Serendipity returns artefacts to owner

Treasures rich in historical significance have been returned to Gweagal woman Theresa Ardler and her family after a chance meeting led to an emotional reconnection with her past.

Ms Ardler is from the Eora region on her mother’s side and grew up and now lives in her father’s country, the Yuin nation, in the Booderee National Park at Jervis Bay.

She has a Bachelor of Education and a Diploma in Child Science and is studying for a Master of Religious Education and a Master of Educational Leadership.

She shares her Indigenous culture and knowledge by teaching boys from Trinity Grammar School in Sydney at the school’s Field Studies Centre in Woollamia in the NSW Shoalhaven region.

“I look for opportunities to work creatively and innovatively in cultural and school environments that can produce genuine and meaningful cultural dialogue,” she says.

But a trip to Trinity’s Summer Hill campus in Sydney sparked a serendipitous reunion.

Ms Ardler was in Sydney to help the school write a comprehensive unit on Aboriginal art. While there she got talking to Trinity Visual Arts Head of Department Stephen Collins and they realised that their recent ancestors came from the same region in the Goulburn area of the Gandangara people.

Mr Collins’ family had owned a property in the area from the 1920s to the early 2000s. While ploughing a paddock near an outcrop of large rocks that contained a small cave, his father unearthed small rocks sharpened into tools that were most likely used by Gandangara Aboriginal people.

Mr Collins has been the custodian of the treasures that his father unearthed years ago.

“I’ve had them for quite some time and have been trying to figure out what to do with them,” he says.

“I wasn’t sure whether to give them to a museum or the school’s Archaeology Society for our students to enjoy, but neither of these options seemed right.

“Clearly the universe had a plan and as I got talking to Theresa and learned that the tools came from her ancestors’ land, it was an obvious solution – I’d found the rightful owners and returning them was the right thing to do, considering Theresa’s ancestors likely made and used them.”

Ms Ardler quickly identified that the artefacts were two scraping tools that fit neatly into the hand, and a large axe head similar to a tomahawk.

“The tools are in very good condition and still very sharp,” she says.

A small ceremony was held in front of a class of Year 8 boys that Ms Ardler had been teaching about Aboriginal tools and technology.

“This is a very emotional thing for me,” Ms Ardler says. “To know my ancestors’ tools have been returned to my family means a lot to me – it’s like having a piece of my great grandfather back with the family.”

Mr Collins plans to visit the area where the tools were found to collect some local soil for Ms Ardler.

Ms Ardler’s family members will each be invited to touch the tools to connect with their ancestral past before they are placed in the soil from their original location.

The family will then discuss with clan members and elders where and how the artefacts should be located and stored long-term.

“I’m just so happy that these treasures have found their rightful home,” Mr Collins says.


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