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A woman stands against a white wall, looking at a painting of women at Corroboree
Photograph: Sotheby's

Vic government kicks in $500k to bring two rare Wurundjeri artworks home

The two artworks by Wurundjeri artist and leader William Barak were bought from Sotheby's early this morning

Written by Bianca O'Neill

A pair of valuable artworks by Wurundjeri artist and leader William Barak, dating back to 1897, are set to return to Wurundjeri Country after the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation mounted a successful bid at a Sotheby's auction in New York early this morning following a crowdfunding campaign, which raised $117,627. The bid was supported by the state government, whick kicked in an additional $500,000 to ensure the works would return home.

Wurundjeri Elder Ron Jones said: “We’ve made a step forward in closing the gap between Victorian Aboriginal people and the state government today. We’re bringing William Barak’s spirit home.”

The two works purchased – Barak's Corroboree (Women in possum skin cloaks) painting, and a carved hardwood parrying shield – will arrive in Victoria within weeks and returned to their rightful owners. William Barak was a significant and important local artist whose work provided an insight into the culture and way of life of the Wurundjeri people before European settlement. Both the painting and the shield were given by Barak in the late 19th century to the de Pury Family, where they have remained until this morning's auction.

A shield is displayed against a grey lit background, the close up shows intricate carving detail
Photograph: Sotheby's

Minister for creative industries Danny Pearson said: “The Labor government is proud to support the successful bid to bring artworks – which are invaluable to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung People – back to their rightful home and owners.”

“William Barak has had a profound impact on Victoria’s cultural heritage, with his contribution as an ambassador and advocate for his people continuing to have an impact today.”

Minister for Aboriginal affairs Gabrielle Williams added: “William Barak’s artwork will return to Country – where it rightfully belongs. We congratulate the Wurundjeri on their success in fighting for and securing this important piece of history, which is invaluable to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung People, and to the broader Victorian public.”

Want to learn more about repatriation? Check out our five star review of The Return.

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