Bermagui’s Rodney “Murrum” Kelly says he feels recent research into the history of a shield, kept in the British Museum for almost 250 years, aims to undermine his battle for its return.
“The new research has not been done correctly, to me its like propaganda put there to cast doubt on the provenance of the shield, and to silence the campaign for repatriation,” Mr Kelly said this week.
The best thing they can do is repatriate the artefacts, then we can use technology and the ancient knowledge of my people to unlock its secrets.Rodney "Murrum" Kelly
An article by Nicholas Thomas, director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, was published online in February in the journal of Australian Historical Studies.
Professor Thomas questions the British Museum’s own narrative the shield was collected by Captain James Cook during his marines’ first contact with the Gweagal people of Kamay, now Botany Bay in 1770.
“The museums have been profiting for many years from the events that occurred on Cook’s first voyage with numerous articles and books, so why are they doing this new research now and not years ago?” Mr Kelly said.
“The best thing they can do is repatriate the artefacts, then we can use technology and the ancient knowledge of my people to unlock its secrets.”
In the paper Professor Thomas says “much public debate about the shield has assumed that it was not probably, but certainly, stolen at the time of the encounter”.
“This is, for example, the presumption of Green Party-sponsored motions in support of Mr Kelly’s campaign, passed in both the New South Wales Legislative Council and the Australian Senate.”
He states that “a closer assessment of relevant evidence” shows the shield is not the one taken in 1770, and identification of the wood shows it most likely originated further north than Botany Bay later than 1770.
Professor Thomas says a drawing by master draughtsman John Frederick Miller in 1771 does not match the shield Mr Kelly has been fighting to have repatriated from the British Museum.
Mr Kelly, who is set to return to Europe in April, said testing of ochre on the shield will reveal vital details.