Culture Buff

The Elgin Marbles

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

25 April 2020

9:00 AM

He grew up in Eastwood on Sydney’s Northern Line. Geoffrey Robertson’s brilliant career got off to a flying start with a Rhodes Scholarship in 1970. He has dual Australian/British citizenship and became a household name here through his television series Geoffrey Robertson’s Hypotheticals, but it is his work as a London-based QC and international human rights lawyer that is more notable. In a list of extraordinary cases, Robertson, in 2007, took proceedings for Aboriginal Tasmanians to recover ancestral remains from the Natural History Museum in London. The return of cultural objects has been a recurring pursuit of Robertson’s, as he argues in his latest book Who Owns History?. The subtitle is unambiguous: Elgin’s Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure.

In 2001, we had been taken on an official tour of the wonderful British Museum. The tour had not included the Elgin Marbles so on our last day in London, the 11th September, we took ourselves back to see the Marbles in their beautiful and strangely moving display. On leaving the Museum, our driver told us: ‘They’ve attacked America’. Robertson’s book brings that day to mind and I remain doubtful about cultural restitution. In 1972, I fell in love with the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin and would be concerned about it being returned to the dusty museum in Cairo that was looted during the Arab Spring. There’s no doubt Geoffrey Robertson’s book is vigorously argued even if I will beg to differ.

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