Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Arnhem Land remains return from 60-year odyssey

The 33 Indigenous remains on a 16,000km return journey to their Arnhem Land home arrived back in Australia today – 60 years after being taken from the Northern Territory to the USA.

Four traditional owners from Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) and Groote Eylandt travelled to Washington DC to accept the remains from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History.

The delegation, which was funded by the Australian Government, received the remains at an Australian Embassy ceremony last week, the first to be returned from a major American institution.

This was an emotional pilgrimage for the traditional owners and it was appropriate they were able to spend some private time with their ancestors prior to the handover.

Gunbalanya senior traditional owner, Donald Gumurdul, said it was important the ancestors were told what was happening in their own language, something they had not heard for 60 years.

For Alfred Nayinggul, the moment was especially significant as he believes his great-grandmother’s remains are among those that have come back.

He said he was happy to have the opportunity to bring her home and she will go back to country at Gunbalanya.

In 1948, the American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land collected the remains of 46 individuals from four communities in Arnhem Land: Gunbalanya (Oenpelli), Groote Eylandt, Yirrkala and Milingimbi.

The Government will continue working with the Smithsonian Institute with a view to the rest of the remains being returned in the future.

Traditional owners from Groote Eylandt, Thomas Amagula and Joaz Wurramurra, said it was painful to leave their ancestors’ remains behind.

They believe their ancestral remains need to be in their own country with their own culture, and the Government will continue to support this endeavour.