I hope to the Lord that it may be awakened again through the Moravians. The Moravian Missionaries seem to be such men who are suitable for Mission work amongst the heathens here. The English people place much confidence in the Moravians and they also support them.’[5]


The Moravian role-model


He was right. The Moravians had already become active in Victoria and South Australia, and due  to the rising influence of Hagenauer in Victoria, there was much official admiration for the Moravian model, which indeed was the model on which his own earliest mission at Zion Hill had been organised: one or two pastors and a staff of ‘colonists’. Haussmann himself was well aware that a successful mission required a group of missionaries, not one working in isolation.  


The Moravians had set up Lake Boga in 1851, Ebenezer in 1859, Ramahyuk in 1863 and Lake Kopperamanna in 1866. Hagenauer joined the Aborigines Protection Board in Victoria in the 1880s which evicted all mixed-descent Aborigines from the missions. In 1885 the Moravians started to scout in north Queensland for new missionary ventures, and established Mapoon in 1891.


In September 1875 Haussmann and five others requested involvement from the Moravian headquarters at Herrnhut, (letter signed by Haussmann, F.W. Burghardt, Christopher Gaustadt, Gottfried David Hanser (or Hauser), August Daniel Hartwig, and E.G. H. Lehmann). They explained the condition of Aborigines, the apathy of the government, the disinterest of the settlers, and the urgent need for a mission:


about five years ago Pastor Haussmann from the Albert River petitioned our government to obtain a piece of land for a mission. … The government approved of the grant of the land, it is about 50 English miles south of Brisbane, at a place called Nerang Creek. Until now nothing has been done with this land. If it is not soon occupied by missionaries and the mission started, the government will resume it.[6]


They further explained that Nerang Creek was eminently suitable as a mission site, and that ‘due to local circumstances’ it would be better if such a mission were directed from Germany. They advised that they had recently succeeded in forming a synod amongst themselves, and that they would support the mission to their best ability (‘mit Rat und Tat’). They also observed that the English recently attempted a mission in the north but that its eager young preacher had to give up because the site was unsuitable. This was a reference to the failed Methodist venture at Fraser Island in 1871-72.


During 1877 an investigation into the situation of Aborigines in Queensland, chaired by Anglican Bishop Dr. Hale, practically ignored both of Haussmann’s mission ventures.  It proposed that Moravians missionaries from Victoria may be persuaded to come to Queensland to work with the Aborigines, with Mackay and Nerang Creek being the desired areas for effective mission work, the latter being where mission work had already been re-established. Both Haussmann at Nerang Creek and George Bridgman at Mackay (1873-1885) were attempting to use Aboriginal labour on sugar plantations. The Moravians took up this invitation in 1885.



Renewed activity


It seems that the Hale inquiry kicked off renewed efforts to make something of Nerang Creek, but the news posted in the Australischer Christenbote are patchy and  cryptic. Possibly as a result of negative discussions surrounding the inquiry, Haussmann appears to have stepped into the background, in order not to give the appearance of another ‘Haussmann mission’.


In July 1877 it was reported, in such vacuous terms as to be misleading, that the mission work started by Haussmann earlier was going to be taken up again. The site for the mission was stated to be land measuring 4 square miles which was reserved by the government approximately 60 miles from Brisbane near the border of New South Wales, and two unnamed brethren were to dedicate themselves to the mission.

In fact the land was 100 acres and therefore closer to six square miles, not on the state border, less than 60 miles (96 km)  from Brisbane, and Haussmann had not actually started mission work there.


In August 1877 a correspondent, who was clearly not enamoured with Haussmann, had


ascertained from reliable sources that a number of Germans in Toowoomba have decided to start again the mission work amongst the natives … Unfortunately our German missionaries have not had much effective results. The reasons for this will be best known to the missionaries themselves. It cannot be denied that the intellectual capabilities of our natives are so small that it seems nearly impossible to interest them for any higher purpose.[7]


The editor, Pastor Matthias Goethe, who was very positively inclined towards his old colleague Haussmann, rejoined to this disparaging remark with a reference to the successful ventures in Victoria, Yorke’s Peninsula in South Australia and Cooper’s Creek. The mission was to be established with all business takings placed in the hands of trustees who would be re-elected after two years. The editor placed this news ‘with reference to the new mission on which we reported in the last issue’.


Indeed, Haussmann had by now recruited help in Toowoomba. He formed a new committee consisting of himself as President, Burghardt (from German Station) as Treasurer, Gaustadt (from Walloon) as Secretary, and 20 congregational members. Rev Hartwig and his congregation were also on board.  Mr C. Thiedeke of Toowoomba and Mr Tedekin of Germany had recently arrived and were ready to work as missionaries at Nerang Creek, having recently been ’examined as missionary, and the other as preacher’. They were joined on 3 August 1877 by colonists Kabisch, a bachelor, and Rommell ‘commissioned by’ Pastor Burghardt.  A Mr Dedekind was also allocated to the mission, but apparently left again soon. One of the colonists brought his wife and three children.


The group which Haussmann assembled had a minimum of theological training, several of them were ordained by himself, and this may have been a cause of antagonism. The Lutheran pastors Schirmeister of Brisbane and Heiner of Ipswich, treasurer of the earlier board formed in 1870, had little confidence in the Nerang Creek venture. The proposal now looked like the Moravian/Gossner model that had been used forty years earlier. Indeed, Haussmann never felt that Zion Hill had failed, only that the government had failed it. It was the last ditch attempt of an aging and zealous man.


In February 1878 the Christenbote reported that the two colonists had cleared eight acres of bush, and planted three acres with corn and ½ acre with vegetables. High hopes of becoming self-supporting were expressed. The United Lutheran congregations in Queensland had agreed to collect voluntary donations. (This means the Lutheran pastors were not going to undertake dedicated collections, only to pass on any money a parishioner might donate for this express purpose). A missionary had not yet been stationed at Nerang Creek, but was imminent. High hopes, a new beginning. By late 1878 the bachelor Kabisch was the last worker left at the mission.





On 25 January 1879 the Aboriginal Industrial Mission Reserve on the Nerang River was cancelled by notice in the Government Gazette. The Christenbote correspondent noted that ‘nothing tangible’ had resulted from the mission, and Haussmann was ‘simply not the administrator to carry out this work’, he had ‘little understanding of the involved problems’.


Haussmann published his own rejoinder in the same issue:

I am still on the old battle ground. A number of the heroes with whom I fought against the enemies of the Kingdom of God have now been called out of this life. Such are the sainted Pastor M. Goethe, Ridley and Dr. Lang. I still remain: How long I do not know. I am already so that when the Lord appears I will be found watching and waking.[8]


Haussmann had done his best. He was 68, and defeated.  But the Lord did not appear for him for another 22 years, and had more suffering, and wonderful honours in store for him.  





The Nerang Creek mission never actually got off the ground. In all the reports about it, there is not a single reference to any Yugambeh of Nerang Creek - they only appear in relation to the Bethesda mission.


In the apathetic Queensland of the 1870s, it was not possible to conduct a successful mission. The government was more inclined to criticize whatever went wrong than to dig into its pockets, which were not so well lined. The British settlers, recent though they might have been, were resentful of the German ‘foreigners’, though these might have spent most of their lives in the colony. The German immigrants, if they were religious at all, were fractured along deep confessional differences they brought with them from home. The mission societies in Germany had access to more promising fields of engagement elsewhere in the British empire.


There was a pervading sense that Aborigines were not capable of being assisted, because they could not be civilised. In a complete funding vacuum, the only possible mission was one that was self-supporting economically – whatever did not cost any money was worth a try. The Queensland government did not pay anything to ministers of religion, though it welcomed them, of course, and the only government assistance, therefore, was a grant of ‘crown’ land, subject to conditions, able to be revoked.


Under these conditions, a mission ‘along Moravian lines’ was the only available paradigm: sending one or two pastors, supported by a team of ‘colonists’, who together would settle a piece of land, produce commodities, and therefore act as a point of attraction, much like the Catholic monastic model, but on a smaller scale, and with less emphasis on learning and knowledge. The colonists supplied the know-how to establish a productive economic base, and escaped poverty at home.


Shortly after the Nerang Creek mission reserve was resumed, the land was opened to the public for selection.






[1] Theile, Otto, One hundred Years of the Lutheran Church in Queensland, LutheranChurch of Australia, Milton, 1938, p.172.

[2] Nolan, J, ‘Pastor J.G. Haussmann: A Queensland Pioneer 1838-1901’, BA thesis, University of Queensland, 1964, p.100, referring to Australischer Christenbote October 1868.

[3] Australischer Christenbote July 1869.

[4] Australischer Christenbote, October 1871

[5] Australischer Christenbote May 1873. 

[6] Herrnhut Archives, R.15.V.I.a.7.8 (Verschiedene Plaene und Versuche – Queensland), letter by six German-descent citizens of Walloon, 6 September 1875.

[7] Australischer Christenbote, August 1877.

[8] Australischer Christenbote, 25 January 1879.