Kamay spears stolen by Captain Cook returned to Country

Four spears held in the UK will be repatriated to the Gwegal descendants of those who made them.

Four spears held in the UK will be repatriated to the Gwegal descendants of those who made them. Photo: AAP

When James Cook and his crew first made contact with Aboriginal people in 1770, the British soldiers took dozens of spears from their camps at Botany Bay.

More than 250 years later, only four of those spears remain and they will soon be permanently returned to the Aboriginal community of La Perouse.

A formal announcement will be made on Thursday at Bare Island in Botany Bay, which is known as Kamay in the local Indigenous language.

The removal of spears by Captain Cook and botanist Joseph Banks was a significant and lasting loss to the local Aboriginal community, because it was a theft of their cultural knowledge handed from generation to generation.

La Perouse Aboriginal Land Council chairwoman Noeleene Timbery said the spears were enormously significant artefacts and would be preserved on Country for future generations.

“They are an important connection to our past, our traditions and cultural practices and to our ancestors,” she said.

“Our elders have worked for many years to see their ownership transferred to the traditional owners of Botany Bay.

“Many of the families within the La Perouse Aboriginal community are descended from those who were present during the eight days the Endeavour was anchored in Kamay in 1770.”

In 2015 and again in 2020, some of the spears were temporarily returned to Australia, for the first time since they were taken by Captain Cook.

The artefacts were displayed as part of exhibitions exploring frontier encounters.

Since that time, the National Museum has been working to secure their permanent return.

For now, the artefacts remain at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, as part of an archaeology and anthropology collection.

But within months, they will be returned to their rightful custodians and displayed at a new visitor centre being constructed at Botany Bay.

The repatriation is being assisted by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Gujaga Foundation.

“These spears are of immeasurable value as powerful, tangible connections between our forebears and ourselves,” Dharawal Elder Shayne Williams said.

“I want to acknowledge the respectfulness of Trinity College in returning these spears back to our community.

“In caring for the spears for over 252 years, Trinity College has ensured that these priceless artefacts can now be utilised for cultural education by the Aboriginal community into the future.”


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