• Tasmania’s Aboriginal community will see the return of sacred rock carvings taken by the state’s museum nearly sixty years ago. (ABC: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery )Source: ABC: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Nearly sixty years ago rock carvings were stolen and displayed in a Tasmanian museum, now they are set to be returned to community.
Brooke Fryer

13 Dec 2019 - 2:26 PM  UPDATED 13 Dec 2019 - 2:26 PM

Tasmania’s Aboriginal community will see the return of sacred rock carvings which were stolen and taken to the state’s museum after a community meeting made the demand early this week. 

pakana Elder and chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, said the petroglyphs from Preminghana, around the north-west coast of Tasmania, were stolen during the 1960s. 

Mr Mansell said the local community the artefacts are now on their way home.

"There is a wonderful sense of relief that the museum is not making us fight for our heritage and a tremendous amount of joy that this heritage is going back to the place where our ancestors, not only created it, but meant for it to stay," Mr Marshall told NITV News. 

In the 1960s, slabs of carvings running about five metres in length were sawed off and taken to the Tasmania Museum and Art Gallery where they were put on display at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. 

In 2005, they were removed from public display and have been warehoused in a basement ever since. 

Mr Marshall said the stolen sacred petroglyphs were a part of a 30 kilometre stretch of carvings created between 3000 and 8000 years ago, telling the local story of creation. 

The carvings were essentially a timeline of what the community witnessed and observed during that time. 

"The carvings represent Aboriginal people over thousands of years describing what they saw, what they did, things they saw in the sky including the recording of Halley's Comet and they also recorded explosions," said Mr Mansell.

"The story doesn't make sense when they are taken out of context... it's like taking out two or three middle pieces of the jigsaw and putting it up in the museum and no one can make sense of them." 

Mr Marshall said the community's next step is to return the pieces back into their rightful positions so the timeline can finally be restored. 

Step towards reconciliation 

Earlier in the week, Mr Mansell said the museum had heard the community cries and released a statement that committed to "return them to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community, once the necessary arrangements and approvals are in place".

The statement said the museum recognised the significance of the carvings to the Aboriginal community.

Mr Marshall said he was shocked to hear the decision come about so quickly, but said it was a positive show of understanding. 

"Public institutions are showing a lot more leadership in reconciliation ... and the politicians seem to be falling behind them," he said. 

"There is now this massive shift in perception and a positive shift about the importance of Aboriginal culture." 

He said he was proud of the museum for taking the step and understanding that sacred artefacts "belong to Aboriginal people and their place of origin". 

The carvings will be returned to the community in the new year. 

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