Suspected Tasmanian Aboriginal artefacts seized from home after online sales tip-off
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.
Aboriginal stone tools from Tasmania were seized following a tip-off about relics being listed in an online auction.
The collection of stone tools appears to have been curated.