Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Continuing the search for Pemulwuy’s remains

The Australian Government today welcomed the UK Government working with its museums to return the missing skull of Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy.

Sydney Indigenous leaders raised Pemulwuy’s case with Prince William during his visit in January this year and I congratulate him for following through on his commitment.

Pemulwuy is a historic figure to Aboriginal people, having led the first war of resistance against British settlers at the Hawkesbury and Georges rivers, Parramatta and Toongabbie.

He was shot and decapitated in 1802 and it is believed his head was sent to England in 1802.

Detailed investigations were undertaken in the UK in the early 1990s and follow up efforts have so fair failed to find records concerning Pemulwuy.

The Australian Government has been working with the Australian High Commission in London on this issue and the High Commissioner has been personally involved.

In many repatriation cases there is a lack of documentation about where the remains were taken from, where they were sent and what has happened to them.

For Indigenous communities the return of their ancestors’ remains has great cultural significance, believing the spirits of their ancestors cannot rest until they are “returned to Country”.

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

Over 600 Indigenous ancestral remains are believed to be held by UK institutions.

Following the 4 July 2000 agreement between the Australian and British Governments to increase efforts to repatriate human remains to Australian Indigenous communities, 731 Indigenous remains have been repatriated to Australia from 18 UK institutions.

The Australian Government is overhauling the processes for the repatriation of Australian Indigenous remains from international institutions to make them more inclusive of Indigenous aspirations.

An International Repatriation Advisory Committee has been appointed to review current international repatriation policy and advise on the most effective way to repatriate ancestral remains.

The committee has released a discussion paper.