Descendants of Gweagal get a private tour of spears taken by Captain Cook

For the first time in 250 years, three traditional Gweagal fishing spears taken by James Cook in England have returned to their home shores.

Forty spears, essential for gathering food from the Gweagal people, were taken in 1770 by Cook and his men, who mistakenly suspected them to be poison weapons.

Today, only four remain, and from Friday three will be on public display at the University of Sydney’s Chau Chak Wing Museum, on loan from the Cambridge Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Noelene Timbery is president of the local Indigenous Land Council in La Pérouse and was instrumental in getting the spears loaned.

“There’s been a rumble of excitement going up for a while now,” she told NITV News.

Ms Timbery said many families from the La Pérouse Aboriginal community were descended from those who were present during the eight days (Cook’s ship) the Endeavor was anchored in Kamay (Botany Bay).

“We had community access to the … spears behind closed doors and in a private setting, so we could see the spears not behind glass.”

The spears will be on display for the next three months, during which educational programs will be held.

For Ms. Timbery, the most important lesson is not necessarily that of history.

“We want to show that this practice continues, that there are still spear makers in our community,” she told NITV News.

“They may be using different materials now, but they’re still using traditional methods.”

Ms Timbery hopes community members will see the spears ahead of their eventual return to the UK.

Thousands of First Nations heritage items are scattered in museums and institutions around the world, and many calls are made for their repatriation every year.

However, Gujaga Foundation chairman Ray Ingrey, who also worked with Ms Timbery to bring the spears to Australia, says it is a complex issue.

“When elders in the 1990s started campaigning for the return of important cultural objects…they came to the conclusion that it would be very difficult to change the laws [regarding repatriation]“, he told NITV News.

“And they realized that if they weren’t held in a museum-quality facility, we wouldn’t be… able to watch them today.”

Mr. Ingrey said his organization has continued the work of the Elders in fostering a positive relationship with institutions overseas and at home to preserve and provide access to artifacts for younger generations to enjoy.

But the dream remains to return the objects to the country.

“The elders of Dharawal have a long-term aspiration to be able to present not just the spears, but other important artifacts to our people, and to showcase our current culture and our connection to places like Kamay here.

“For now, as long as our elders are happy to have spent enough time with them, we will be happy to send them back and start having those conversations around when they need to come back here on a longer term basis. “

About Leah Albert

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