She's got a bit of cash. She's in love. It's a fairy tale romance and now he's asked her to marry him but there is one hitch.
"We have something called the Reviewing Committee for the Export of Works of Art," said the Culture Minister. (here.) "It
assesses important works of art or artifacts under a set of criteria,
and one is, 'would its loss to the nation be a misfortune?'"
Everyone is being very nice about the pretty lass who just wants a rock with some kind of cultural meaning to cement her engagement - but they are not about to let Jane Austen's ring out of the country. And no Clarkson/Austen ring jokes please. No. I'm serious.
This wouldn't normally even buzz my radar but I'm paying a bill somewhere and footage of the culture minister speaking comes on the screen behind the counter. I'm distracting myself with bill paying and television on a day when I should be writing-but-end-up-researching-something-sort-of-related-but-not ...
... like Patsy Adam Smith writing on the graveyard at Wybalenna, which was the failed island settlement for Pallawah exiles:
"And then there are the graves that are graves no more, roughly marked with stones, the places where the exiled Aborigines had been buried. The skeletons were disinterred a century ago and sold to museums in Britain and on the Continent."
Here I go from a mere anecdote of glass and gold to the bones of history, but bear with me, please.
'Disinterred.' What does that mean?
It means that the robbing of bodies and graves became so widespread and accepted as
practice that Elders began to request that coffins were held open
during ceremonies, so the family could see they were not full of sand
bags. On Flinders and other Bass Strait islands, people buried their
families quietly, often only marking the site with a single stone. They knew about that man with the spade, who stood to gain a year's wage from one Tasmanian body.
The amount of red tape and bullshit that Aboriginal groups have had to wade through to get the remains of their ancestors back to Country is beset with problems to this day: identification of human remains is one. Some of the Aboriginal bodies were smuggled out of the country labelled as kangaroo bones. (At least we all know that Clarkson's rock used to belong to Austen. If she dropped it down the toilet and a New York sewer worker found it ten years later in the belly of one of those crocodiles, we'd still know it was Jane Austen's ring.)
Then there is the resistance posed by certain British institutions to returning them at all:
"Efforts to repatriate the skulls have so far been spectacularly
unsuccessful. A delegation of Ngarrindjeri elders sent to Oxford in 2008
was first told that the skulls were "objects", and as such were not
covered by the museum's policy on human remains." (Here)
Although some museums such as the University of Edinburgh have immediately returned body parts upon request, other museums prove a bit more tricky. "London's Natural History Museum, whose collection of Aboriginal remains includes a dried head, 124
skulls, and about 20 skeletons (five of which have names and addresses),
has strenuously opposed repatriation." As of 2009, British institutions were still hanging on to 643 Aboriginal human remains; ten times more bones, hair, and pickled or dried fetuses, heads and organs than did the next most acquisitive country, Germany.
So I know that a literary national treasure, a piece of jewellery and a pop star makes for great nationalistic clicky copy ... but Mr Culture Minister! Consistency please!
For more info (here) is an interesting page on the repatriation of Aboriginal remains.