Sus­pected Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal arte­facts seized from home af­ter on­line sales tip-off

The Guardian Australia - - News - Calla Wahlquist

More than 130 sus­pected Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal relics have been seized from a house in Syd­ney as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the il­le­gal sales of Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tural ma­te­rial.

The pos­si­ble relics, an ex­ten­sive range of stone tools be­lieved to have been col­lected from sites across Tas­ma­nia, were seized in a search of the prop­erty last week fol­low­ing a tip-off about relics be­ing listed in an on­line auc­tion.

The search was con­ducted as part of a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­tween the Tas­ma­nian De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries, Parks, Wa­ter and the En­vi­ron­ment, (DPIPWE), the New South Wales Of­fice of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage and a fed­eral law en­force­ment agency.

It is the first to be con­ducted un­der the up­dated Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal Her­itage Act, which in­creased the max­i­mum penalty for the sale of Abo­rig­i­nal relics to $795,000.

As of Tues­day, no one had been charged.

A num­ber of the sus­pected relics had been la­belled to mark where they had been col­lected and their likely use. The de­part­ment was un­able to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about where the items were col­lected, where they were be­ing sold and how many peo­ple are sus­pected of be­ing in­volved, be­cause the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is on­go­ing.

DPIPWE nat­u­ral and cul­tural her­itage en­force­ment of­fi­cer Luke Bond said the col­lec­tion ap­peared to have been cu­rated.

“We were sur­prised some­what about how many relics we found when we con­ducted the search war­rant and the na­ture of the items sug­gests that there was quite a so­phis­ti­cated, con­certed and in­formed process that went into ob­tain­ing them,” Bond told Guardian Aus­tralia. “That’s clearly of con­cern to us and will be the sub­ject of fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

Un­der the Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal Her­itage Act, it is an of­fence to de­stroy, dam­age, con­ceal, re­move, sell or of­fer for sale, or make a copy of a relic. The of­fence of sell­ing an Abo­rig­i­nal relic is ex­tended to ob­jects which are im­plied to be relics.

The act also re­quires any­one who has pos­ses­sion of a Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal relic, or knows where one is kept, to pro­vide that in­for­ma­tion to the de­part­ment by Jan­uary next year.

Bond said the de­part­ment would take any in­for­ma­tion from peo­ple who came for­ward in pos­ses­sion of an Abo­rig­i­nal relic at face value, pro­vided the ob­ject was sur­ren­dered to the state.

“We are not about try­ing to pros­e­cute ev­ery­one for mak­ing mis­takes but those mat­ters that are more se­ri­ous that are on the scale that we are look­ing at the mo­ment would re­quire us to fol­low up.”

If some­one is charged and con­victed un­der the act, the sus­pected relics will be for­feited to the state. The de­part­ment will then con­sult with the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity about whether they should be re­turned to coun­try or placed some­where else.

Direc­tor of Abo­rig­i­nal Her­itage Tas­ma­nia, Steve Gall, said the case was a warn­ing to any­one who might col­lect Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tural arte­facts.

“The long as­so­ci­a­tion of the Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple with the Tas­ma­nian land­scape has left a sig­nif­i­cant record of where and how Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples have lived and prac­ticed their cul­ture over 40,000 years,” Galls said. “We are com­mit­ted to the proper pro­tec­tion and man­age­ment of Tas­ma­nian Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage.”

Con­cerns about the theft or dam­age of Abo­rig­i­nal cul­tural arte­facts is the ar­gu­ment be­hind the op­po­si­tion to al­low­ing off-road ve­hi­cles in ar­eas of the Tarkine coast, which is one of the most arche­o­log­i­cally rich Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage sites in Aus­tralia.

Pho­to­graph: Tas­ma­nian De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries, Parks, Wa­ter and the En­vi­ron­ment

Abo­rig­i­nal stone tools from Tas­ma­nia were seized fol­low­ing a tip-off about relics be­ing listed in an on­line auc­tion.

Pho­to­graph: Tas­ma­nian De­part­ment of Pri­mary In­dus­tries, Parks, Wa­ter and En­vi­ron­ment

The col­lec­tion of stone tools ap­pears to have been cu­rated.

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