Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ernest Eugene Kramer (1889–1958)

by Andrew Markus

This article was published:

Ernest Eugene Kramer (1889-1958), missionary, was born on 10 May 1889 at Basel, Switzerland, son of German-born parents Karl Friedrich Kramer, storekeeper, and his wife Maria Elisabeth, née Reinhardt. Educated locally, Ernst became fluent in French and German, and trained as a milling engineer. In 1909 he emigrated to South Australia where he began work in a mill at Salisbury. On 21 March 1912 at Bena, Victoria, he married Euphemia Buchanan (d.1971) with Presbyterian forms.

In 1912 Kramer became convinced of his calling to take the word of God to settlers and Aborigines in the interior. Between 1913 and 1921 he made three extended journeys on his self-appointed mission. Reputedly a fine bushman and a skilled mechanic, he travelled with his wife and infant children in a covered wagon, pulled by donkeys, over some of the driest and most isolated parts of South and Central Australia. Kramer had no regular income and was dependent on donations of food and money. He interpreted his capacity to survive as a sign of divine providence and recorded his experiences in Australian Caravan Mission to Bush People and Aboriginals (1922?).

Having visited Alice Springs, Northern Territory, on his travels, Kramer returned there in 1923. In 1925 the Aborigines' Friends' Association appointed him its missionary for Central Australia. Kramer kept the A.F.A. informed of the Aborigines' condition. Assisted by his wife and eldest daughter Mary, he ministered to the needs of Aborigines who had 'come in' from the surrounding country. He built a non-denominational church where he held regular prayer-meetings and used an Arrernte translation of the Gospels. In the cooler months he toured by camel-team and later by motorcar, proselytizing and dispensing food and medicine. In 1928-29 he supervised the Jay Creek 'half-caste' children's home. Scientists and clergymen valued his services as a guide.

Kramer was popular among the Aborigines. Rather than aiming to 'civilize' them, he brought them 'The Light of Life'—knowledge of Jesus. He did, however, urge them to cease fighting among themselves and to leave cattle alone. In 1932 he called for police intervention to protect Aboriginal women and children from the violent behaviour of their men. In preference to sentencing Aborigines to prison, he advocated the use of corporal punishment, administered under medical supervision.

At a time of extreme racism Kramer spoke for the humanity of the Aboriginal people. He entreated the government to increase its spending, and on numerous occasions drew attention to the suffering of those deprived of land and access to watering places. Professor (Sir) John Cleland praised Kramer for 'doing as much as anyone in Australia to protect' the Aborigines. Yet, Kramer also accepted the right of Europeans to appropriate land in semi-arid and arid regions, publicly supported the pastoralists' interests and tempered his criticism of the way that Aborigines were treated.

After resigning from his post in 1934, Kramer worked as a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Society, in Melbourne for fifteen years and then in Adelaide. He died of acute leukaemia on 16 February 1958 in Adelaide and was buried in Mitcham cemetery; his wife, son and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Aborigines' Friends' Assn, Annual Report, 1925-1929
  • Aborigines' Friends' Assn papers (State Library of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andrew Markus, 'Kramer, Ernest Eugene (1889–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 May, 1889
Basel, Switzerland


16 February, 1958 (aged 68)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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