Row over sale of sacred Aboriginal stone
Rob Sharp is a freelance journalist specialising in arts and culture. He was on staff at The Independent from July 2007 to December 2011, first as a features writer, and then as the paper’s arts correspondent. He has written for a wide range of newspapers and magazines. For more information visit his website, www.robsharp.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday 28 October 2011
A cultural conflict between Britain and Australia sparked by the attempted sale of a sacred Aboriginal artefact in Kent looks set to be reignited.
The etched stone "tjuringa", which only Aboriginal male elders are permitted to handle, was withdrawn from sale after provoking international demands for its return to Australia. But its elderly seller is said to be still considering the future of the priceless item.
The seller was given the artefact as a birthday present 50 years ago and intended to sell it at the Canterbury Auction Galleries last month, before protests in the Australian press forced the sale's cancellation. Australian museum officials believe the stone should be returned, but the British auction house's managing director, Tony Pratt, said yesterday it may stay in Britain.
"The vendor wants the item back, she's not dismissed returning it but she's not making any firm decisions," he said.
The sale was expected to raise £6,000.
The controversy began in Australia last month, prior to the auction house's 14 September sale.
Bernice Murphy, the head of Museums Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the stone should be returned to its "rightful male custodians". "The recovery of Aboriginal sacred heritage is an important step," she said.
Ms Murphy classified the item as one of the most sacred in Aboriginal culture and said that such objects are "more important to Aboriginal culture than the Elgin Marbles are to Greece".
The stone has been traced to the Arrente tribe in Australia's Central Desert. According to the auction house's website, the seller, a "Kent Lady", was given it in 1961 by Archer Russell, an Australian naturalist and writer, after she moved to Sydney with her husband.
Such objects are said to represent the bodies of totemic Aborigine ancestors with powers to influence the collective fate of the clan. Traditionally they were only seen by women "on pain of death", with many museums in Australia refusing to exhibit them out of respect for Aboriginal beliefs.
Michael Cawthorn from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory had also appealed to Canterbury Auction Galleries to withdraw the stone from sale. "These objects do turn up from time to time on online auction sites and so on, but it's something that the museum and the Australia Research Centre considers to be very inappropriate, given the spiritual significance of these objects to Aboriginal people," he told ABC last month.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...
£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...
£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...