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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Strele, Anton (1825–1897)

by G. J. O'Kelly

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Anton Strele (1825-1897), Jesuit priest, was born on 23 August 1825 at Nassereith, Austria. Educated at the Jesuit Gymnasium, Innsbruck, he entered the Society of Jesus at Gratz on 14 August 1845 and took his first vows in 1849. He completed his studies in France and was ordained priest at Laval on 23 September 1854. He was then appointed to the Jesuit colleges at Mariastein, Linz, and in 1859 to the College of Nobles at Kalksburg. He volunteered for the Austrian Jesuit mission in South Australia and sailed from London in April 1867. He reached Sevenhill on 22 December.

In March 1868 Strele was appointed the first Jesuit master of novices in Australia, an office he held intermittently until 1882. As superior of the mission in 1870-73 he supervised the expansion of Jesuit work in Adelaide and Sevenhill, the building of a separate residence at Georgetown and the establishment of a Polish settlement at Hill River. In 1873-80 he was rector of St Aloysius College, Sevenhill, lectured in philosophy and also undertook pastoral work around Clare, Farrell Flat and Manoora, where he built the church and presbytery. As superior again in 1880-82 he negotiated the transfer of some Jesuit parishes to local diocesan control and made arrangements to found the Northern Territory mission. To launch the mission he toured South Australia and Victoria seeking funds. With rare foresight he began to study Aboriginal lore.

On 2 October 1882 Strele and three confrères opened the first station at Rapid Creek near Palmerston (Darwin). He founded a second on the Daly River in 1886, and a third at Serpentine Lagoon in 1889. The mission was always short of money and in 1887-89 he toured the United States of America and Europe to raise funds. When Salvado resigned his nominal office of bishop of Port Victoria and Palmerston, Strele was appointed administrator apostolic of the diocese on 1 August 1888. He resisted the promotion in vain and moved to Palmerston where he tended the white Catholic population; he secured sites for churches and schools there as well as in Pine Creek, Burrundie and the new settlement. He remained superior to the three mission stations until 6 February 1891. The rigours of the life and his responsibilities told on Strele and he was forced to return south in October 1892, broken in health. He died at St Aloysius College on 15 December 1897, and was buried in the crypt of the church. His estate was sworn for probate at £90.

The breadth of vision of the Jesuit Aboriginal mission was due to Strele's painstaking efforts to accommodate as much of the findings of the early writers on Aboriginal anthropology as he could. Needing finance and deeply committed to the success of the mission, he often refused to admit failures that were obvious and maintained agricultural ventures that were patently not viable.

Select Bibliography

  • P. F. Moran, History of the Catholic Church in Australasia (Syd, 1895)
  • Our Australian Missions (Melb, 1899)
  • E. Bülow, Hundert Lebensbilder aus der Osterreichisch-Ungarischen Provinz der Gesellschaft Jesu (Vienna, 1902)
  • Society of Jesus, Centenary in Australia (Norwood, 1948)
  • G. J. O'Kelly, The Jesuit Mission Stations in the Northern Territory, 1882-1899 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1967)
  • Austro-Hungarian Mission in NT, records (Jesuit Provincial Archives, Hawthorn, Melbourne).

Citation details

G. J. O'Kelly, 'Strele, Anton (1825–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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