• (L-R) Rodney Kelly, Descendant of Gweagal warrior, with the original spear; William MacLeod 1899 painting depiction of First Contact (Facebook/Archive)Source: Facebook/Archive
The three spears taken from the Gweagal people by Captain Cook and his crew in 1770 are set to be returned from UK's Cambridge University to Kamay-Botany Bay.
Nadine Silva

30 Apr 2021 - 11:42 AM  UPDATED 30 Apr 2021 - 11:46 AM

La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council have announced repatriation plans of three Gweagal spears.

On the 251st Anniversary of the first contact between the Gweagal people and Lieutenant James Cook on Wednesday, the date that these items were taken, it was announced that three significant Gweagal spears will be returning to Country. 

“It will be the first time those spears will be back this close to Country since 1770,” LPLALC Chairperson Noeleen Timbery said at a commemoration held by Sydney's Sutherland Shire.

When the HMV Endeavour anchored at Kamay Botany Bay in 1770, Cook and his crew were famously met by two Gweagal men with spears. 

Cook and his men then entered the Gweagal camp, taking artefacts, including a number of spears, back to England. These items were gifted to UK museums, institutions and investors of Cook's voyage. 

“We've lost track of many of them but four spears still exist having been retained by Trinity College in Cambridge and housed in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,” Ms Timbery said.

Ms Timbery said there are records of the spears being at Kamay and collected by Cook’s crew.

“It's important we do everything in our power to get them back here to show the community’s ongoing connection back to that time,” Ms Timbery said. 

“The Gweagal were amongst the first of First Nations people to be impacted by European arrival. We are still here, and we haven't forgotten.”

The three spears returned to Australia for the National Museum’s Endeavour Voyage exhibition which ended on 26 April.

Ms Timbery said the LPLALC and the La Perouse Aboriginal Community Alliance were involved in securing their return for the exhibition in Canberra before they began working with the museum in Cambridge for the spears to stay.

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She hopes they’ll arrive in Sydney in the coming weeks in time to open a temporary exhibition to coincide with Reconciliation Week, beginning May 27.

The spears will arrive in Sydney at an undisclosed location, with the aim to eventually be displayed at a purpose-built Museum in Sydney's Sutherland shire.

“Unfortunately the spears can't come back to Country (Gweagal land) as we don't have a facility here yet, but our long term vision is for these spears along with other artefacts to return to Country in a new museum-grade facility here in Kurnell.”

It’s a vision NSW Attorney-General and Member for Cronulla Mark Speakman said he understands.

Getting the spears repatriated is something Mr Speakman said has been an ongoing battle which he credits the LPLALC and Rodney Kelly for winning.

Mr Kelly is a descendant of the Gweagal warrior Cooman, who dropped his shield during the first encounter when the Endeavour crew chased him away with gunfire.

The University of Cambridge rejected Mr Kelly’s repatriation request in 2017, saying his claim of ancestry to the historic Gweagal leader wasn’t well-supported.

Mr Speakman said discussions are also underway to repatriate the shield which is being held at the British Museum.

“One of the issues, I understand, has been satisfying the British Museum that there'll be a safe place for the spears and shield to be here in Australia.”

However, standing on the traditional land of the Gweagal people, Mr Speakman reflected on the recent victory.

“Reconciliation isn’t just about practical measures improving Indigenous outcomes on the ground. It's also symbolic.

“It's just incredibly great news on this significant day.”