Rodney Kelly calls on British Museum to return stolen artefact. By Felicity Collier
AN ABORIGINAL campaigner entered the British Museum yesterday to demand the return of a “stolen” shield he claims belongs to his ancestors.
Rodney Kelly, who says he is a sixth-generation descendent of the shield’s original owner, asked senior museum representatives to return the ancient artefact to its owners, the Gweagal people.
In a series of public talks, he claimed that the shield was violently seized from his great-great-great-great-grandfather — a warrior called Cooman — in 1770 by Captain Cook during the first encounter between the British and the indigenous peoples of Australia at Kamay (also known as Botany Bay).
Mr Kelly originally spoke to museum trustees in October but felt that he was not being taken seriously.
The museum has now sent the shield off for study. Mr Kelly said: “My family and I were never consulted about the shield being sent for study.
“I believe that the museum did speak to the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, but neither the land council nor the British Museum ever consulted me about this decision.
“I only found out when a British Museum visitor spotted that the shield cabinet was empty and informed me on Facebook.”
Mr Kelly also raised objections to the museum’s connections with BP, saying that the shield had been “branded” with the logo of the destructive oil company — in 2015, the museum put the shield in an exhibition of indigenous Australian objects sponsored by BP.
Most of the communities whose items were used in the exhibition were not informed that the land-wrecking oil giant would be the sponsor.
Last year, the British Museum signed a new five-year sponsorship deal with BP. Mr Kelly’s campaign is supported by activist theatre troupe BP or not BP?, which wants to rid arts and culture of fossil-fuel branding.
The British Museum said it would “be in touch with the La Perouse community, Rodney Kelly, and other interested parties when [the research] is complete.”
After the protest, the museum arranged for Mr Kelly to speak to one of its curators today — but he is still pushing to speak to a senior decision-maker.