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Tuesday, 30 June 1998
Page: 5734


Mr Latham asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, upon notice, on 31 March 1998:

What items of indigenous cultural property have been repatriated to Australia since 1988 and (a) when, (b) whence and (c) in what circumstances was each repatriated.


Dr Wooldridge (Health and Family Services) —The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

Since 1988 the Commonwealth has been involved in a number of returns of Aboriginal human remains from overseas collecting institutions. These include:

Yagan: The skull of Yagan was returned to Australia on 2 Sep 1997 following its exhumation from the Everton Cemetery in Liverpool in the UK. It was reclaimed by a delegation of Nyoongar community representatives following a campaign lasting many years. The return was funded jointly by the Western Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

Recent returns by representatives of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC). The TAC has been active for many years in seeking the return to Australia of both Tasmanian human remains and artefacts held in overseas collections. The TAC claims a unique authority to represent Tasmanian Aboriginal people's interests in relation to cultural property, and has pursued its program often independently of ATSIC involvement or assistance.

Because it has avoided relying on ATSIC resources the TAC does not report to the Commonwealth on the outcomes of its endeavors, and ATSIC is unable therefore to provide details on the material it has repatriated independently.

The remains of Tambo: Tambo was taken as a circus attraction to the United States, where he died last century. His embalmed remains were discovered in the premises of a funeral director in the United States and offered up for repatriation in 1993. The remains were collected by Palm Island community representatives funded and assisted by the ATSIC State Office in Brisbane.

Edinburgh University: There were two releases of remains from Edinburgh University in 1991. The first consisted of eleven Tasmanian crania which, although initially offered up to the Commonwealth were accepted by a TAC delegation and returned in July 1991. The TAC delegation was partially funded by ATSIC.

In October 1991 a delegation approved by the ATSIC Board of Commissioners, and funded by ATSIC, collected 299 mainland remains, mostly crania. The collection was transferred to the custody of the National Museum of Australia (NMA), and some remains have been collected by Aboriginal community representatives. Because of poor provenancing, and a failure by the States to assist communities within their jurisdictions, a large part of the collection remains in the custody of the NMA.

ATSIC has funded research projects to further provenence the collection. We have been informed that the University of Edinburgh wishes to make a further release of post-cranial remains.

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow: October 1990, 3 human remains from Mt Morgan in Queensland were accompanied back to Australia by an officer of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA), and a traditional owner for the area, William Toby. The return was funded by ATSIC and the remains were dealt with by the Aboriginal community.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford: Representatives of the TAC and FAIRA retrieved the crania of 5 individuals, and a preserved sub-incised penis, from the Pitt Rivers Museum in June 1990. The visit was funded by ATSIC. This return was simultaneous with a return of material from Bradford and Peterborough museums.

Bradford and Peterborough: In June 1990 2 crania from the Bradford and Peterborough museums were accepted by an Aboriginal officer of the Australian Public Service to be couriered to Australia. The officer was met by representatives of the TAC and FAIRA who assumed responsibility for distributing the remains upon returning to Australia.

Dublin, Royal College of Surgeons: In 1990 the preserved head of a Tasmanian man was collected from Dublin by the TAC.