Aborigine chief's skull to be returned after legal row

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The Independent Online
A long campaign by Aboriginal activists to reclaim the head of an ancestor finally succeeded yesterday when a court cleared the last obstacle to its return to Australia.

The severed head of the chieftain Yagan, which had been smoked, pickled and exhibited in this country before being buried in a pauper's grave in Liverpool is due to return to his native land in the near future.

In Perth yesterday the Western Australian Supreme Court refused to grant an injunction to tribal elder Corrie Bodney, who claims to be Yagan's direct descendant, so preventing the handover of the head to an Aboriginal delegation waiting in Liverpool.

Ken Colbung, the leader of the delegation ensconsed at Liverpool's Adelphi Hotel, declared he had been confident of success because of the weather. Apparently the storms over Merseyside were a splendid omen because they symbolised lightning flashes which adorned the body of Yagan.

But the omen was not powerful enough to enable a quick handover. Mr Colbung complained: "By rights we should be able to receive the head at 5.30pm Saturday, but nobody from the (Australian) High Commission wants to work at the weekend. We have been told we have to wait until Monday and we are expected to just hang around until then".

Mr Colbung, 66, an elder of the Nyoongar Bibbulman tribe, also claims descent from Yagan. He said he would be celebrating the court success "with a bevvy". He added: "I will probably have a few beers with the Scouse people because of the elation I feel. The City Council people here have been very positive, they have been very beautiful".

Although Liverpool officials have been prepared to hand over the head, the Australian government had refused to be involved while the court case was still going on in Perth. Tony Brett Young, head of public affairs at the High Commission in London, said: "Although the injunction which was sought in the courts was not successful, we are still bound by an undertaking that was given not to do anything until Saturday. We can't finalise arrangements until Monday."

Obviously with it being the weekend we wouldn't expect Liverpool City officials to come in to sort this out".

Yagan led Aboriginal resistance to white settlers in the Perth region. A 60 dollar bounty was put on his head, and he was killed by two young shepherds. The head was pickled and brought to Britain in l833 by Lt Robert Dale who at first tried to sell it before giving it to the Royal Liverpool instituition. It was loaned to the Liverpool City Museum in l884.