Stolen Aboriginal spears return home after 253 years

The Aboriginal community hailed news spears stolen by British explorer James Cook over 250 years ago are returning home.

The Aboriginal spears were stolen by Cook and his landing party when they first arrived in Australia in 1770.

After a 20-year effort by indigenous people, the four stolen spears – believed to be the last remaining of dozens collected by the first colonialists – will be returned to the local Sydney clan.

For over 250 years, Cambridge University in England has held the spears since its acquisition in 1771. However, the educational institution has promised to release them back to their rightful owners.

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Captain Cook’s landing in Botany Bay, Sydney, where he and his crew were confronted by two men from the Gweagal clan of the Dharawal peoples, marked a significant moment in Australian history for many. Yet, this event is increasingly contentious, with many recognizing that Aboriginal peoples had lived on the land for tens of thousands of years prior.

The spears will soon be handed back to the local Aboriginal community and showcased in a new visitor centre.

Stolen Aboriginal spears return home after 253 years | News by Thaiger

Ray Ingrey, chairman of the community’s Gujaga Foundation, said the Gweagal people had a deep, spiritual connection with the weapons, reported the BBC.

“It’s part of a dreaming story that tells us how our people came to be. So not only that they’re over 253 years old, and give us a window into our historic past, but also toward that spiritual connection, which makes it so more important.

“The spears were taken when Indigenous people retreated into the bush after a violent encounter with the British landing party in which muskets were fired.

“The crew started to go through their campsite, picking up artefacts and anything that they could actually get their hands on… 40 to 50 spears were bundled up and put on [Cook’s ship] Endeavour.”

Apart from short loans to Australian museums, they have been looked after by Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) since 1914.

Professor Nicholas Thomas, director of the MAA, noted the spears were “exceptionally significant.”

“They are the first artefacts collected by any European from any part of Australia … they reflect the beginnings of a history of misunderstanding and conflict.

“Their significance will be powerfully enhanced through a return to Country.”

Trinity’s master, Dame Sally Davies, told ABC News the college was committed to “addressing the complex legacies of the British Empire” and that returning the spears was “the right decision.”

Ingrey added that the moment held “mixed emotions” for him, but acknowledged the role Trinity College played in preserving the spears in a “museum-grade facility.”

“It’s been a long time for us. Our elders, over 20 years ago, started a campaign to return cultural objects.

“A lot of elders, particularly our senior women, are no longer with us. It’s a day of happiness, but also sadness because they’re not here to celebrate with us.

“It’s also a day for all Australians, and even the British community, to reflect on our history.”

Stolen Aboriginal spears return home after 253 years | News by Thaiger
Captain James Cook

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Bob Scott

Bob Scott is an experienced writer and editor with a passion for travel. Born and raised in Newcastle, England, he spent more than 10 years in Asia. He worked as a sports writer in the north of England and London before relocating to Asia. Now he resides in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is the Editor-in-Chief for The Thaiger English News. With a vast amount of experience from living and writing abroad, Bob Scott is an expert on all things related to Asian culture and lifestyle.

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