Rare Indigenous artworks to return home

The artwork is returning to where it belongs, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams says.
The artwork is returning to where it belongs, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams says.

Two rare artworks by Wurundjeri artist William Barak will return to their rightful owners after successful auction bids in New York.

Descendants of Mr Barak secured the art, dating from 1897, at a Sotheby's auction in Manhattan on Wednesday, with the help of the Victorian government and a crowdfunding campaign.

The Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation successfully bid on a 19th-century painting, which sold for more than $500,000. A carved hardwood parrying shield went for more than $70,000.

It came hours after the state government's last-minute contribution of $500,000. The crowdfunding campaign raised $119,710.

Wurundjeri elder Ron Jones said he nearly lost hope that enough money would be raised in time for Wednesday's auction.

"It was a great feeling to know that we were really in reach of bringing something so significant in our history back to Victoria," Mr Jones told ABC radio.

"I'm so pumped. I still can't believe that we actually won it."

Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams said securing the artworks was a significant result.

"William Barak's artwork will return to Country, where it rightfully belongs," Ms Williams said.

The painting, which depicts three rows of women in possum-skin cloaks, and the unique carving were reportedly gifted to the de Pury family of Switzerland in the late 19th century.

Premier Daniel Andrews described the winning bids as a "fantastic outcome" for the community.

"We didn't want them going into a private collection on the other side of the world. This is a really important part of our history. It's a really important part of healing and our journey forward," Mr Andrews said.

First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria co-chair and Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, Marcus Stewart, was pleased the artworks would be back on home soil.

"(We) look forward to this happening more often," he said.

"Repatriation of culturally significant items is important to our people, and it goes hand-in-hand with truth-telling and treaty."

Australian Associated Press