Aboriginal sacred stone pulled from U.K. auction

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A sacred Aboriginal stone, which according to tradition should never be viewed by women, was reportedly withdrawn from auction in Britain Wednesday after the sale caused outrage in Australia.

The delicately etched flat "Tjuringa" stone, which normally would only ever have been handled by initiated male elders, was offered for sale by a British woman who was given it as a birthday gift more than 50 years ago.

But Canterbury Auction Galleries said it had decided against auctioning the ritual stone, which was expected to fetch up to US$9,500, after being approached by the Australian High Commission in London and cultural experts.

"I've spoken to the vendor and you can be the first to know that we're withdrawing it from auction," the auction house's managing director Tony Pratt told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

"Obviously my vendor and myself don't wish to offend anybody from the Aboriginal races," he said. Pratt said it was a museum-quality artefact, "but I've realised how important this has become".

He added that he hoped the stone could be returned to Australia.

The potential sale had outraged Aboriginal experts, who said the stone was so important to the Arrernte people of the central desert region that museums in Australia refuse to exhibit it out of respect for their beliefs.

In a note on the sale, the auction house said the "Kent lady" had been given the 10.5 by 6 inches (26.7 centimetres by 15.2 centimetres) oval stone by writer Archer Russell, a man she knew only briefly in Sydney in 1959.

Russell, who spent months in the central desert region, also gave the unnamed woman, who at one time worked as an actress on Australian television, a "well-used boomerang".

"I called the Churinga (Tjuringa) my dreaming stone," she is quoted as saying in the auction house notes.

"As I can't divide it between my two sons, I have decided to sell it. Archer was a kind, loving man and I know he would approve."

Bernice Murphy, national director of Museums Australia, said Tjuringas were the most sacred objects in Aboriginal culture and anyone with an affinity for indigenous beliefs would not have given one to a white English woman as a birthday gift.

"It's the most sacrilegious thing you could do in men's Aboriginal cultural terms to do that," she said, adding that returning such objects to their traditional owners was of great importance.

The stones held a powerful spiritual attachment to the "particular people whose whole identity is kind of resonating around the markings on that little stone", she added.

© 2011 AFP

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