The stories of women on missions in colonial Australia will be brought to life at a Griffith University symposium at Parliament House on March 8 and 9.

“Women’s voices went largely unheard as men tended to dominate public life,’’ says convener Professor Regina Ganter from the Griffith Centre of Cultural Research.

“But whether missions succeeded or failed was largely dependent on women. We want to bring these women out of the shadows and honour their work in sustaining missionary life.”

Speakers include Dr Felicity Jensz from Munster University, Germany, Dr Susanne Froehlich from Giessen University, Germany and London-based director and playwright John Strehlow.

Mr Strehlow and Dr Froehlich are direct descendants of two of the best known missionaries in Australia — Rev. Carl Strehlow and Rev. Johann Flierl — who founded Hopevale and the Lutheran missions in New Guinea.

Dr Jensz will present a paper on child loss, examining cases of miscarriage, infant loss, lethal illness, child removal and death during childbirth on missions.

Dr Froehlich and Mr Strehlow’s papers will explore the lives and experiences of individual missionaries’ wives in Australia and Papua New Guinea.

“The contact history of Aboriginal Peoples is strongly shaped by missions, the breaking up of families and removal of children from families,’’ Professor Ganter said.

“Missionaries played an integral part in managing missions, but it was their wives who provided the necessary support for missions to operate smoothly.”

Professor Ganter is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and an elected member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

She has been awarded an Australian Research Council Fellowship to prepare a website on German missionaries, ethnographers and collectors in Australia.

The Women on Missions Symposium is presented by the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia and Griffith University’s Centre for Cultural Research.