Now, as you have reported, his descendant Ken Colbung is in Britain and seeking the head's return. His request for exhumation has been backed by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, who on 29 June - after a visit to London in which the problem of Yagan's head was one of the matters discussed - offered to pay for the costs of digging the head up.
On Monday (30 June), the Aboriginal Torres Island Straits Commission (ATSIC), representing Aboriginal communities, and the Nyoongah people of Western Australia officially and unanimously authorised Ken Colbung to renew the application.
The previous Home Secretary refused a licence on the grounds that there were objections from the parents of several stillborns who lie in a higher layer of the same grave. But the Home Office have now been sent a technical study showing that the head can be extracted without disturbing the stillborns, by sinking a shaft adjacent to the grave.
We therefore urge the new Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to give his permission now for the exhumation, in time for a joint Australian-British commemoration of Yagan's death on 11 July. European beliefs about physical resurrection are so muddled that we no longer know what they are - or were. But today's Aborigines are more certain than we are that the whole body should receive appropriate funerary treatment before the spirit of a dead person can rest in peace.
KEN COLBUNG MBE
The Institute of Archaeology
University College London
London WC1Reuse content