The Gweagal shield

The Gweagal shield and the fight to change the British Museum’s attitude to seized artefacts

The Guardian, Paul Daley, Sept 2016

Almost 250 years ago, Captain James Cook and his men shot Rodney Kelly’s ancestor, the Gweagal warrior Cooman, stole his shield and spears, and took them back to England in a presciently violent opening act of Australian east coast Aboriginal and European contact.

Now Kelly is heading on a quest to the British Museum in London to reclaim the precious shield and spears on behalf of his Gweagal people.

Kelly, a sixth-generation descendant of the warrior Cooman, who was shot in the leg during first contact on 29 April 1770, is among a group of next-generation Aboriginal activists that is about to tour the UK and Europe with a stage show about first contact, and to negotiate with institutions that hold Indigenous artefacts.

Three precious examples of bark art taken from the Dja Dja Wurrung people in central Victoria in the 1850s were sold to the British Museum. Now these and other treasures could return to Australia – on loan only – as part of an exhibition

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The British Museum, which has the biggest collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural artefacts outside Australia, is considering loaning the Gweagal its most significant first contact item – a bark shield Cooman dropped during that first violent encounter.

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