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Doubts over Cook's boomerang return -

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Doubts over Cook's boomerang return

The World Today - Tuesday, 2 September , 2008 12:55:00

Reporter: Simon Lauder

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the controversy over the auction of a boomerang, which may or may not have
belonged to Captain James Cook. Some Indigenous Australians are lobbying for its return to
Australia and the federal Government is investigating whether it should join the campaign.

But while the auction house Christies is adamant that Boomerang did belong to Captain Cook, an
Australian antiquities expert is not so sure.

As Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Lot number 33 in a Christies auction is advertised under the heading "Captain James
Cook, a boomerang of New Holland, 1728 to 1779". It's believed by Christies that the boomerang was
collected by James Cook on his first voyage to Australia in 1770, before he rose up the ranks to
become a navy captain.

The federal member for Cook, Scott Morrison has joined a local indigenous elder in a campaign to
have the boomerang returned. Mr Morrison says it's an important part of Australia's history.

SCOTT MORRISON: What I've asked the Prime Minister and Minister Garret to do it so approach the
British Government to purchase this item and return it to the Gweagal people who were the first to
meet Cook when he landed in 1770.

SIMON LAUDER: But an experienced dealer and expert in Aboriginal artefacts is questioning the
significance of the boomerang. Arthur Palmer says there's no evidence the item was collected by
James Cook.

ARTHUR PALMER: Well it's not a matter of an article of faith if you look at the provenance and then
check the original sources. There's no mention of the boomerang, so the irresistible conclusion is
it's a very low bow to pull.

SIMON LAUDER: The asking prince for the 56 centimetre boomerang tops $120, 000. But Arthur Palmer
is advising his clients differently.

ARTHUR PALMER: My top bid on it would be 1200 Australian dollars.

SIMON LAUDER: The Christie's catalogue quotes from the Endeavour voyage journal of botanist, Sir
Joseph Banks.

ARTHUR PALMER: They weren't describing nor did they see and nor is there any evidence that they
collected boomerangs anywhere.

SIMON LAUDER: So what else could that object have been, if it wasn't the boomerang?

ARTHUR PALMER: Well the one they saw was a club; it's a long curved club with a scymitar type end.

SIMON LAUDER: And there's also the evidence which Christies is relying on, that it belonged to the
estate of James Cook's widow, Elizabeth.

ARTHUR PALMER: Well I've seen no evidence that it's mentioned in Elizabeth's will. Where it came
into that chain between the Bennett family who were the executors and Elizabeth Cook's death in the
1830's some you know 40 years after her husband, that's an unknown quantity as far as I'm
concerned.

SIMON LAUDER: The Christies catalogue says only that the boomerang is likely to have been collected
in Cook's first voyage. Nicolas Lamborn from Christies stands by that.

NICOLAS LAMBORN: People are entitled to their opinions out there and it will be for the serious
collectors and the institutions out there to make their own minds up and they'll consult whoever
they think is most appropriate to consult.

SIMON LAUDER: Mr Lamborn says the boomerang has been assessed by one of the world's leading
experts.

NICOLAS LAMBORN: Well it's got the best provenance it could have as a relic of Cook's, it's come
from his widow down through Mrs Cook's executor and residuary beneficiary, John Leach Bennett.

So it's as Cook relics go it's got (inaudible) provenance.

SIMON LAUDER: So you're confident it belonged to James Cook?

NICOLAS LAMBORN: Well as confident as we can be, I mean there are an awful lot of things out there
that are said to be associated with Cook and most of them get turned down.

Here the provenance is as good as it can be for these things. Of course something from the 18th
Century we don't have (inaudible). It's not completely water tight, it never can be.

SIMON LAUDER: Does the fact that you can't say with certainty that it was collected by Cook on a
voyage to Australia reduce its value?

NICOLAS LAMBORN: Yeah of course you can never say that if the relic wasn't included in an itemised
inventory as none of Elizabeth Cook's things really were in her world, you don't have that
parachute for these relics so it's always tenuous. It's always going to be slightly tenuous.

SIMON LAUDER: Whether or not the boomerang was ever on board the Endeavour is something the Federal
Government would be interested to know. The Arts and Heritage Minister Peter Garrett is waiting for
advice on the boomerang's provenance before deciding whether to help acquire it.

The boomerang is due to go under the hammer in London later this month.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting.