Notes: I made a complaint to my local MP (the federal shadow minister for telecommunications) on the conduct of Australian Customs & Quarantine.  This is what was discovered:

Sent: Tuesday, 4 March 2003 3:03 PM
Subject: RE: Demetrios Vakras

This crate was examined by Customs on 6/1/03 (ie 2 months ago)... However, interior packing was cut to enable full examination..."
Damage to the exterior of the crate was denied by customs.

The pursuit of Quarantine was considerably more convoluted...

A representative of the transportation company I used to send my work to Chicago telephoned from Sydney on my works' return on Friday 3/1/2003 to speak to me regarding a quarantine inspection of the crate when it arrived in Sydney. According to this telephone conversation the crate and its contents, my paintings, were to be inspected by Quarantine for pests. The crate was wooden and the paintings were stretched on wooden stretchers and would be inspected regardless that the country of origin of the wood for both was Australia and that the crate and its contents had only been in the USA for less than 2 months.

According to Quarantine:

"-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, 2 April 2003 6:48 PM

Subject: Demetrios Vakras (ECHO Gallery) artworks.
With reference to the consignment of paintings for Mr Demetrios Vakras (EHCO Gallery).

I have investigated the matter and am satsfied that the damage caused to Mr Vakras's crate
was not in any way caused by officers of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service
For your reference, as a matter of procedure officers of the Australian Quarantine and
Inspection Service do not physically open any items. In the case where an inspection is
required importers or any persons acting on their behalf are advised at the initial document
screening process that they will be required to have either themselves or a reprasentative
present to open any items as required.
Either the importer or a person acting on their behalf would then present the goods to the
Inspections Area of Quarantine House to undergo a physical examination.
An AQIS officer would instruct the person/s presenting the goods to open any packaging to
allow for inspection of the goods. The AQIS officer/s would then perform a general inspection
of the goods for any infestation or contamination, satisfied that there is no risk posed by the
goods and that they are free of any infestation or contamination the AQIS officer will then
electronically finalise the Quarantine Order and issue the driver with a copy of the Final
Direction stating that the goods have been inspected and released.
 Matthew Dixon.
 A/g Supervisor Air Cargo Unit
Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service
Visit our website"

...the crate was still in a sound condition when it left the USA ... which means that the transportation company I used were present during the quarantine inspection ... and were thus the ones who lost my bolts (couldn't be bothered screwing them all back in?) & probably kicked or pushed out some of the joins to allow Quarantine to make their inspection for "pests".... For this privilege (!) I was charged AUD$120- "quarantine fee".

Ultimately, I was advised (4/4/2003): "It is my understanding from speaking to people in customs and quarantine, that illegal substances and pests are commonly found in crates containing artwork and that it is very much standard procedure to inspect them."

Bunkum. The crate is identical to ones used by Museum Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria (state art museum) for instance. Further, the crate was bought second-hand from a private gallery which had transported works internationally and had them returned without incident. Apart from some external scuff-marks this crate was in pristine condition when I bought it... And, ultimately, I was never an "importer" as Quarantine indicate. My work, produced in Australia from Australian made materials was being returned.