Queensland Places – Aurukun

The town we now know as Aurukun was originally known as the Archer River Mission Settlement.  It was originally established in 1904 for the Presbyterian Church by the Reverend Arthur and Mrs. Richter who were assisted in the early settlement period by T.W. Holmes.

The Richters led the establishment of the settlement up until 1913 when they returned to Germany, apparently for a short visit or holiday, intending to return in due course.  However, due to the outbreak of the First World War, they were unable to return to Australia and were eventually replaced by Mr. and Mrs. Holmes.

The main reason for the original establishment of the settlement was to assist and guide local residents who were being increasingly recruited for the pearl and beche-de-mer industries as well as to spread the church’s spiritual teachings.  However, as with many other similar missions and settlements, the early years were particularly marked by trouble.

The reserve was expanded in 1922 to include the Kendall River area located to the south.  The town eventually became known as Aurukun which is said to have local meaning associated with a large lagoon on the Watson River, to the south.  At the beginning, the majority of the buildings, including the church and mission house were constructed of local materials by residents using a range of traditional skills.  Over time however, stronger and more permanent buildings were constructed using materials brought in from elsewhere.  This later period, marked by more permanent buildings, appears to have started around ten years after the original establishment of the settlement, that is, around the time of the departure of the Reverend and Mrs. Richter.

Mission House, Aurukun, 1913, John Oxley Library. State Library of Queensland Neg 107804

Mission House, Aurukun, 1913

This photograph, taken in 1913, shows the mission house in its more permanent form, replacing the earlier structure.  We are able to speculate that those shown in this image may be the Reverend and Mrs. Richter with their children, with this photograph being taken just prior to their departure for Germany.

Brian Randall, Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland