Media Release by The Hon Mal Brough MP

Repatriation of Indigenous remains from Britain

Remains of Indigenous Australians are being repatriated from British museums within months following an historic agreement between the two governments.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said six British museums have agreed to return remains since last year.

"This is more than twice the number of museums that have returned remains in the past decade and is an historic decision," Mr Brough said.

Museums include those at Exeter, Cornwall, Bristol, Manchester, Tyne and Wear, and the British Museum.

Mr Brough said the remains would return to Australia once consultations with Indigenous communities were completed.

"It is a fitting outcome from more than 20 years of campaigning by Indigenous Australians and many years of work by the Australian and British Governments, and by the British institutions which have held these remains often for more than 100 years," Mr Brough said.

"I want to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of Rodney Dillon, a Tasmanian Aboriginal leader, and other Indigenous people, whose hard work has helped secure the return of these remains."

Mr Brough said the Government welcomed the British Museum’s recent announcement of its agreement to return two remains of Indigenous Tasmanians.

"This is a positive sign that public museums are beginning to respond to the work of the Australian and British governments," Mr Brough said.

The leadership of Prime Ministers John Howard and Tony Blair was figurative. In 2000 Mr Howard and Mr Blair issued a joint statement agreeing to increase efforts to repatriate remains to Indigenous communities. Both Governments recognised the special connection Indigenous people had with ancestral remains.

The British Government set up a Working Group in 2001 on Human Remains in UK Museum Collections, which produced a comprehensive report confirming the value of returning remains to Indigenous people. It also passed the Human Tissues Act in 2004 which allows national museums to release remains where previously they were not permitted. A Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums was published last year.

During the same period, the Government has supported the British Government and requested 21 museums to return Indigenous remains. Australia posted a repatriation projects officer at the Australian High Commission in London last year to assist these museums.

"All the hard work, particularly by Indigenous leaders and with the co-operation of the British Government, is beginning to yield significant results," Mr Brough said.

"Over the past 100 years, bodies and body parts of Indigenous Australians have been taken for several reasons, including scientific research. Some of the remains are the grandparents of people alive today. Returning these remains enable communities to heal."