• Kamilaroi students from Collarenebri Central School stand in front of surviving carved tree on Banarway Bora ground. (NSW Department of Education)Source: NSW Department of Education
The 800-year-old trees were stolen in the 1940s, with at least one known to be in Switzerland.
Nadine Silva

6 Dec 2021 - 6:01 PM  UPDATED 6 Dec 2021 - 6:01 PM

Kamilaroi students have launched a global campaign to return carved trees that were destroyed and stolen in 1949 from northwest New South Wales. 

The trees were taken from Banarway Bora ground in Collarenebri, with at least one known to be part of a collection in Switzerland.

Six are currently held by Museums Victoria in Melbourne.

The students from Collarenebri Central School and Walgett Community College shared stories of the trees’ significance at a conference hosted by the Ethnography Museum of Geneva on 25 November.

“The beauty of our trees is known around the world but the importance they bring to our identity is more than we understand,” Year 4 Collarenebri student Annabelle Cole said.

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“I’m young and still have lots to learn about the history of carved trees but now I know it’s time for them to come home,” Year 7 Walgett student Sheyehanie said.

The 800-year old trees and their patterns have inspired student artworks for many years. 

But the students only began to engage in their modern history after seeing footage of the trees being removed during a consultation with Wiradjuri artist Brook Andrew for the Sydney Biennale last year.

“Seeing the film in 2020 of the trees getting cut down and stolen was a very disturbing sight to see,” former Collarenebri student Carl Mason Junior said.

“I was in complete shock when I saw that happen and I wondered if they’re ever going to be returned back to its home soil.”

Kamilaroi Elder and Walgett Community College Leader Ros McGregor said the return of the trees is vital to the healing and teaching of Kamilaroi culture.

“We can never go back to the times and way of life we had when the trees were carved, but the images and patterns on the trees speak directly to us as Kamilaroi people,” Ms McGregor said.

“There are still some trees on Country, but the return of the others will give us connection to our own knowledge system and an opportunity to continue learning lessons from the very first Bora.

“The carved trees have a spirit that is past, present and future.”

Yuwalaaraay/Euahlayi Kamilaroi man and Commonwealth Environmental officer Jason Wilson said he’s been to Melbourne to see how the trees are kept there.

“It made me cry,” Mr Wilson said.

“Some of these trees aren’t displayed. They are put in a storage shed and they’re strapped down to a pallet,” he said. 

“As far as I’m concerned, the more power that Traditional Owners have to get them back to Country is important.”

Kamilaroi Elder Aunty Pauline Walford said it’s important the trees are returned to Country.

“To us, they’ve been stolen…. That’s why I want them all brought back,” Ms Walford said.

“We want to put them on the road from the cemetery gate up to our Aboriginal cemetery.“

“I probably won’t be around to see that but I hope my grandkids are.”

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