Global hearts found
By UTE SCHULENBERG
FEATHERS, seeds and sacred drums resulted in 48 hours of high drama for organisers of the Bellingen Global Carnival prior to the carnival's opening last night. While hearts were pounding in Bellingen, up in Brisbane the 41 West Papuan performers from headline acts Tam Tebu and Opako Kakuru, were digesting the news that their traditional costumes and a sacred drum, had been impounded by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). What had started out as the biggest cultural excursion in modern West Papuan history, farewelled with a public holiday and fully feathered dance display, threatened to end in major international embarrassment. The main stumbling block was a sacred drum, which included the skin of an endangered lizard. Under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), of which Australia is a signatory, the item had to be seized. Global Carnival organiser, Bryony Taylor, said while the festival supported the law in principle, the debacle was insensitive. "This drum contains the spirit of their ancestors - it would be like having your grandmother locked up," Ms Taylor said. As tension mounted the federal member for Cowper, Luke Hartsukyer, was contacted and calls to customs officials and the federal minister for agriculture, Peter McGauran followed. "AQIS is duty bound to seize the items but this drum is clearly not trading stock, it's a religious artefact," Mr Hartsukyer said. The matter was resolved by 10am yesterday. But that still left the problem of the feathers and seeds which, despite chanting by the West Papuans outside the AQIS offices, remain in Brisbane. A weary Dr Greg Poulgrain, the groups' liaison officer, finally put the performers on a bus bound for Bellingen after lunch, without some of the mens' feathered headdresses and some seed-laden neck bracelets. "The whole thing as resolved quickly once we eventually got through to the minister," Dr Poulgrain said. "Considering most of the Papuans have never been out of their country, they are coping well, although they are probably wondering about Australian bureaucracy." The group will be on stage at the Global Carnival today at 2.45pm.