Aboriginal Ancestral Remains returned to Australia

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A special Handover Ceremony to mark the return of Aboriginal ancestral remains from Brighton to Australia has taken place.

The ceremony, organised by the Australian High Commission, saw the ancestral remains, formerly in the collection of Royal Pavilion & Museums, returned to the Ngarrindjeri Community of South Australia, from whom historical information suggests they were taken.

The remains, which were received at the ceremony by Mr Major Sumner, Elder and representative of the Ngarrindjeri Community, were donated to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery by keen scientist and collector, Frederick William Lucas in November 1925. They were part of a large group of osteological and ethnographical items, most of which had been on loan to the Museum since September 1922.

The Ceremony, which took place at Australia House, London, was carried out on Friday 14 October. It was attended by Brighton & Hove Councillor Alan Robins and Director of the Royal Pavilion and Head of Museums and Arts, Janita Bagshawe.

The repatriation is part of an Australian Government programme to assist Indigenous communities in pursuing the unconditional return of ancestral remains held in overseas collections and within Australia.

So far, more than 1,000 Indigenous Australian ancestral remains have been returned from the United Kingdom to Traditional Custodians with the support of the Australian Government’s Indigenous Repatriation Program.

The Australian High Commission have said: “It is both a symbolic gesture for both parties and an important part of the healing process for the descendants of the ancestors being brought back to their homeland to rest.”

The repatriation process for Brighton started in 2005 when the Australian Government requested the return of five Australian Aboriginal Ancestral Remains held by Royal Pavilion & Museums: four remains in the Natural History collection, and one in the World Art collection.

In September 2008, the then Culture, Recreation & Tourism Cabinet meeting of the city council agreed to return the Natural History remains. These were collected by Major Sumner and George Trevorrow, representatives of the Ngarrindjeri Community, on Friday 15 May 2009. The occasion was marked by a ceremony outside Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

In May 2009, the Full Cabinet of the city council agreed to return the World Art remain.

Cllr Robins, chair of the council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee, said: “The city council is very pleased to be in a position to return these remains to their rightful home, and the ceremony was a very special and moving experience.

“The return of the Old Person’s remain is very important to the Ngarrindjeri Community to ensure their ancestors are finally able to rest in peace in their homelands.”

The council has received a Handover Certificate, a formal record of the transfer of the remains to the Ngarrindjeri Elders representing their community.