Boys Sunday school. Photo courtesy of Groote Eylandt Language Centre, Keith Hart collection.

Boys Sunday school. Photo courtesy of Groote Eylandt Language Centre, Keith Hart collection.

Answers found in translation

A new book reveals the fascinating interaction between Christian missionaries and the Anindilyakwa-speaking people of Groote Eylandt, the largest island in the Gulf of Carpentaria, as Adam Spence reports.

ANU historian Dr Laura Rademaker engaged with Indigenous communities using innovative research methods to produce Found in Translation.

It is a story of culture persevering and cultures colliding in unexpected ways, and how language can be used to influence and subvert.   

Rademaker was inspired to pursue this story almost a decade ago. The Apology to the Stolen Generation prompted her to question the people implicated in so much suffering under the auspices of helping.

It was in the diaries of female missionaries that she found so much about the Indigenous experience of colonisation in everyday life, of cross-cultural interactions, seemingly perplexing at times with friendships bridging cultures.

“I got hooked on missionary history in Australia,” she says.  

Over many trips to Groote Eylandt, she came to slowly know the community, and let them come to know her.

“I spent time at the linguistics centre, aged care centre, art centre and around the community, often sharing what I had found in the archives as people would tell me about their families,” she says.

“Over time, I learnt not to ask too many questions, but to wait for what people had to share with me. When they were ready, I would be introduced to another relative and learn more. I also interviewed dozens of missionaries, most of whom still care very deeply about the people of Groote Eylandt and were eager that the story be told.”