Mysterious theft of local Koori history
By BELINDA SCOTT
A BIZARRE theft of Aboriginal history documents has upset both black and white groups in Coffs Harbour and left a big question mark.
Two large folders of documents on the Aboriginal history of Coffs Harbour and on native title claims and their background were stolen from the Avocado Heights office of research historian Arlene Hope on Sunday night.
Nothing else was taken from her office, or her house.
One of the folders contained detailed history on Coffs Coast Aboriginal families and local Aboriginal burial sites. The other folder contained details on Coffs Coast Aboriginal land claims.
Mrs Hope said the two clearly-marked folders of files, which represent four years of voluntary research work, much of it conducted in Sydney, were on the desk in her unlocked office, but she had never dreamed that anyone would steal them.
"I was naive ? in the wrong hands this (infor-mation) could destroy things we don't want destroyed," Mrs Hope said.
Included in the folders were photographs of Aboriginal burial sites as well as some original early photographs.
Why would anyone steal information already being passed on to local Aboriginal elders' groups?
Mrs Hope fears the theft could lead to removal of bones or artifacts from burial sites.
Gumbular Julibi elder Aunty Anita Craig described the theft as 'a very low act' saying Arlene Hope had collected valuable information.
"Those sites are very important to the Aboriginal people of this area, but it's very delicate information that should not be put around to just anyone," Mrs Craig said.
"There are lots of break-ins, but this was different ? it has to be that information was of use to the person who took it ? I can't see any other reason."
Mrs Hope said Sgt Chris Hurst of Coffs Harbour police had advised that publicising the theft could prevent the material being misused.
She has been making a special study of the Aboriginal history of the Orara Valley and the Jetty area and had collected records and photographs of important burial sites, including three at the Jetty and others at Nana Glen and Upper Orara, as well as detailed Aboriginal genealogical records.
"I feel really violated," Mrs Hope said.
"This was research material no one else had. I feel devastated."
Mrs Hope said she had been sharing the information she found with both the Gumbular Julibi elders in Coffs Harbour and the Yarrawarra Garbyi elders group, and had made some important discoveries about Aboriginal occupation of the Jetty area.
She has written to the general manager of Coffs Harbour City Council and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs notifying them of the theft.
The Jetty Action Group (JAG), which has been following Mrs Hope's work with interest, is collecting donations to help her return to Sydney to re-gather copies of original documents and continue her work.
Donations can be posted to the Jetty Action Group, PO Box 1512, Coffs Harbour.