Ted Strehlow is a famous, but not uncontroversial (due to issues over custodianship of indigenous artefacts) anthropologist, son of Lutheran missionary Carl Strehlow, who was a pioneer missionary at Hermannsburg. Ted’s book on the death of his father, Journey to Horseshoe Bend, is an Australian classic, an enthralling narrative told in a curiously third person voice, even though Ted is also telling the story of his younger self. It has a biblical formality and presence, in its spare style but depth of feeling. It is angry about injustices and passionate about the beauty of central Australia and the depth of indigenous folklore and history, both of which Ted experienced from the inside, as it were. And thankfully Giramondo Press has brought it back into print.
The book is also part of an interesting literary genealogy. In this book Ted writes about his father. Ted himself was eulogised in the massive, lauded biography from Barry Hill. And Ted’s son John has recently trumped Hill, at least in the weight department, with his gargantuan biography of his grandmother (Carl’s wife) Frieda, which comes in at 1198 pages, though this is apparently only Volume 1. Nicolas Rothwell, Australian newspaper NT correspondent and literary editor, for one, is an admirer of John’s sprawling work. Carl himself, though busy with his work as a Lutheran pastor, became intrigued by indigenous culture and spent years on a multi volume reference work that is apparently a classic in Germany. And Ted himself was an unrivalled compiler of similar material, best known for his Songs of Central Australia. There seems to be something about the expanses of the Australian outback that has inspired this family’s voluminous output.