Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous remains to be returned from Netherlands

The remains of five Indigenous Australians will be repatriated from the Netherlands following an historic agreement between the Australian Government and the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC).

The remains of two ancestors will be handed over to two elders of the Bundjalung community in the Northern Rivers region of NSW during a ceremony in Leiden on Wednesday 30 September.

The remains of three other Indigenous Australians held by LUMC are also being returned to the National Museum of Australia in Canberra where further examination will be undertaken to ascertain their origins.

The Australian Government has sponsored Gwen Hickling and Desmond ‘John’ Morrissey, both Bundjalung community elders, to collect their ancestral remains from the Netherlands.

The Bundjalung remains were acquired by the Dutch in 1882.

One of the collection of the returning remains was given to Leiden University Professor Sebald Brugmans by Sir Joseph Banks and was acquired by the university after the professor’s death nearly 200 years ago in 1819.

I congratulate the LUMC and the Museum Volkenkunde (Museum of Ethnology) for recognising the significance the return of these remains has for Indigenous Australia.

The Australian Government places great importance on healing the wounds that history has inflicted on Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous Australians rightly believe their ancestral remains need to be returned to country so their spirits can be laid to rest.

We remain committed to repatriating Indigenous remains held in Museums overseas.

In July, I announced that the Government would overhaul the processes for repatriation of Australian Indigenous remains from overseas to make them more efficient and to better fit the aspirations of Indigenous people.

Since 1990, more than 1,150 Indigenous remains have been brought back to Australia. There are still around 900 Indigenous Australian remains held in museums around the world, mostly in the UK, Germany, France, Poland and the United States.

The members of the delegation will also travel to the United Kingdom to meet with the Oxford University and the Natural History Museum, to discuss the return of the remains of four Bundjalung ancestors.

The repatriation delegation is expected back in Australia on 8 October.