The Program supports the repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in eight major Australian museums to their communities of origin. Museums funded under the Program work in partnership with identified communities to return their ancestors and secret sacred objects. The Australian Government recognises the importance and cultural significance of Indigenous communities being directly involved in the process of repatriation.
To date over 2,500 ancestral remains and over 2,200 secret sacred objects have been returned to the custodianship of their community of origin.
Objectives for the Program are to:
- Identify the origin of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects held in the collections of the eight funded museums.
- Empower Indigenous communities to be involved in the repatriation of their ancestral remains and secret sacred objects.
- Repatriate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their community of origin.
- Facilitate discussion with custodians for culturally appropriate storage and access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains and secret sacred objects.
- Support the engagement and/or employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to provide assistance, support and cultural advice to progress the repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to communities of origin.
Museum Grant Highlights
In October 2018, the Western Australian Museum (WAM) returned the remains of a Tjiwarl ancestor to their community of origin in the Goldfields of WA. The community undertook a ceremony where they respectfully laid the ancestor to rest in the historic Sir Samuel cemetery.
The ancestor had been removed from near Mount Sir Samuel, in the north-east Goldfields region, in 1898 and taken to the WAM. The repatriation was the result of consultation between the Tjiwarl people and the WAM that had commenced in mid-2017.
The ceremony was facilitated by the Tjiwarl Board of Directors, under the guidance of Chair, Colleen Berry, with support from the WA Government Department of Planning Lands and Heritage, BHP, Bellevue Gold, the Leonora Funeral Directors and other services. This successful event demonstrates the value of collaborations to achieve repatriation outcomes.
Museums Victoria (MV) repatriated 26 secret sacred objects to the Arrernte elders in Alice Springs in July 2017. A handover ceremony was held to welcome the secret sacred objects back to the Arrernte community after being held in the MV collection for over 100 years.
Arrernte elders identified the objects from the MV collection. They were returned and stored at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory's Strehlow Research Centre (the Centre). The Centre has worked closely with the Arrernte elders to ensure storage and access to the objects is consistent with Arrernte cultural protocols. It is important that the museums sector works closely with communities to ensure a successful and smooth repatriation process.
Between 1970 and 1972 a selection of 92 large sandstone blocks containing Aboriginal engravings (Petroglyphs) were cut out of the bed of the Burnett River in Queensland prior to a weir being built. The Petroglyphs were then distributed to multiple locations around Queensland for education and display, under the provisions of the then Aboriginal Relics Preservation Act 1967. At that time the Petroglyphs were incorporated into the Queensland Museum (QM) collection. However, the cultural significance of the site and the significance of the engravings has long been known by traditional custodians.
QM has been working on a pilot program to repatriate the Petroglyphs back to Country and the traditional custodians in Bundaberg. In 2018, the QM successfully completed the repatriation of three of the Burnett River Rock Engravings from the Sandy Creek Outdoor Learning Centre in Maryborough to an interim location in Bundaberg. This work will inform the upcoming stages involving the movement of larger quantities of the Petroglyphs from regional locations across Queensland.
Museums Repatriation Officers Meeting
In May 2019, the Department of Communications and the Arts hosted a national meeting of museum repatriation officers in Canberra. The meeting provided an opportunity for repatriation officers from the eight museums funded under the Program to workshop repatriation issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Over the two days, participants presented on a range of repatriation topics including policy development, community consultation, secret sacred objects, use of digital technology and collaborative projects. The key outcomes of the meeting was information sharing, strengthening collaborative partnerships and fostering best practice to better support Indigenous communities.
2019 funded museums
- Australian Museum
- Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
- Museums Victoria
- National Museum of Australia
- Queensland Museum
- South Australian Museum
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
- Western Australian Museum.
For more information, email repatriation [at] arts.gov.au