Stolen: the rare Aboriginal spear-thrower (Victoria Police)
A rare Aboriginal spear-thrower of great cultural and historical importance has been stolen from the Melbourne Museum.
Detectives believe a man gained entry to the museum in Carlton between 1.00am and 3.30am (AEST) on Saturday.
The burglar used a t-shirt to disguise his face before entering the Bunjilaka gallery where he removed an Aboriginal spear-thrower from a display cabinet.
He left the building with the artefact without alarms being activated.
The spear-thrower is made from mulga wood, with a design of carved circles and lines depicting waterholes, creeks and claypans in Pintupi country.
It had been on loan to the museum for more than 20 years.
Senior Constable Andrew White says police were notified of the theft on Saturday afternoon.
He says there were no signs of forced entry or exit from the building but added museum staff were not being considered as part of the police investigation.
It is unclear whether the burglar knew what he was looking for.
“This is a very unusual thing to happen,” Mr White said.
“We’re hopeful that the person who’s taken the artefact hasn’t realised [its] significant cultural importance.”
Museum Victoria chief executive, Patrick Greene, says he is worried that international-standard security had been breached.
But, he stressed, security around the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition at the museum had not been compromised.
Dr Greene says the spear-thrower is a unique object of great cultural and historical importance.
“It will be a gap in our collections until it returns,” he said.
“We don’t own these objects. We hold them in trust for the whole of Australia, for both its Aboriginal population and non-Aboriginal.”
The burglar is described as a man approximately 180 centimetres tall, of slim build, wearing a dark-coloured top and jeans.
Police are reviewing closed-circuit television for clues.