Thieves break into exhibition to steal $5,000 echidna quill necklace created by Indigenous artist

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A necklace made from long spiky quills sits on a white background
The echidna-quill necklace was the only item taken from the jewellery exhibition at Rosny Park.(Supplied: Jeanette James)

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  • In short: An Aboriginal artist says she is gobsmacked by the theft of an echidna quill necklace from an exhibition about to open in Hobart  
  • What’s next? Mayor Brendan Blomeley, whose council is hosting the exhibition, says the theft is bizarre because the necklace can’t be sold without a certificate of authenticity

A $5,000 echidna quill necklace made by an Aboriginal elder has been stolen from an art exhibition on Hobart’s eastern shore, days before it was due to open.

The necklace, which was supposed to be part of the Difficult Terrain: Contemporary Tasmanian Jewellery exhibition at Rosny Park, was made by Aunty Jeanette James.

“The actual style is quite unique to me,” she said.

The necklace is made of echidna quills Ms James has collected over the past few years, and twine made out of flax that she has woven herself.

“I have a permit and I can only collect road kill,” she said.

“I bring them home and bury them for six or seven months and let nature do its work and dig them up, when they’re ready, and clean them. Something nice evolves from a tragedy.”

A woman with short blonde hair looks at the camera and holds a necklace made from eagle claws
Ms James is a well known palawa artist whose works have been widely exhibited.(ABC News: Jordan Young)

Ms James was “gobsmacked” when she found out the necklace had been stolen. Nothing else had been broken or stolen.

“Whilst it’s a beautiful item, it’s such an odd item to be stolen, as in it’s very distinct,” she said.

 “I’m shocked, but I can be ‘well somebody else liked it as well.'”

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A close up of a woman's hand, holding a necklace made using eagle claws

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Clarence Mayor Brendan Blomeley said it was important that the necklace be returned to Ms James.

“It’s extraordinarily frustrating and concerningly, there seems to be an increase in this type of behaviour,” he said.

“We are working with Tasmania Police and hopefully we’ll be able to recover this culturally significant art.”

The exhibition features work from 10 artists.

Cr Blomeley said it was not something that could be sold or worn in public.

“It’s bizarre that with all these beautiful pieces of jewellery there that this was the one piece that was taken.”

“It can’t be sold without a certificate of authenticity, it can’t be worn because it’s so distinctive, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Cr Blomeley urged anyone with information to contact police.

“Hopefully we will be able to recover this piece of culturally sensitive art,” he said.

Ms James shared a message for the thieves.

“Do you understand how much work goes into making a piece like that?” she asked, “how many hours I put into making that for you to steal it?”

“If you want it, pay for it, or enjoy viewing at the exhibition.”