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A German–Australian research network on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human remains and sensitive objects and their repatriation was launched at the National Museum of Australia this month.

Man and two women inspecting a book
Major Sumner AM from the Australian Government’s Advisory Committee for Indigenous Repatriation (left) with German visitor Antje Kühnast and the National Museum's Anne Kelly

The week-long workshop included colleagues from museums and universities across Germany, as well as from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, the Australian National University, the National Museum’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, and the Department of Communication and the Arts.

Representatives from the Australian Government’s Advisory Committee for Indigenous Repatriation, including Zoe Rimmer, Ned David and Major Sumner, were also present.

Group portrait of men and women standing in a room
Colleagues from across Australia and Germany at the National Museum of Australia (from left): Claire Owen, Anne Kelly, Gareth Knapman, Amber Aranui, Yann Le Gall, Hilary Howes, Andreas Winkelmann, Anna-Maria Brandstetter, Anja Schwarz, Birgit Scheps, Larissa Förster, Sarah Fründt, Antje Kühnast, Tom Murray, Major Sumner AM, Michael Pickering and David Kaus

Research and return

Discussions were wide-ranging and considered the importance of historical research into the collection of remains and sensitive objects, as well as how Australia and Germany might assist each other in research and eventual repatriation.

It is hoped that the network will moderate and share information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains and sensitive objects held in German collections. Much of the information regarding these collections is in the German language and has largely been inaccessible to museum repatriation researchers in Australia. All attendees were eager to see the development of closer ties and sharing of knowledge and experiences.

We hope to help Australian museums and Indigenous communities to share their experiences and processes and assist in ensuring that international repatriation is successful.

Group portrait of men and women gathered around and looking down at a table
Workshop participants (clockwise from left) Michael Pickering, Anna-Maria Brandstetter, Yann Le Gall, Anja Schwarz and Gareth Knapman

The group visited the Museum’s repository at Mitchell, and met with staff at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies in Canberra. The next iteration of this workshop will take place in Germany.

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