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Aboriginal leaders want British Museum to return more artefacts

A few years ago, the law in the UK was changed to allow certain artefacts to be returned to their country of origin.

The 2004 Human Tissue Act [1] had its origins in controlling the unauthorised storage of body parts of deceased patients by hospitals, but section 47 of the act covered a very different, yet tenuously related subject – the repatriation of human remains.

Following a successful campaign by Australian Aboriginal groups, a decision had been made by the British Government to make changes to the law, to allow artefacts that involved human remains (i.e. they were human remains, or part of them was composed from human remains) to be returned to their countries of origin. This change in the law was a major step forward, as for the first time it over-rode the 1963 British Museum Act [2], opening a new route by which items could be de-accessioned from the institution.

After the need for changes to the law were identified by a working group led by Professor Norman Palmer (who has recently been associated with the campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles [3]), the Museums that held artefacts that might be affected by any change in the law, all wanted to limit any potential losses to their collections. As a result of this, various limitations were invoked within the act. Firstly, there was a 1000 year limit – artefacts older than this were not covered – a move that safeguarded any Egyptian mummies held by Britain’s major museums. The second limitation was a much more major distinction that of bones versus stones. It was argued that bones (i.e. human remains) were one category of artefact, whereas stones (i.e. pretty much everything else that was inanimate) constituted an entirely different category. While there are reasons that human remains should perhaps be seen in a different light, the move was arguably more about safeguarding large tranches of the museum’s collections, than it was about any real ethical distinction.

In the years since the Human Tissue Act came into force, there have been many instances of human remains being returned, from museums all over Britain. The returns have not just been to Australian Aboriginal groups [4], but also to many other indigenous peoples around the world.

During this time though, the stones versus bones argument never entirely disappeared [5]. Aboriginal groups were pleased with the return of human remains, but to them, many other items in Britain’s museums held equally important cultural significance. The British Museum is now loaning some of the Aboriginal items in its collection to the National Museum of Australia, leading to new claims that some of these items should be returned. As the Aboriginal groups point out, these items tell a story about them and their culture, not a story about England.

Minor successes in this field have already been achieved, such as the Kwakwaka’wakw mask returned on a renewable loan basis [6], but these have been few and far between. To achieve what the Aboriginal Groups want would require another change in the law. This should not be considered as an insurmountable challenge – a few years after the 2004 Human Tissue Act, MP Andrew Dismore introduced the Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act [7], which punched a new hole in the anti-restitution clauses of the British Museum Act – this time allowing the return of items looted during the Nazi Era.

With each new special case, the legitimacy of more artefacts within the British Museum’s collection comes into question, leading to further pressure for changes in the law to give the potential for long running restitution cases such as that of the Parthenon Marbles to be resolved.

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861 [8]

Aboriginal bark painting of a barramundi dating from 1861

Guardian [9]

Indigenous leaders fight for return of relics featuring in major new exhibition
Paul Daley
Saturday 14 February 2015 00.03 GMT

When Gary Murray contemplates the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects held in the vaults of the British Museum in London, he strikes a simple analogy.

“All of these things that belong to our people in Australia – they don’t tell a story about the Queen of England, do they?” he asks.

“No way. They tell stories about the people that made them and used them – that’s our people here in Australia. We don’t have the Queen’s crown jewels. And we don’t want them. But what we do want is to get our things back from the British Museum. We want them back.”

Specifically, Murray and his people want returned to Australia three pieces of bark art – a shield, emu carving and a scene the British Museum controversially claims depicts a kangaroo hunt – that were crafted by his Dja Dja Wurrung people in central Victoria. They were taken by the Scottish settler John Hunter Kerr in the 1850s and sold to the British Museum.

Bark art is usually synonymous with Indigenous people from northern Australia and the three Dja Dja Wurrung pieces from the comparative far south are believed to be the only ones of their period in existence. They may be precious to the British Museum but they are sacred to the custodians of the land around Boort from which they were taken.

At least one of the barks is likely to be included in a forthcoming Australian exhibition of items from the British Museum’s collection. After five years of planning and extensive contact with Indigenous communities, the exhibition, Encounters, is due to open at the National Museum of Australia in November after a linked exhibition at the British Museum, which opens in April.

In 2004, Murray, on behalf of the Dja Dja Wurrung, used the federal Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act to seize the barks while they were on loan to the Melbourne Museum (now Museum Victoria). After a protracted court case brought by the Melbourne Museum the barks were eventually returned to the British Museum, the repository of colonial treasure from all corners of the once-great empire it served.

The British Museum’s mere contemplation of lending the barks to another Australian institution (in this case the National Museum) only to once again have them returned to the archives in London, is, according to some Indigenous Australians, profoundly provocative and insensitive.

It is, in the words of one Aboriginal activist, “just rubbing salt into the wounds after last time”.

Compounding that insult is the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act. Federal parliament passed this legislation in 2013 amid scant media scrutiny and with bipartisan support from the major political parties. In the wake of the 2004 barks fracas the legislation was initiated at the behest of Australia’s major cultural institutions, which wanted to be able to give a watertight legal guarantee to foreign counterparts, not least the British Museum, that any collection items on loan in Australia would always return.

Some, like Murray, view the legislation as another act of cultural colonialism and, given its importance to the British Museum, imperialism, too – a continuum of the British invasion of the great southern land, the murder and dispossession of its first inhabitants and the theft of their cultural property, even their dead.

Of the potential short-term return of any of the barks to Australia, Murray says:

It’s a positive thing that a few of my people might get to see them again for a very short period. But it taunts us spiritually. We just get to see them for a fleeting moment and they are taken back again to the British Museum where they’ll be held in the archives downstairs for another decade. It’s not right.”

Henrietta Fourmile Marrie is an adviser to the National Museum of Australia and descendant of Ye-i-nie – a chief of the Yidindji people of north Queensland in the late 19th century. She describes the 2013 legislation and the intransigence of the British Museum in returning objects belonging to her people as consistent with the “institutional racism” she insists is still extant in some collecting institutions.

She says:

My people had no idea where these items would be taken to just in the same way that skeletal remains were dug up or our people shot for the basis of taking their remains overseas to these museums. And here we have today in the 21st century the Australian government of the day making laws to continue to protect those institutions that have continued to be the beneficiaries of our culture, our knowledge and our peoples’ history. It is a real insult.”

Certainly, Encounters would not be possible without the Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Act. A significant black and white Australian audience would otherwise probably never see some of the likely exhibition items, which include the wooden shield dropped by a Gweagal tribesman during a violent conflict with the men of Captain James Cook’s HMB Endeavour at what is believed to be the moment of first east coast European-Indigenous contact at Kurnell, Botany Bay, in autumn 1770.

The botanist Joseph Banks recorded: “… a man who attempted to oppose our Landing came down to the Beach with a shield of an oblong shape about 3 feet long 1 and a half broad made of the bark of a tree; this he left behind when he ran away and we found upon taking it up that it plainly had been pierced through with a single pointed lance near the center.”

Some Indigenous Australians who tell the story of that first-contact shield insist the hole to which Banks refers resulted from a musket round. Cook shot at the tribesmen who opposed his landing that day, wounding one.

It is reasonable to interpret the shield (part of the British Museum collection since 1771, along with a number of spears that were also taken that day) as an incisive symbol of how profoundly different stories can attach themselves to collection items. And that is why the acquisition stories (Indigenous and white) of the British Museum objects that were selected for loan to their country of provenance will be central to Encounters.

Encounters is the most ambitious exhibition in the life of the National Museum of Australia, which opened in 2001 on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in what remains a sacred corroboree place for the Ngambri people of the Limestone Plain upon which Canberra was built. Certainly, the exhibition is likely to be its most controversial (although controversy has never been far from the museum’s doors since it became central, in the late 1990s, to the so-called “culture wars” over interpretations of Australian frontier violence).

The curators of Encounters, Ian Coates and Jay Arthur, and the National Museum of Australia’s director, Mat Trinca, recognise the exhibition has the potential to ignite a furore. But they view it as an opportunity (a seminar involving the communities of provenance will precede Encounters) for a new discussion about the ownership and custodianship of Indigenous cultural objects.

They insist that within the communities there are many divergent views about the British Museum’s claims to their cultural property and whether it should be permanently returned. They also point out that the acquisition stories vary greatly; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gave some items to anthropologists, explorers and settlers in amity. Others were stolen in situations of violent conflict.

The spark behind a fresh encounter

In 2007 Coates went to the British Museum as part of a curatorial exchange. He undertook detailed research of the institution’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material. Coates says while the collection is vast and rich (it comprises some 6,000 pieces, 2,000 of which are stone tools; less than 1% of the collection is ever on display at the museum) the British Museum saw it as neither a research nor a display priority. The idea for Encounters – and then linked exhibitions in London and Australia – grew from Coates’s exchange and a research program involving the Australian National University.

Coates and Arthur have spent much of the past few years engaged, sometimes with representatives from the British Museum, in what they insist is a reciprocal consultation with Indigenous communities. Aboriginal activists maintain the discussions were unfairly skewed from the outset because the official British and Australian starting point was that the objects would not be returned permanently to Australia. Coates and Arthur asked the communities which items from the British Museum’s collection they most wanted to see in the Australian exhibition.

They showed community members a pictorial catalogue of items in the collection.

Arthur said: “The booklet will have images of all the objects from their region from the museum … And then you’d ask which ones are the most important … and they would often add to the stories about these things. And you’d see someone looking at this book and they’d rub their hand over an image of one of these objects, with tears in their eyes. It’s fantastic. And they have access to the cultural knowledge about that object – about how it was made.”

“The process enables these communities to reconnect with the very strong cultural elements of these objects, so that the objects become alive with those people again.”

Some communities have begun crafting new objects – including baskets and fashion items – based on pictures of the British Museum’s pieces. Some of the new items will be included in the Australian exhibition.

The national museum filmed about 150 interviews with community members. Some will be shown as part of Encounters. All will eventually be posted on the museum website and will form part of the museum collection.

“I think the real strength to the show here is that we are going to have a lot of contemporary objects from those same places that we’ve acquired during the development of the exhibition,” Coates says. “So you will get that kind of relationship between past and present.”

“What you’ll get in the show is these really powerful historical objects with some historical context around them and maybe a contemporary piece from the same place and this very strong oral testimony from that place talking about what the object means to them.”

Coates says the title, Encounters, connotes multiple meanings: “To me it’s about a series of encounters – historical encounters when they were acquired in the past and it is the reconnection with that encounter now but then it’s the visitor in the show encountering that material now.”

Asked if many of the people in the communities wanted the items back, Coates said: “I think that there is incredibly diverse views about that. And it’s not really our role to say it is the predominant view or not. Some people said yes, we want it back, some people said we really want it to be displayed here [in Australia] – or they hadn’t really thought about it because this was really the first time they knew about the item. It’s a conversation that we, I guess, want to have.”

Since the community consultation, more Indigenous Australians have visited the British Museum to inspect collection objects that are important to them. In the lead-up to Encounters, the National Museum of Australia plans to facilitate private visits from relevant community members to the on-loan objects in its care.

Trinca says Encounters would give Australian audiences insights into the truths about their country’s difficult past and the often complex early relationships between European settlers and original inhabitants.

“I think the country is looking for a new way of talking about its past – a way of speaking that both honours the truth of our past and of the tragedies that befell Aboriginal communities across the country,” he says. “It has to be precise and honest about it.

“And it also has to do that in a way that also understands and cherishes stories of settlement and of peoples’ circumstances in the history of the nation and reflect on the considerable achievements of Australian society.

“That’s hard because in the way we have commonly talked about these things in … the recent past, in the last 20 or 30 years or so, we have tended to have conversations that opposed those notions. That took on the one hand the view that if one was saying something truthful about the circumstances of Indigenous people being exiled, the displacement, the death that was visited upon them on the frontier, that somehow that entailed absolute rejection of any achievement of the Australian nation.”

Trinca says the British Museum would not have contemplated the loan unless it could be guaranteed the items would return.

But to its credit, he says, the British Museum has been very open to the idea that the linked exhibitions would permanently establish a new relationship between themselves and the Indigenous communities that would lend more transparency to discussions about collection items.

“What does it mean to have cultural properties of first peoples in collections? What does it mean to have ongoing relationships with communities of origin in those collections? What are the categories of custodianship and ownership that attend to these circumstances and how can we rethink them in ways that are really productive for all sides?” Trinca asks.

These are searching questions at the heart of Encounters but they are searching questions for museums beyond Australian museums. These are questions for museums across the globe.”

Gaye Sculthorpe, an Indigenous Tasmanian, is curating the London exhibition for the British Museum. Sculthorpe, who previously worked at the Melbourne Museum (she was there at the time of the 2004 barks controversy) was appointed the curator of the museum’s Oceania and Australia section in 2013. She was eminently qualified for the job. But her appointment also signalled a more heightened cultural sensitivity (or at least the perception thereof) to the concerns of Indigenous Australians from the British Museum in the lead-up to the linked exhibitions.

Sculthorpe is extremely well-connected throughout Indigenous Australia. She remains on close terms with elders, and Aboriginal human and cultural rights activists, including Murray, the historian Gary Foley and the historian and novelist Tony Birch. But that may not be enough to stem the enmity that some Indigenous activists could vent publicly as the exhibitions near.

After the British Museum’s publicity launch for its exhibition on 21 January, Foley wrote on the museum’s Facebook page: “Bet they won’t be prepared to seriously discuss issues of repatriation of cultural materials obtained through nefarious means because the British Museum remain intransigent of such matters because of their retention of the so-called ‘Elgin marbles’. The shit will hit the fan when debate on the issue of repatriation is raised in the context of this exhibition in Australia … ”

Protests in London and Canberra appear likely.

At the launch in London, Sculthorpe expressed hope the British exhibition would educate European audiences about the diversity of Indigenous culture while not resiling from the dark past of the Australian frontier.

“Parts of Australian history are difficult and I think in Australia today people are trying to acknowledge that,” she said. “If you acknowledge that, then you can move on. It’s not a simple story. There are nuances across the country at different times and I’m hoping this exhibition will convey that.”

For some Indigenous people, however, moving on can occur only when their cultural property is permanently returned from London. Murray strongly suggests some Aboriginal leaders are considering new legal action to have their cultural items returned.

“Because of the new legislation it is supposedly legally impossible for us to use the commonwealth heritage laws to get the barks back if they are brought back into the country, so it means that we need to resort to dialogue,” he says. “I have told Gaye Sculthorpe that I am comfortable about opening up a dialogue.

“Of course this is not just about the barks – it is a story intrinsically related to questions of Aboriginal sovereignty, about de-culturalisation, about dispossession. But we need to resort to other means to get what is ours back. Perhaps it’s time to see a lawyer in London.”

Geoffrey Robertson, the Australian, London-based lawyer who is an advocate of cultural property rights who has been arguing for the British Museum to return the Parthenon marbles to Greece, is an obvious starting point. He did not respond to inquiries from Guardian Australia.

In 2004 the Australian Greek community supported Murray, Foley and other Aboriginal people who were agitating for the barks to stay in Australia. Their common ground was simple: they believed the British Museum was intransigent on the barks because returning them to Australia would set a precedent for other objects, such as the Parthenon marbles.

The Greeks will again be a phone call away this time.

Responding to a series of questions from Guardian Australia, the British Museum appears to leave open the prospect of at least a temporary return of some collection items to Indigenous communities. It indicates cost is a major factor in its deliberations.

“The British Museum has a longstanding policy of lending its collection as widely as possible across the world to benefit the greatest number of world publics,” a spokeswoman writes. “This cultural exchange is a vital part of the museum’s commitment to being a museum for the world.

“The trustees will consider any request for any part of the collection to be borrowed for public display subject to the usual considerations of the physical condition of the object and its fitness to travel, the conditions of security and display at the borrower’s venue and the covering of associated loan costs. The museum is one of the world’s most generous lenders and is pleased to be able to make its collection widely available through loans.

“There have already been preliminary discussions about how such lending to communities might occur. A key issue to be overcome is funding as costs for conservation assessment, travel, crates and other logistics is very expensive. If there could be a program of financial support for such activities in Australia, similar to that for repatriation of ancestral remains, it would facilitate the process.”

In recent decades ancestral remains stay permanently in Australia once returned from Britain. Is the British Museum opening the door here, ever so slightly, for the permanent return of other Indigenous items in its vast collection?
‘They displayed enormous arrogance’

Coates, Arthur and Trinca correctly point out the diverse views within the Indigenous communities about repatriation.

The Torres Strait Islander Ned David supports the linked exhibitions, even though he has had combative relations with the British Museum over the repatriation of ancestral human remains in its collection.

The British Museum holds an elaborate crocodile mask and a drum that belonged to his great-grandfather Maino, a tribal chief. Maino, David says, gave both items to a British anthropologist and collector, Alfred Haddon, who passed them on to the museum where, for a time, the mask was on prominent display.

He does not want these objects returned to his community and he supports the dual exhibitions as a means of enhancing relations between Indigenous Australia and the British Museum.

“I am absolutely in favour of these exhibitions. I’m really interested and very keen to have some open conversations with the British Museum board about what we can do in our lifetimes to ensure the return of objects that do belong in Australia – we have an opportunity here to right some historic wrongs,” David says.

I can tell you I was incredibly pissed off with the British Museum board when I met them a few years ago to discuss the return of two ancestral skulls to the Torres Strait. They displayed enormous arrogance – they were condescending in the extreme and showed what can only be described as a colonial attitude and approach to the discussions. That said, arguments about what will be in these exhibitions is a separate conversation to that about the return of ancestral remains.”

Marrie, who advises the National Museum on Indigenous matters, discovered the British Museum’s collection includes jewellery that appears identical to that worn by her great-grandfather, the Yidindji chief Ye-i-nie, in a photograph from 1905.

“I believe because he wore those things that his spirit still remains within those objects,” she says. “And that is very important to us. We need to do some kind of a smoking ritual in having them back home. Certainly we hope we can do that when they come to Canberra but if they came to Cairns it would be such a great honour to have Ye-i-nie back there in his own country.”

Marrie wants these and other items in the collection that came from the Yidindji to be permanently returned – if not to the communities where, she says, they belong, then to the National Museum of Australia where ancestors can visit them.

I think they thought when they took these things that Aboriginal people would die out and they would hold these great resources in their libraries and their museums. But you know they are in the bottom of the basement at the British Museum, so they are not exactly exhibited often or held in esteem in the way we hold them – they are just like any other objects and they are held there below until they feel that they want to expose them and exhibit them and tell a story. And again all they can tell is their version of a story, but there is no real life meaning to them. We want to be able to hold them to expose the real life meaning of them.”

Few Australians of European extraction regard objects, even if connected to family histories, in the same way as Indigenous people do. Many Indigenous people see “old” objects not just as relics from a time past but as an embodiment of a continuing culture and of the spirits of those who made and used them. The materials used in them – animal fur, feathers, flint and wood – represent a direct contemporary link to the country from which they came. Many ancestors believe they belong in country, even if that means they eventually disappear and return to the soil – not in a foreign archive.

Posed photographs and paintings are especially culturally sensitive. In many instances they represent to descendants a physical and spiritual embodiment of the subject.

Encounters is likely to include paintings of residents from the Wybalenna Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island by the British artist JS Prout. While for Prout they were ethnographic depictions of a people believed to be on the verge of extinction, to today’s descendants the subjects’ lives and names are well known.

Of course, the dead and death – often violent – will be a constant theme of Encounters.

For decades now the Bunuba elder June Oscar has been searching for the head of Jandamarra, a legendary cattle thief and police tracker-turned-freedom fighter. Police sub-inspector CH Ord, who led the police hunt for Jandamarra, eventually, inevitably, caught up with the outlaw who had been on the run for two and a half years after killing another policeman.

Police shot Jandamarra dead on 1 April 1897. They cut off his head and sent it to England as a trophy.

In his hunt for Jandamarra, Ord confiscated a number of items from different “native camps”.

He explained: “I had been stationed in the far North West on the arduous & unpleasant duty of arresting or dispersing the blacks out back from Derby who were responsible for a number of murders of whites who were opening out new country. I had managed to accumulate a quantity of native weapons & thought they might be of value or interest to the museum … the weapons are genuine native weapons of the type taken by the police from native camps.”

The items include a glass-headed spear, a glass spearhead, an iron axe and a bowl – all of which are likely to be exhibited in Encounters. (The National Museum of Australia plans to send about 10 items from its collection to London for the earlier British Museum’s exhibition, including Jandamarra’s boomerang.)

Oscar, who has been closely consulted by the National Museum of Australia in the lead-up to Encounters, says she feels fortunate that she and her people would be able to see the items in the Australian exhibition that are linked to her country and to Jandamarra whose spirit, she says, “lives on” in the Kimberley.

“Whilst there is this brutal and horrific story of our history, it is up to us to tell that story and these objects help us to do it,” she says. “You see, it is also a story about our resilience and our survival and about how we go on with dignity into the present and the future.

I would like to see an arrangement whereby the items remain in Australia after the exhibition because they are a part of the story of the country and my people. But I also appreciate that we are a part of a global community and that these objects can help to educate the world about what happened to Australia’s Indigenous people after colonisation. I believe that if the items have to be returned to the British Museum than they have to be the focus of a commitment around truth-telling that is itself a central part of the healing process between Indigenous Australians and the colonisers. They should not just be tucked away in the basement.”

On that autumn day in 1770 when the Endeavour anchored at Botany Bay, Cook’s men took about 40 spears as well as the Gweagal shield. At least two of them are likely to be exhibited in Encounters.

When the National Museum of Australia consulted the Gweagal elder Shayne Williams, he and his nephew Rod Mason made replica spears in the presence of Coates.

“When we were kids we lived at La Perouse [the Aboriginal settlement on Botany Bay] and we used to look across at Kurnell where that shield and the spears were taken from and my mother, who passed away not too long ago, used to say, ‘Well, we’ve got to do something about it.’ She was never really specific about what – an exhibition would have pleased her though,” Williams says.

Now I think that Mum would be over the moon with the National Museum borrowing these things. My view is that if Cook and his crew didn’t take that shield and those spears we wouldn’t be having this conversation. We are talking about objects that were taken 200-plus years ago, and because they were preserved by the British Museum they are here today.”

Growing up at La Perouse, Williams and his family and friends would make fishing spears, using as blades the metal spokes they scavenged from pram wheels dumped at the local tip.

This time, however, when Coates was visiting, they used organic materials – sap and wood – from Kurnell to make precise replicas of the spears Cook and his men took.

It is impossible today to anticipate the motives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who gave their things to settlers, explorers and anthropologists – objects that have since been acquired by the British Museum.

Genuine friendships did occur between Indigenous people and white stockmen, farmers, convicts, explorers, soldiers and anthropologists. But underscoring such friendships was innate inequality; the British did not recognise the Indigenous right to land or possessions. There were pitifully few instances of justice being served in the name of black Australians (the Myall Creek massacre was a rare early exception).

One such friendship was that between the prominent settler Alexander Collie and the Minang leader Mokare, at King George Sound near today’s town of Albany, Western Australia. Mokare became Collie’s guide and helped him communicate with the Minang and other people of the region.

Mokare often stayed with Collie and shared his food. After Mokare died suddenly from a fever in 1831, Collie invited the Minang to his hut for a wake. Mokare received a customary burial. A few years later when Collie died he was buried, according to his wishes, next to Mokare.

Collie actively collected Indigenous items on behalf of the Haslar Naval hospital museum in Hampshire, England, at the request of naval doctor William Burnett. In 1855 that museum’s significant ethnographic collection, which included items acquired by Collie, was donated to the British Museum. It is likely that Mokare helped Collie to transact the items including an axe and knives that are likely inclusions in Encounters.

In 1840 the authorities exhumed Collie’s body from its grave beside Mokare, against his express wishes, and reinterred him in the newly consecrated Albany cemetery.

Then, in 1970, the Albany town hall car park was laid over Mokare’s grave. Such is the story attached to Collie’s collection in the British Museum.

History is rarely uncomplicated and always open to interpretation. So it is inevitable that there will be opposing – if not quite contradictory – stories about the objects in Encounters.

Take the troublesome Dja Dja Wurrung barks that may or may not be provocatively brought out to Australia yet again for the exhibition.

According to the British Museum’s website one is a bark etching of a kangaroo hunt: “The etching is made of bark from a eucalyptus tree (probably yellow or grey box) which was blackened by smoke from a fire. The sooty surface was then incised to depict four figures armed with boomerangs, spears and clubs hunting a kangaroo. There are also images of a barbed spear and other equipment.”

I emailed the Dja Dja Wurrung elder Murray to see what he thought the bark depicted. “As for the ‘bark etching of a kangaroo hunt’ – LOL!” he responded.

Look closely at the troopers who appear to have spears in the head . . . our interpretation is this bark is a territorial etched bark … and includes the killing of troopers (or native police from Qld) for trespassing or failing to get consent to hunt on another clans’ lands … but that’s the British in denial, heh?”

Stay tuned for what promises to be a compelling conversation – or debate – between the museums in London and Canberra, and Indigenous communities all over Australia.