University of Sydney: Botany Bay spears obtained in 1770 to be displayed in Sydney

Three Indigenous spears taken by Lieutenant James Cook from Kamay (Botany Bay) in 1770 will go on display at the University of Sydney’s Chau Chak Wing Museum from 8 April 2022.

The Kamay spears are returning to Sydney for the first time since they were taken more than 250 years ago.

The spears, shaped by the hands of those who came before, tell their own story of tradition and history.

The three Kamay spears will be displayed alongside 37 contemporary spears, together representing the 40 taken away by members of the Endeavour’s crew. This occurred after Gweagal men resisted the landing party, then withdrew after being shot at. “Gweagal” refers to the clan of the Dharawal peoples, traditional owners of the southern area of Kamay (Botany Bay).

The display at the Chau Chak Wing Museum provides an opportunity for the local Aboriginal community to reconnect with their past. It also enables a dialogue with the wider community on issues around cultural practice.

A display includes 37 contemporary spears on a dark background
The display includes 37 contemporary spears, representing other spears taken away by members of the Endeavour’s crew

“These precious objects offer an insight into the story of previous generations and their experiences of the world,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services), Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver.

“They will inform new generations and help today’s peoples learn traditional techniques.

“We are a living continuous culture. These items are an important part of the cultural identity of the peoples they came from and of the knowledge they hold. Their sensitive and appropriate display ensures ongoing cultural connection and practice.”

The Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) loaned the spears to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. The National Museum extended its loan to enable the historic items to travel to Sydney before returning to the UK.

MAA’s Director Professor Nicholas Thomas said he was honoured to work with the Kamay community to celebrate Australia’s rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and gain new understanding of the spears.

“The spears taken away by Cook and other members of the Endeavour’s crew are exceptionally significant,” said Professor Thomas. “They represent the ways of life of Kamay people at the time of first contact. They are the first artefacts collected by any European from any part of Australia, that remain extant and documented. They reflect the beginnings of a history of misunderstanding and conflict.

“The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is committed to making the artefacts accessible to the Gweagal people and the Australian public. We are honoured to work with the Kamay community and the University to enable access and to support further study.”

Many families within the La Perouse Aboriginal community are descended from those who were present when the Endeavour was anchored in Kamay.
Noeleen Timbery, Chairperson, La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council
The temporary display of the spears aims to facilitate closer collaboration and cultural care between museums and Indigenous communities of origin. While at the University’s Chau Chak Wing Museum, they will be the focus of access and education programs developed with the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council for both the local Aboriginal and wider community.

“The La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council is proud to be working with the University of Sydney and the Chau Chak Wing Museum to bring these important artefacts to Sydney for the first time in more than 250 years,” said Noeleen Timbery, Chairperson of the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“Many of the families within the La Perouse Aboriginal community are descended from those who were present during the eight days the Endeavour was anchored in Kamay. We will continue to work to ensure our community’s access to these and other important artefacts and materials; they remain an important connection to our past, our traditions and cultural practices, and to our ancestors.”

Ray Ingrey, Chairman of the Gujaga Foundation and the La Perouse Aboriginal Community Alliance said: “Our senior people started working with various cultural institutions in the late 1990s to ensure the next generation could access significant objects, such as the Kamay spears, for educational purposes. This exhibition will realise their wishes.”

The exhibit shows the diversity of spear styles and purposes, and the continuity of this important cultural practice.

For the Chau Chak Wing Museum, the display is an opportunity to share stories of our history.

“We are pleased to be involved in important conversations on cultural practice,” said Dr Paul Donnelly, Acting Director of the Chau Chak Wing Museum. “The University is taking a leading role in enabling conversations while providing a culturally safe space for the spears’ display.”

Director of the National Museum, Canberra, Dr Mathew Trinca, said: “We are delighted to be working with the La Perouse Aboriginal community, the University of Cambridge and the University of Sydney, making possible this display of the Kamay spears in Sydney for three months.”

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