Aboriginal leader claims ancestor's head

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The Independent Online
An Aboriginal leader is travelling to Britain to ask for the return of the head of one of his ancestors, which is buried in a Liverpool cemetery.

Ken Colbung is hoping for a meeting with Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, following earlier Home Office refusals to allow the head of an early 19th- century Aboriginal leader, Yagan, to be exhumed.

The licence to disinter the head from Everton Cemetery was not granted because relatives of children buried in the same grave have not given their consent.

Yagan, who led Aborigine resistance to settlers in the Swan River district near Perth was shot dead in 1833 and his head, which was preserved by a smoking process, was taken to England later that year. It was presented to the Liverpool Royal Institution, and in 1894, when the institution's collections were dispersed it was lent to Liverpool City Museum, which by then contained a growing collection of human remains.

In 1964, the museum's keeper of ethnology recommended that the head, with other remains, should be destroyed and in April of that year the remains were buried. Mr Colbung had begun looking for Yagan's head in the 1950s, seeking to have it taken home to Western Australia for ceremonial burial with full Aboriginal ritual. It was not located, however, until 1993.

The next year, Mr Colbung began the process of applying for permission to exhume the head under section 25 of the Burial Act 1857, which requires that if any other remains less than 100 years old are to be disturbed, consent must be given by their next of kin.

The following year the Home Office said the application for a licence had been refused. Unconditional consent for disturbance of the children's remains had been received from only one of the relatives contacted. Another had refused and two attached conditions which "could not be complied with for practical reasons".

Mr Colbung, 66, who arrives on Sunday, said: "I am hoping that the change in government will make a difference, as the Home Secretary has the last say."

A Home Office spokeswoman said it would be open to further representations on the matter.