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Decoy ducks used for Traditional hunting in South Australian community return home

Tom Zaunmayr -

Duck decoys made by an early-1900s Aboriginal man in South Australia for hunting have returned home after spending more than 50 years in the USA.

The three ducks made of stuffed fabric, painted and sealed were created by Nganguruku and Ngarkat man Robert Joseph Tarby Mason, who lived near Waikerie and was well-known for his work around the 1940s.

Decoys were traditionally used for hunting on the Murray River and Mallee community in South Australia.

Uncle Tarby's decoys were sold to a publican in the 1940s, who then passed them on to his daughter, Jennifer Cook, who moved to Manahatta (New York).

The decoys were repatriated by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 2021 from the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia and on Tuesday were returned to Berri near the SA/Victorian border.

A River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation spokesperson said the decoys were significant artefacts to the region's First Nations people.

"It has been a long and exciting journey waiting for the ducks to migrate back home," they said.

"Returning from overseas is significant and their story is an opportunity to share cultural knowledge to the wider community."

AIATSIS chief executive Craig Ritchie said research into the decoys had uncovered more about the cultural history of this section of the river.

"Community Elders shared with the AIATSIS team stories about how their ancestors found sustenance along the river," he said.

"Elders spoke about their memories of Uncle Tarby, who was born in the early 1900s at Manunka Mission on the banks of the River Murray and died in 1974.

"These decoys are practical, everyday tools, but they also record local history and the culture behind that history."

Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said the decoys told a fascinating story of Indigenous hunting practices.

"The return after more than 50 years will support the transfer of cultural knowledge for future generations," she said.

The three decoy ducks will be displayed in the RMMAC office in Berri.

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