Bring us the head of warrior killed by British centuries ago, Aborigines urge future king

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To young Australian women, he is a bit of a heart-throb. To the country’s republicans, he is a symbol of an ancient system that should be swept away. But as Prince William arrived in Sydney yesterday, it emerged that to the Aboriginal people he is nothing short of a royal lost property office.

Within hours of touching down, he was asked by Aboriginal elders to take up the cause of two separate symbols of their people’s struggle for recognition and equal rights that have gone missing. One was a petition that went astray more than 70 years ago: the other was the head of an indigenous warrior who was decapitated by British soldiers more than 200 years ago.

The head belonged to the warrior Pemulwuy, who was shot dead in 1802, 14 years after the arrival of the First Fleet. His head was sent to England in a jar and was thought to have been kept at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, before being moved to the Natural History Museum. The museum has no record of it. For indigenous Australians the return of forebears arouses strong feelings, as it would allow them a proper burial. Some believe that Pemulwuy’s skull was bottled, returned to Australia in 1950 and lost.

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