Indigenous Australian speaks in front of Aboriginal spears in a Cambridge museum

by Stephen Hewitt | Published 6 November 2017

4 November 2017: Rodney Kelly in Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Rodney Kelly speaking on 4 November 2017 in front of Aboriginal artefacts in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Downing Street. Photo: Dan Church

On Saturday 4 November 2017 Rodney Kelly, a descendant of the indigenous people of Australia, stood in front of four spears exhibited in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Downing Street, Cambridge and spoke, as part of his campaign to have the spears returned.

Later that day I caught up with him and asked how the day had gone.

I had heard that the museum had already refused a request to return the spears. Was that still the case? “That's still the case”, he replied, adding that Nick Thomas, the director of the museum, had been there today and was now talking about a possible loan to a museum in Australia.

How does he feel about a loan to an Australian museum? He replied that these things need to be returned and they were “wrongfully taken”, but a loan “would be a good start”.

He was “very happy” at the museum today. “There were some great people who came along and they asked some very good questions to Nick the director.” He added that the museum knows now that it is also the people of Cambridge who are asking for the artefacts to be returned.

Earlier in 2017 a report from the museum considering the return of the spears described them as “four spears taken from the Gweagal people of New South Wales by Captain James Cook and his crew in 1770, now part of the Cook-Sandwich collection which the Earl of Sandwich gave to Trinity College, Cambridge, and held in the MAA.”

4 November 2017: People listening to Rodney Kelly in Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
4 Nov 2017: People listening to Rodney Kelly in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Downing Street.

Rodney Kelly told me that it was his ancestor that held the shield that's now in the British Museum and “he was the warrior that got shot by Cook”. This man was his great, great grandmother's grandfather's grandfather, called Cooman.

Speaking about a loan of artefacts to an Australian museum he said that at the moment we don't have our own museum capable of caring for the artefacts that are so significant, and suggested that one day in the future there would be an Aboriginal museum in Sydney, “a dedicated museum for our story to keep going because there are hundreds and hundreds of artefacts around he world.”

He told me that on this trip to Europe he first flew to London two weeks ago before visiting Sweden. In Cambridge he has given a lecture in the Senate House and in Pembroke College in the Old Library. Tomorrow he returns to Australia.

He said that he was “very pleased with the trip”. The trip was raising awareness and it “resonates with the people in Cambridge”.

His trip was funded by his parents and “public funding” which he explained meant that he had a gofundme page.

There is a Facebook page Bring home the Gweagal artefacts, he told me.

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