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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities being directly involved in the process of repatriation.
More than 2,850 ancestors and 2,330 secret sacred objects have been returned to the custodianship of their communities.
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.
2019–2020 Museum Grant Highlights
The Australian Museum (AM) undertook a number of consultations with communities and representative organisations including commencement of initial consultations to inform communities in Mareeba, North Queensland and Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria of holdings of ancestors and secret sacred objects. The AM also engaged a consultant to complete research on a number of ancestors from Eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) undertook a significant research project on Pintubi, Eastern and Western Arrernte material in the Strehlow Collection. MAGNT worked in close consultation with key senior men to review ceremonial song recordings as well as film and photographs to positively identify secret sacred objects. MAGNT also undertook over 175 hours of consultations with key senior men during the year to support further repatriation work.
Stakeholder consultation was undertaken with the La Perouse community to inform and facilitate the return of ancestors to community. The National Museum of Australia (NMA) also undertook consultation with the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre (KALACC) to progress discussions on the return of 15 secret sacred objects. At the request of the community the objects will be cared for by the NMA. The NMA also updated their secret sacred objects data base with digitised archival records.
The Queensland Museum continued its work on the repatriation of the Burnett River sacred petroglyphs with the relocation of 15 sacred petroglyphs from Bundaberg to safe storage in preparation for repatriation to the Burnett River Community.
Stakeholder consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (TAC) resulted in two community representatives from the TAC attending the South Australian Museum (SAM) to participate in the formal handover of six casts of Aboriginal ancestors with provenance to Tasmania. Five of the six casts were from three known individuals and were made as direct transfers from each person's face in the 19th century. The casts have now been returned to traditional custodians in Tasmania. SAM also hosted a number of community visits by groups of senior Central Australian men to SAM, undertook consultations, fieldwork and reburial planning with the Barngarla, Narungga, Kaurna and Kokatha Aboriginal Corporations to support ongoing repatriation activities.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) completed an audit of the ancestors and secret sacred objects currently in its care. As part of the audit on secret sacred objects, TMAG also facilitated a viewing of Central Australian ceremonial objects by Senior Arrente Elders and engaged a Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural consultant to support the project.
The Western Australian Museum (WAM) facilitated the return to Country of two ancestors to the Dambimangarri community for reburial on Country around Kunmunya and Macdonald Range in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This was the result of working in partnership with the Dambimangarri Rangers and Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre. Three ancestors were reburied in the Murchison area at Chilimony, Wagoe Farm and Lucky Bay in partnership with the Geraldton Office of the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage and conducted by Traditional Custodians from the Hutt River Working Group. WAM repatriated a female ancestor to a location in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste area of Western Australia's south-west. The ancestor was removed from a cave in the early 1960s. In consultation with the South West Land and Sea Council's South West Boojarah Working Group and the Undalup Association, the ancestor was reburied in the same location from where she was originally removed.
2018–19 Museum Grant Highlights
The Australian Museum had a successful year repatriating 11 ancestors to communities in NSW. This was achieved with the collaboration of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory completed research with senior Elders from the Eastern Arrernte Community that resulted in the documentation of 27 highly significant sites relating to sacred objects held in the Strehlow Research Centre collection. This research will inform the repatriation of 25 Therereta sacred objects back to Community.
The National Museum of Australia conducted consultations to support the repatriation of 28 ancestors across NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
In May 2019 the Queensland Museum completed phase two of the repatriation of the Burnett River sacred petroglyphs. Five sacred petroglyphs from Bundaberg were relocated to safe storage in preparation for repatriation to the Burnett River Community.
On 1 August 2019, the South Australian Museum returned five Kaurna Old People to traditional custodians for burial at Holdfast Bay. The return to Country ceremony also included six Kaurna Old People returned from the Natural History Museum in London in March 2019 under the international element of the Program.
The South Australian Museum held a Repatriation Consultative Forum on 18 October 2018 that was attended by over 50 Traditional Owners representing Aboriginal communities from across South Australia. The forum enabled discussion between communities and government agencies to guide future repatriation activities.
The South Australian Museum also worked in partnership with the Western Australian Museum and communities in Western Australia to return seven ancestors. In September 2019 the ancestors were transferred to the Western Australia Museum for temporary care until they can be returned to Country.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) completed research in partnership with the Strehlow Research Centre in the Northern Territory to support the repatriation of secret sacred men's objects back to the Northern Territory. TMAG also undertook consultations with its Tasmanian Aboriginal Advisory Council to develop a strategy to manage the repatriation of 12 Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors of poor provenance.
In October 2018, the Western Australian Museum returned the remains of a Tjiwarl ancestor to the 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.
In 2018–19 consultations were also undertaken with eight communities across Western Australia to progress the repatriation of ancestors back to community.
Museums Repatriation Officers Meeting
In May 2019, the Department 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 were information sharing, strengthening collaborative partnerships and fostering best practice to better support Indigenous communities.
2020–2021 funded museums
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.