Wurega & Ebenezer Mission

I had the honour of visiting Dimboola last week as part of NAIDOC week activities.

Wurega Aboriginal Corporation was sponsoring the My People, Culture and Country exhibition which was birthed at Bunjilaka through Museum Victoria’s Indigenous Pathways Project.

Wurega stated that…

“By creating this exhibition, the students have learnt so much about their heritage and culture, they have created a cultural learning path for themselves and reaffirmed their close connection to family, it makes us very proud to support such an exhibition…”

My connections have been made through my cricket involvement with the Johnny Mullagh XI who are the descendants and custodians of the Australian Aboriginal Cricket Team who toured England in 1868.  Aspects of this journey reminded me of my visit to Budj Bim on Gunditjmara country, further South, last year.

After the exhibition I was shown around the old Ebenezer Mission site which is at once both beautiful and haunting; a place of great historical and cultural significance.

One of the most famous players from the 1868 team Djungadjinganook (Dick a Dick) lived and died at the Mission only two years after the English Tour.

The visit was significant for me not only because of my love of the 1868 cricket story and the recent connections it has created for me, but because I have had family (on my mothers side) living in the Wimmera region since the 1870’s.

It is humbling and powerful to stand in places which are at once famil-iar and yet gain different understanding from connections which are much older.  It causes one to reflect and question the stories upon which one’s identity has been built.

Being there made me recall a reflection led by Samara Pitt at Urban Seed’s Staff Retreat and Reconciliation Action Plan Launch last year.  Her content was based upon the amazing book by Robert Kelly The Lamb Enters the Dreaming : Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World  which creatively explores the dynamic tension between Moravian missionary and Watjobaluk indigenous cultural and religious interaction at Ebenezer Mission.

I feel in places such as this I understand more deeply the spiritual power of the optimistic, self made, farming and missionary pioneer stories steeped in religious themes and enthusiasm in which I was raised. I’m not negative about this narrative. Amidst the stories of conflict and massacre in the region, I can feel, know and trust its power for good.

However in the ruins of an old mission at sunset one cannot help but also feel and deeply know the destructive, shadow side of this power.  Of the cultural blindness, the dispossession and injustice and the great loss of land, life, economy and culture.

It is a place of black and white fella Dreaming… and of rupture.

It is a profoundly humbling and sacred place to stand.

Nathanael Pepper became famous for being the first Aboriginal convert to Christianity of this region and as a minister to his people.  He chose his baptisimal name based upon the interaction of the ‘would be’ disciple Nathanael and Jesus in John Chapter 1.  It is a feisty, dynamic interaction, laden with meaning about cultural identity and prejudice.

I wrote about this story once in light of Australia Day in a post entitled the Nathanael and the True Blue BBQ.  Upon reading Robert Kenny’s book and visiting Ebenzer I think another look at this passage and deeper reflection upon cultural identity is in order!

Philip Pepper’s Grave (brother of Nathanael)

One Reply to “Wurega & Ebenezer Mission”

  1. I just picked up a copy of the Lamb Enters the Dreaming – was rather put off by it’s winning the Prime Minister’s history prize under John Howard – but bought it anyway and am glad to hear it is worth reading. I look forward to it; it’s currently on a teetering pile of must-reads.

    I agree that the pioneer Christians cannot be judged in black and white terms. Much of what happened was devastating for indigenous people; but the early missionaries were people of a particular time and place; their theology and anthropology were not ours; and they were often acting in good faith. There is much to reflect on, and much to forgive, here.

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