Australian legislators call for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures


The South Australian Parliament Legislative Council has just passed a unanimous resolution addressed to the UK Government and the British Museum calling for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

The motion was initiated by SA Best member Frank Pangallo MLC back in July 2022 when he made an impassioned plea to his Upper House colleagues, calling for the immediate restitution of the British Museum's collection of marble artefacts ransacked from the Parthenon at the turn of the 19th century by Lord Elgin.

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The Hon. Frank Pangallo MLC

Rising to speak, the SA Best legislator noted that the emblematic style of the Parthenon has been copied in many buildings of importance and governance in cities around the world, including the Greek Revival-inspired South Australian Parliament.  He declared:

“The Parthenon, even in its breathtaking ruinous majesty, remains an enduring symbol of the legacy the ancient Greeks left us. The indelible image of its stone portico held aloft by imposing hand-carved columns, represents the very heart and soul of our modern civilisation, of democracy, justice, learning and art.”

South Australian Parliament

Pangallo recalled recent developments, including the decision in September 2021 taken by UNESCO's Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property Intergovernmental Committee calling for the return of the sculptures and again in May 2022 when UNESCO urged the UK to urgently enter into bona fide dialogue with Greece to reach a satisfactory settlement.

The South Australian legislator referenced the prominent international jurist, academic and author Geoffrey Robertson, who in his recent book “Who Owns History? Elgin's Loot and the Case for Returning Plundered Treasure”, describes the trustees of the British Museum as “the world's largest receivers of stolen property”.  Pangallo also noted that the Australian Parthenon Association, formerly Australians for the Return of the Parthenon Sculptures, headed by David Hill, a former head of the ABC, is spearheading the movement in conjunction with international counterparts.

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Geoffrey Robertson KC in Sydney, June 2021 (Bourdo Photography).

When the debate on the motion finally took place on 28 September 2022 it quickly became apparent that there was strong multi-partisan support in the house for the proposition that the Parthenon Sculptures should be reunited in the Acropolis Museum in Athens.

The South Australian State Government indicated that it supported the motion, as did the main opposition party whose Deputy Leader also acknowledged that the Parthenon is an iconic monument of both significant Greek cultural heritage and of universal value as an outstanding World Heritage site.  A call was also made for the Australian Federal Government to join the growing international movement demanding the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Greece.

In reply, Frank Pangallo stated that the motion was not just about the Parthenon sculptures but was actually symbolic of the return of relics that had been seized by colonial occupiers, not just from European countries, but also from Africa, South America and elsewhere.  He observed that there is a growing movement where museums and large institutions are beginning to return items that had been taken illegally, stolen, or even bought by collectors, to their rightful homes.

Pangallo also noted that the ancestral human remains of many of Australia’s First Nation descendants that had been transported to museums, particularly in the United Kingdom, have now been returned to Australia as an indication of how attitudes have changed, whether they be human remains or cultural artistic treasures.

In closing, Frank Pangallo advised that he will be visiting Athens in late October and has already scheduled a meeting with Professor Nikolaos Stampolidis, the General Director of the Acropolis Museum, to convey the Legislative Council's support for the return of the sculptures.  He added that  Professor Stampolidis is well aware of what the Parliament was doing and was extremely appreciative and supportive of the motion.

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Prof Nikolaos Stampolidis at the Acropolis Museum (photo by Dimitris Vlaikos)

South Australia has in the past been very supportive of the campaign for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.  In 2016 the Foundation for Hellenic Studies, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, staged an exhibition at the Adelaide Festival Centre entitled “The Sculptures of The Acropolis - A Retrospective” and featuring 15 replicas of sculptures from the Parthenon as well as a replica of the Caryatid currently imprisoned in the British Museum.  Geoffrey Robertson was also the guest speaker at a gala function held to honour the #ReturnTheMarbles campaign.


The spirit of Philhellenism clearly resonates in South Australia.


George Vardas is the Arts and Culture Editor and a co-founder of the Acropolis Research Group