Is your history my history?

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  • Published 20060905
  • ISBN: 9780733319389
  • Extent: 288 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

I NEVER MET my grandfather, but we keep his skull on the top shelf of the hutch, behind two Toby mugs, an insulator from the old telegraph system and a soccer trophy awarded “For Participation 1990”. I reach over this dusty clutter and touch the thin leather and cardboard box in which the skull is housed. My grandfather was not the original owner of the skull – if, indeed, it can be said he “owned” it. Of the man whose brain once sat in it, I know little save that he was Aboriginal.

Over the past few years, museums have publicly been returning artefacts and remains of indigenous people to the families and tribal groups from which they were taken. It is easy to empathise with this. It is not usually a matter of dispute; bones do not have the same economic value as land. Yet this skull is the only material link to a past I can only know through the memory of others. My parents, too, feel they have some claim to it. My mother’s father gave it to my father (knowledge is a male domain) and he has kept it – it has become an heirloom. Even though it has been with the family for eighty years at least, and has emotional and symbolic significance for us, this is not a convincing argument to keep it.

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