A wood and steel axe of cultural significance has been returned to the Philippines.

Igorot axe

19 November 2021

The axe, which dates back to the early to mid 20th century, comes from the Igorot communities of northern Luzon, who still use this type of tool for woodcarving and hunting.

The cultural artefact was returned to the Ambassador of the Philippines, Her Excellency Mrs Maria Hellen Barber De La Vega, in a handback ceremony held today in Canberra.

The axe had been removed from the Philippines in breach of cultural property laws which prevent cultural objects being removed without a permit from the National Museum.

It was intercepted by the Australian Border Force upon entry into Australia from the United States of America. Australian Border Force alerted the Cultural Property section of the Office for the Arts, which undertook an investigation under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986.

After consultation with an expert on Asian art history and curatorial studies, and a restitution request from the Government of the Philippines, the object was seized so it could be returned.

Cultural and ethnographic objects such as this axe help us understand and appreciate other cultures and broaden our knowledge of traditions and practices that have shaped other nations.

Australia is a signatory to the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting the illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property 1970, providing for international cooperation to prevent and abate the trafficking of cultural material.

This month marked the 51st anniversary of the Convention and the second International Day Against Illicit Trafficking in Cultural Property.

Australia and the Philippines have a strong and enduring partnership, evident from this year's celebration of the 75th Anniversary of our diplomatic relations.