Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

International Repatriation Advisory Committee appointed

The Australian Government is appointing a committee of eight Indigenous Australians for six months to improve the repatriation process of Indigenous remains from international institutions.

While the Government continues to make progress in securing repatriation agreements with foreign institutions and governments, there are still around 1000 Indigenous Australian remains held in museums around the world, mostly in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Poland and the USA.

Over the past 18 months, we have worked with traditional owners across the country to negotiate the return of more than 100 remains from countries including the United Kingdom, the USA, Austria and the Netherlands.

Through the establishment of the International Repatriation Advisory Committee, the Government will have access to Indigenous expertise on the most effective mechanism to deliver the International Repatriation Program. This includes reviewing current policy to ensure grassroots input and a focus on the priorities of local Indigenous communities.

The members of the International Repatriation Advisory Committee are:

  • Mrs Christine Grant (NSW) Co-Chair
  • Mr Phil Gordon (NSW) Co-Chair
  • Ms Jeanette Crew (NSW)
  • Mr Henry Atkinson (VIC)
  • Mr Neil Carter (WA)
  • Ms Olivia Robinson (QLD)
  • Mr Robert Weatherall (QLD)
  • Mr Christopher Wilson (SA)

Throughout much of Australia’s history Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains were collected, usually without consent, by explorers, travellers and scientists and sent to museums and private collections in Australia and across the world.

The Australian Government recognises that the repatriation of ancestral remains is important to heal the pain of past injustices.

The repatriation of Indigenous remains must occur respectfully, unconditionally and as quickly as possible, and we will continue to work with countries to ensure their return.

The International Repatriation Advisory Committee includes:

Mrs Chrissy Grant (NSW, Co-Chair) – Mrs Grant was previously the Director, Indigenous Heritage Assessment Section with the Australian Heritage Commission and the Department of the Environment and Heritage. She has extensive experience in writing and reviewing policies affecting Indigenous peoples. She is currently Chair of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Ethics Committee, a member of the Indigenous Advisory Committee to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and a member of the Australian National Committee for UNESCO.

Mr Phillip Gordon (NSW, Co-Chair) – Mr Gordon is currently the Acting Manager of the Aboriginal Heritage Unit at the Australian Museum, Sydney. Mr Gordon has been employed at the Museum for more than 25 years. During this time he has repatriated remains to communities throughout Australia. He was a key member of the team that reviewed the Museums Australia’s national policy on Museums and Indigenous peoples. Mr Gordon has presented many papers on repatriation nationally and internationally and has numerous publications on the issue.

Prof Henry Atkinson (VIC) – Professor Atkinson is an Elder of the Yorta Yorta tribe of Victoria. He has extensive repatriation experience and has travelled overseas several times to repatriate Indigenous ancestral remains. Professor Atkinson was a member of the Department’s previous Repatriation Committee and received his honorary professorship from Monash University in 2009.]

Mr Bob Weatherall (QLD) – Mr Weatherall has over 20 years experience in repatriation and is from the Centre for Indigenous Cultural Policy, Brisbane. He has significant cultural knowledge and is known in Indigenous communities throughout the country, particularly for his work in repatriation. He has tirelessly promoted repatriation to decision-makers both overseas and in Australia.

Mr Neil Carter (WA) – Mr Carter is currently the Repatriation Officer for the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre. He has an excellent understanding of the issues relating to international repatriation, particularly as they relate to remote communities. Mr Carter was responsible for community consultation across the Kimberley on the repatriation of their ancestral remains from Sweden and is currently involved in the repatriation of their ancestral remains from Austria.

Ms Jeanette Crew (NSW) – Ms Crew is a NSW Government employee with experience in government process and policies surrounding repatriation. Ms Crew is a member of the Mutti Mutti community whose area includes Lake Mungo. The Mutti Mutti people were among the first communities to deal with repatriation, when their ancient remains (60,000+ years) were returned to country.

Ms Olivia Robinson (QLD) – Ms Robinson was previously the Senior Curator at the Queensland Museum where she managed the Return of Indigenous Cultural Property. Through this program she was responsible for the return of remains throughout the State including the Torres Strait. Ms Robinson was awarded a 2008 Queensland-Smithsonian Fellowship which enabled her to research innovative Indigenous engagement strategies at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). She was a member of the Department’s previous Repatriation Reference Committee.

Mr Chris Wilson (SA) – Mr Wilson is a young Ngarrindjeri man who has an excellent understanding of repatriation issues. He has worked with his Elders to return his ancestral remains to country and has been involved in the repatriation process from negotiation to reburial. In 2008, Mr Wilson travelled to the United Kingdom to accompany his ancestral remains home. Mr Wilson has a Bachelor of Archaeology (First Class Honours) and is currently undertaking his PhD at Flinders University.