The Lamb Enters the Dreaming traces the life of Nathanael Pepper of the Wotjobaluk people, who was born as the first pastoralists were driving cattle and sheep into Victoria’s Wimmera region. In their wake came Christian missionaries, who were just as hostile to the settlers’ violence as they were to the traditional beliefs of Aboriginal people.
Nevertheless, Pepper converted to Christianity in 1860. The extraordinary story of Pepper’s conversion, and his subsequent attempts to reconcile the apparently irreconcilable, reveals much about the deeper symbolic and moral forces at work in this collision of cultures.
Robert Kenny challenges many orthodoxies in this profound reconsideration of how indigenous people and Europeans thought about each other. He traces Aboriginal attempts to accommodate the ‘people of the sheep’ and their pastoralist totem, Jesus, while arguing that it was European animals more than the settlers themselves that ruptured the Dreaming.
On the European side, Kenny argues, increasingly powerful scientific and philosophical challenges undermined evangelical Christianity’s belief that all humanity was of ‘One Blood’. And behind it all lurked the spectre of slavery and the question of the moral order of imperialism.
Brilliantly original in conception, and written with a rare lucidity and lightness of touch, The Lamb Enters the Dreaming is a detailed and sensitive exploration of a life, a meditation on the matter of culture and conversion, and a major reappraisal of the relations between Aboriginal and European societies in the first decades of contact in southern Australia.
Winner of the 2008 Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History.
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