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AUSTRALIAN TRACKS STOLEN



Aborigines upset by theft of rare dinosaur fossil
 MELBOURNE, Oct 15 (Reuter) - Fossil-hunters have stolen a unique set of
dinosaur footprints from a piece of sacred rock in outback Australia, outraging
local aborigines.
 The thieves apparently used power tools to remove the four footprints,
thought to be the only known set of its kind and felt by aborigines to belong
to a mythical creature from their "Dream Time,'' aborigines and scientists
said on Tuesday.
 "It's a very sacred thing to me,'' said Joseph Roe, who for the past eight
years has been aboriginal custodian of the footprints near Broome on the
country's remote northwest coast.
 Roe said he believed he, his family and the people who took the footprints
could fall ill because of the theft.
 "According to aboriginal tradition, whoever has taken them has placed
themselves in great danger,'' he told state radio.
 "They might get sick or I might get sick,'' he later told Reuters, warning
that the offence was punishable by death under aboriginal law.
 "If he (a thief) comes to face me I will put a spear through him and
finish him,'' Roe said by telephone from Broome, a tourist town over 3,000 km
(1,800 miles) northwest of Sydney.
 "The theft is a great loss -- both scientifically and culturally,'' he
added.
 The fossils are the world's only known footprints of a stegasaurus, a
herbivore that stood around three metres (10 ft) tall and carried a double row
of spikes along its back, said palaeontologist Ken McNamara, of the Western
Australian Museum.
 Anthropologist Patrick Sullivan, among a party of aborigines who discovered
the theft last Wednesday, said the footprints were part of a "song line'' of
scared sites used in aboriginal ceremonies.
 He said the aborigines with him were outraged, shocked and horrified to
find the footprints missing.
 "People responsible for looking after these areas feel that if they
(sacred sites) were disturbed that sickness and other kinds of misfortune are
going to come upon their communities and themselves, and of a very severe
kind,'' he said from Broome.
 Roe appealed for the thieves to return the footprints, which are registered
officially as a sacred site in Western Australia.
 Western Australia state premier Richard Court called the theft callous and
"sick'' and pledged tougher penalties and tighter security for fossil sites.
He also offered police all government resources to invevestigate the theft.