(Transcript from World News Radio)
An historic medal gifted to a Maori chief in Sydney more than 200 years ago is on its way back to New Zealand after being sold at auction.
The sale in Sydney came amid protests from some Maori community members who were calling for the medal to be returned to descendants of its original owners.
But as Naomi Selvaratnam reports, the new owners are planning a shared guardianship arrangement which does involve descendants.
(sfx of haka)
Maori community leaders fighting to protect a piece of history gifted to a Maori chief over 200 years ago.
(sfx of gavel and auctioneer’s voice )
The silver medal was sold for a whopping $300,000 dollars to an initially unidentified bidder.
For Maori community leader, Kiri Barber, it was a disappointing day.
“What we’re talking about is a piece of shared history between our two countries. We had lost trace of it. and then all of a sudden last week we were advised it was going up for auction. Now we see it and now we don’t. It’s so disappointing.”
The medal was a gift in 1806 from the Governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King, to the visiting Maori chief, Te Pahi.
But just four years later, British whalers attacked Te Pahi’s village back in New Zealand, killing him.
The medal disappeared into private hands.
For decades, it moved between a succession of owners — until it appeared in a catalogue for the auction house, Sotheby’s, in Sydney.
Since then, some Maori community members had fought to have the medal withdrawn from sale.
But Director of Sotheby’s Australia, Garry Singer, says no Maori group was able to prove they are the descendants of Te Pahi.
“If they had a claim, they should have put up their hand and said ages ago, gee this medal belonged to me, where is it?”
After the medal was sold, Kiri Barber stood to address the audience.
(Barber speaking in Maori)
Security officers quickly escorted Mr Barber from the auction room.
Later, he said he was simply saying farewell to the medal.
“It’s such a sad moment for us. Because after 204 years, we see it for a week. And it’s gone.”
However, Mr Barber was speaking before the purchasers of the medal were revealed: New Zealand’s national Te Papa Museum in Wellington, and the Auckland War Memorial.
In a joint statement, the museums say they’ll be bringing the medal back to New Zealand, and they’ll be arranging a shared guardianship arrangement with the descendants of Te Pahi.