Australian customs trouble
February 20, 2007 12:45 AM   Subscribe

Australian customs- does anyone have any experience bringing a wooden drum with an animal skin into Australia?

I'm in Kathmandu and want to buy two drums. One is made of clay and in a bowl shape with skin stretched over the open end, the other is a wooden tube with skin over both ends.

I know I have to declare them, and can't see any evidence of bug holes in the wood, but I'm worried that since you can't actually see inside the drum they wont let me bring it in.

Has anyone been through this before? Any advice?

posted by twirlypen to Travel & Transportation around Australia (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You will have problems if (a) the animal skin is from a rare / endangered animal. It probably isn't. So, more imprtantly (b) if you bought them from a street vendor / not a "proper" shop.

And since you're coming from Kathmandu, the later may really cause problems.

Basically, if you bought these from, say, an established retail shop in a western country, and they are commercially produced, then customs would be okay, because they would know the skin and wood had been properly treated.

If you're buying them from a market place in a third world country, they can pretty much assume that the products aren't properly treated, may carry all sorts of diseases, and you may well have them taken away.

I know this from my experience bringing back a wooden sculpture, and a possum skin from New Zealand; customs grilled me about where I had purchased them - as I got them both from a tourist / duty free shop, I was fine. If I'd got the possum skin anywhere else, they wouldn't have let me in. The wood they weren't as concerned about, but they may be more concerned about wood given your departure location.
posted by Jimbob at 12:57 AM on February 20, 2007

I have been asked about the origin of wooden objects I have brought in through customs and it seems, as long as the wood is smooth and free from any signs of infestation, it is OK. I know that, if the item cannot be thoroughly inspected, they are unlikely to let it in (for example, anything made from coconuts with the shaggy bits still on doesn't stand a chance, because there could be bugs in it). The fact that you can't see inside the drums may present a problem - if the skins are tied in place, maybe you can carefully untie them so they can be thoroughly inspected? The same thing most likely applies to the animal skins - if they are well-cured and free from hair, you may be OK.

There is some information here (and contact details at the bottom of the page to get more information) that makes it clear you must declare the items and I would definitely not recommend that you try and sneak through without declaring them, because the penalties can be very high.

My experience is that where you bought the items from is important - if you bought them at a duty-free store or other "reputable" location, there is some assumption that they will be of better quality than something bought in a street market and, therefore, of lower risk. I brought some wooden sculptures back from Indonesia and, when I said that I had bought them at a large souvineer shop, they were only cursorily inspected for evidence of insect infestation.
posted by dg at 1:24 AM on February 20, 2007

My friend moved from Korea to Oz with two Korean (hide-covered) drums. They were gamma ray-ed, which you can read about on her blog.
posted by Brittanie at 5:08 AM on February 20, 2007

I know a tour manager who said she had a problem getting a drummer's drums into Australia. They had to spray them or something and the drummer was really upset about it.
posted by bink at 5:41 AM on February 20, 2007

My friend's brother was told by Ozzie customs to put his wooden African statues in the freezer for three months in order to kill an insects hiding out in the wood.
posted by PenDevil at 6:37 AM on February 20, 2007

I brought wooden objects including a small drum into Australia from Papua New Guinea. The drum was carefully inspected but they seemed a lot more interested in the wood than in the skin part. The customs form asked about wood items but I don't recall any questions about animal skin. They let me keep all of it .. but they did carefully examine each piece. One of my colleagues forgot to declare a wooden item in his bag and they dug it out and scolded him for hiding it. He was allowed to keep that too.
posted by Kangaroo at 6:45 AM on February 20, 2007

In '98 I brought in a tabla in from India - wooden drum, leather skin, bits of cork, etc. Like yours, they weren't able to see inside it. They didn't really ask any questions or think too hard about it and gave me two choices - dispose of it, or pay $50 to have it irradiated. I took the irradiation option - they did whatever they do and I received it in the post a few weeks later (postage was included in the price). I imagine that the fees have changed, but you could probably discover how much you can expect to pay with a call to AQIS. This AQIS document (PDF) seems to sum it up, and gives you a few contact numbers.

Just remember to declare the items! My experience is that the customs folk sometimes seem really concerned about wooden items, but other times their attitude is almost dismissive - they didn't even ask to see mine when I last came in and declared them.
posted by bunyip at 11:25 AM on February 20, 2007

Seconding what Bunyip says: whatever you do, declare it. I'm a lawyer and end up frequently defending people prosecuted by the Commonwealth for making false declarations. You honestly get into more trouble for dishonestly ticking a box marked 'no' than you do for bringing the actual item in. I just came back through customs from Vietnam, declared everything and was basically told 'have a nice day'. In the luggage were a number of unvarnished wooden items, coffee and pepper, but they had zero interest.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:03 PM on February 20, 2007

I took a professional djembe skinned with vellum into australia through Darvin airport. I declared it. They originaly said they were not going to let me through with it. But I asked for a second opinion, and they let me through. Although it did get sprayed by something that made the vellum brittle, i eventualy had to get it replaced.

However friends of mine tried to take hide covered drums in through the same airport and had them confiscated.

This was in 2003 YMMV.
posted by gergtreble at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2007

DARWIN airport....

posted by gergtreble at 1:22 PM on February 20, 2007

Done this before. Essentially you have two options. If the drum can be visually inspected thoroughly - on the inside and outside they will look at in customs and assuming that there are no signs of infection of the wood they will let it through. If they can't see the inside of the drum (e.g. there is a skin on both ends or you can't see all the way up) they will require that it undergos gamma irradiation and you will have to hand it over to them and pay a fee. They will then irradiate it (this is a safe process and results in no residual radiation) and post it to you.
posted by singingfish at 6:25 PM on February 20, 2007

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