Kaffee und Kuchen

An Insight into New Guinea Life : This was July Kaffee und Kuchen

An Insight into New Guinea Life

by John Clarke

What do Australians know about New Guinea? Perhaps they know about the Kokoda Track through their history studies at school and that the people of that region assisted the Australian troops. But do they know that the distance between Papua New Guinea and Australia’s most northern point (Talbot Islands) is less than four kilometres? Or that over 800 languages are spoken in New Guinea, an eighth of the languages spoken around the world today?

At the last meeting of the Barossa German Language Association’s Kaffee und Kuchen the guest speaker was Timothy Pietsch, the manager of Wantok Place, a museum of New Guinea artefacts. He explained how the artefacts had been collected. For a hundred years Lutheran missionaries had been active in New Guinea, first from Germany and later from the United States and Australia. While converting the people to Christianity had proved difficult – many accepting Christian teachings but retaining their old beliefs that spirits could be found in everything and those spirits needed to be appeased – friendships developed, and the missionaries were presented with objects that the native people valued.

During the latter years of the twentieth century those artefacts were collected and housed at Louise Flierl Mission Museum in Hahndorf. (Louise Flierl was the wife of Johann Flierl, the first Lutheran missionary to New Guinea. The museum was named after her as recognition of the work and sacrifice of all women who have served in the mission field.) It is a unique collection, comprising weapons, religious items and objects of everyday use.

Unfortunately the building in Hahndorf deteriorated, and rather than sell or have the important cultural objects dispersed, the Lutheran Church decided to keep them together and place them in a specially prepared museum. The museum was given the name Wantok Place to signify the friendship that existed between the missionaries and the native people, wantok meaning one talk, the closeness that exists between friends. The Lutheran Church of New Guinea welcomed the move and appreciated the care which was being taken of the artefacts. It is considered likely that in the future they will be returned to New Guinea.

The museum, situated in the LLL Building, 175 Archer Street, North Adelaide, is open to the public on Wednesdays from 10am to 4pm.

The next meeting of the German speaking Kaffee und Kuchen group will be held at the Langmeil Centre, 7 Maria Street, Tanunda on Monday, 29August at 1pm.