Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Indigenous leaders to bring home grandmothers’ remains

An Indigenous delegation departed today for the USA to bring their ancestral remains home.

The remains of 33 Indigenous Australians from the Gunbalanya and Groote Eylandt communities in Arnhem Land, are currently held in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC.

Sixty years after leaving our shores, these are the first Indigenous Australians’ remains to be returned from a major American institution. The remains will travel more than 16,000 kilometres to be returned.

Senior traditional owners Jacob Nayinggul, of Gunbalanya, and Murabuda Wurramarrba, from Groote Eylandt, believe the collection may include the remains of their grandmothers.

Most of us can only begin to imagine how the grandchildren and great-grandchildren must be feeling, knowing that after such a long time they will soon be able to lay their ancestors to rest.

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 Australian Government welcomes the Smithsonian’s decision to return the remains, and will continue to work with the institution in the hope that the rest of the collection will be returned in the future.

The remains will be transported to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory on 5 August 2008, where they will be held on behalf of the communities, until they are ready to return them to country.

On their arrival at the museum, both communities plan to hold welcome home ceremonies.

This return follows the recent return of three remains from the United Kingdom to the Ngarrindjeri community in South Australia earlier in the month.

The Australian Government is currently negotiating the repatriation of Indigenous remains with a number of countries and is providing funding for domestic and overseas repatriation programs.