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'Best Aussie tools ever made' returned to Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung community

Callan Morse -

After being gathered by non-indigenous collectors in Victoria more than a century ago, five stone tools of cultural significance have been returned to the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung community.

The return comes after the tools were repatriated from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, culminating over four years of dialogue between the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and museum management.

The tools come from a private collection of Carl Shipman, a European refugee and collector who lived in Australia before donating the tools as part of a some 1800 piece collection to the museum in the 1970's.

The collection was first identified by AIATSIS representatives in 2019 and after the museum offered to return the tools to Australia, a months-long process of research and identification occurred to ensure they were returned to the correct communities.

Wurundjeri Elder Ron Jones said the longevity of the tools was indicative of traditional stone tools made by First Nations people.

Wurundjeri Elder Ron Jones (left) with AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie. Image: AIATSIS.

"I don't call them artefacts, I call them the best Aussie tools ever made," he said.

"They last for thousands of years."

Mr Jones said the tools play an important part in connecting Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung community to traditional lands, and are relevant to younger First Nations peoples.

"The significance of finding just one tool proves that our people, over thousands of years, have passed through that area following in their ancestors' footsteps," he said.

"The tools tell us that our people were occupying this land.

"It is very significant that a lot more of our younger generation want to learn about stone tools and things like that."

The return of the tools to the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung community is the first collection of objects from the Carl Shipman collection to be returned to the relevant community.

AIATSIS chief executive Craig Ritchie said a large amount of research was conducted to ensure that the tools were returned appropriately.

"Each of these five stone tools, as with some others in the Carl Shipman collection, is inscribed with the location from which it was sourced," he said.

Wurundjeri Elder Ron Jones (centre right) with AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie (second right) with AIATSIS' return of cultural heritage team members. Image: AIATSIS.

"However, there was little other information available.

"Over several months since the tools arrived in Australia my colleagues conducted extensive research to confirm the source community."

AIATSIS' research concluded that the tools has likely not been in the hands of the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung for at least 100 years, tools which can now be used to connect First Nations people with their ancestors.

'It may be that these five stone tools have been away from home, away from community, for a century or even longer," Mr Ritchie said.

"These are tools that your ancestors once held, once used in their daily lives.

"They link today's community directly to those ancestors."

Mr Ritchie said the return completes "unfinished business from many, many decades ago."

The Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation will be responsible for the care of the tools.

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