A soccer-ball sized meteorite, estimated to be more than four billion years old, has been returned to its owners in Far North Queensland – five years after it was stolen.
The 11-kilogram space rock was found in the Wolfe Creek Crater in Western Australia in 1973 by Stuart Foster, a friend of the owners of the Crystal Caves museum at Atherton.
Sisters Ghislaine Gallo and Cecilia Boissevain, who now manage the museum, said the meteorite held great value for the family business.
“He [Stuart Foster] was an old friend of René’s [their father] and they had been bantering about this particular meteorite for years and years and years,” Ms Gallo said.
“Dad kept saying, ‘Why have you got this thing in your garage? Why not donate it to the museum for the whole world to see?’.”
Two weeks after it was donated to the museum in 2015, the meteorite was stolen.
Two men were captured on CCTV but the meteorite remained missing for five years.
On Saturday, Queensland Police executed a search warrant at a Cairns address and recovered the space rock, valued at more than $16,000.
Investigations are underway into the incident, and no charges have been laid, but the sisters are pleased the meteorite is back in their possession.
Ms Gallo said she was surprised when a police officer called her.
“He said, ‘We’ve got your meteorite’, and I just went, ‘Yeah, I don’t think so, I find that a bit hard to believe’, and he went, ‘Yeah, it’s definitely your meteorite’,” she said.
Meteorite damaged after theft
Police investigating the incident said they were looking into a number of leads relating to the theft.
“I believe it definitely has a story to tell,” Senior Constable Heidi Marek said.
“I’ll leave it up to detectives to uncover that story, but hopefully we’re able to reveal a bit of information down the track.”
Senior Constable Marek said the search warrant related specifically to the meteorite.
Ms Gallo said there was evidence that the meteorite had been “hacked into”.
She said she was baffled about why anyone would want to steal the rock.
“Did you want to make it into a pendant? Were you hoping to melt it down?” she mused.
“It’s not a particularly attractive-looking rock. It’s a big lump of brown, rusty coloured, quite heavy rock.
“Why would you want to own such a thing if not for the meteorological value of it?
“We’d sort of given up the hope that we would ever get it back,” Ms Boissevain said.
Ms Gallo said the stolen meteorite had captured the attention of the museum’s customers and people often asked if she had found it.
“I’m really keen to go back and say, ‘Actually, yes we did!’,” she said.
Ms Gallo said the business would display the meteorite again, but this time it would secure it more thoroughly.
“I’m not going to put it on a plinth in the shop, that’s for sure. I’m going to put it into the museum behind very safe glass.”