The Australian Government seeks the voluntary and unconditional return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains (ancestors) held in overseas collecting institutions and with private holders.

The Australian Government has supported international repatriation for over 30 years. This has seen the return of over 1,600 ancestors from across nine countries back to Australia. The Australian Government maintains its commitment to securing the return of ancestors held overseas so they can be returned to their traditional custodians or held in safe care in Australia until their traditional custodians can be identified.

We are currently progressing returns from the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and New Zealand. We have a joint arrangement with France and are working closely with other countries to advocate for the return of ancestors. When the traditional custodians are known, we work closely with them as they advise the return of their ancestors, cultural protocols and any access and controls to associated material. The traditional custodians make all decisions regarding the final resting of their ancestors. 

For more information, email repatriation [at] arts.gov.au.

More information

Questions and answers—international repatriation

Published

For more than 150 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains were removed and sent to museums, universities and private collections both in Australia and overseas. They were collected by medical officers, anatomists, ethnologists, anthropologists and pastoralists. At the time of collection, ancestral remains from many Indigenous cultures around the world were highly sought after for scientific research and the value it was believed they added to collections.