Head hunter from the outback poses test for Straw

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No amount of briefings by the Sir Humphreys of Whitehall could have prepared Jack Straw for this one - a spear fight with an Aboriginal leader over the pickled, buried head of an ancestor.

Thankfully for the new Home Secretary, Ken Colbung (right) is not going to insist on the traditional Aboriginal trial by combat. He hopes the Government will allow the head, currently buried in a Liverpool cemetery, to be returned home after 164 years.

The head used to belong to Yagan, the leader of a people who made a desperate stand against white settlers in the early 19th century Western Australia.

Yagan was shot by a farm-hand, William Keats, and his severed head brought back to England by Lt Robert Gale. The head ended up in Liverpool's City Museum but it was buried in the 1960s. .

According to Aboriginal beliefs, Yagan's spirit cannot find peace until his head is re-united with his body. But the Home Office has refused exhumation because relatives of 20 stillborn children buried in the grave have refused consent.

Mr Colbung, MBE and a JP, arrived in Britain yesterday determined not to go back empty- handed. He said: "I want that head to be with me when I leave the shores of England next week.

"I want an appointment with Jack Straw, it is in his court. In my tradition if we were to deal with this, Mr Jack Straw and myself would be engaged in a spear fight to resolve this. I hope that in this day and age we won't have to resort to that."

Mr Colbung, 66, will make an appeal in Liverpool today to the relatives of the children.