Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

'Copy of letter from Rev. C. Kempe (sic) to F.J.Gillen'.

Physical Description

Letter. Copy. Typewritten document with handwritten inscription bottom of page. The bottom of the sheet of paper has been torn away. Small tear from lower left edge. Creased and marked/soiled.

Primary Comments

Anthropology references. Annotated inscription 'Copy of letter from Rev. C. Kempe (sic) to F.J.Gillen'. The letter discusses the meaning of the term 'Altjira' in relation to the term 'God'.


'Copy of letter from Rev. C. Kempe (sic) to F.J.Gillen'.

As regards the word “Altjira” in the language of the natives in Central Australia I beg to tell you that as far as I know the language it, is not God in that sense as we use the word, namely as a personal being but it has a meaning as – old, very old, something that has no origin, or of which one knows of no origin, mysterious something that has always been, so, also, always. It signifies in fact no person or thing to which you could ascribe active force.

When questioned, who made sun, stars, or Hills, they answer “Altjira nima” that is, it is always. Were Altjira an active being they would have answered “Altjirala”; The syllable la is always added when a person exercises will (force) which influences another person or thing. We have taken used (adopted) the word as “God” because we could find no better and because it comes nearest to the idea of “eternal”. The people through usage of a word often use it as a name for a person. This according to my conviction is the true meaning of the word “Altjira”.

Copy of letter from Rev C Kempe to F.J. Gillen.

Rights: Museum Victoria

Document Details

Date Made

Document Details

Letter To
Reverend, Kempe, A. H.
Number of Pages
Number of Sheets


Language Groups


Museum Victoria


Primary Subject