Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

UK museum returns Torres Strait ancestral remains

A delegation from the Torres Strait today returned from Liverpool after collecting the remains of a young child, which were removed from Erub (Darnley Island) 161 years ago.

The remains were first acquired by Captain Owen Stanley in 1849 during a visit to Darnley Island.

After his death in 1850, the remains were passed on to Sir John Peter Boileau, a Norfolk antiquarian and archaeologist, who entrusted them to the Norwich Castle Museum in 1854. The remains were transferred to the World Museum Liverpool in 1956 and have since remained there in collection.

The Gillard Government is committed to the unconditional return of Indigenous remains from overseas countries and institutions.

Since 1990, more than 1,150 Indigenous remains have been brought back to Australia from six countries. More than 1000 Indigenous Australian ancestral remains are still held in museums around the world.

We believe repatriation must be culturally appropriate, unconditional and inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

The Torres Strait members of the delegation include:

  • Seriako Stephen, Chair of the Torres Strait Repatriation Working Group
  • Ned David, Deputy Chair of the Torres Strait Repatriation Working Group (Representing the Central Islands)
  • Donald Banu, Torres Strait Regional Authority Portfolio Member for Native Title and member of the Torres Strait Repatriation Working Group (Representing the Western Islands)
  • Kapua Gutchen, Torres Strait elder from Erub (Eastern Islands)

The Torres Strait Repatriation Working Group undertook consultations on community wishes for remains held overseas with more than 350 people from the 19 Torres Strait Island communities.

In August, the Australian Government and the Torres Strait Regional Authority sent a joint submission to the Natural History Museum for the return of Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains.

During their visit, the delegation advocated for the return of Torres Strait ancestral remains from the Natural History Museum and Cambridge University, which collectively hold more than 250 Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains.

The Government will continue to work with Indigenous people, overseas governments, museums and private collections to improve the repatriation process.