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Largest return of Aboriginal remains

28 APRIL 2003

The remains of some 300 Aboriginal people, robbed from their graves a century ago, will be returned to the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray Lakes and Coorong area in South Australia by the National Museum of Australia next Monday in what is the nation's largest repatriation of ancestral remains.

The Ngarrindjeri remains were originally taken from 27 gravesites between 1898 and 1906. They were collected by or for Dr William Ramsay Smith, Adelaide's controversial city coroner, whose collecting practices were condemned at the time. He shipped most of the remains to Edinburgh University where they remained until recently being returned to the Repatriation Program Unit of the National Museum.

Ngarrindjeri delegates will collect the 18 boxes of remains at the Unit's Mitchell premises in Canberra in a handover ceremony on Monday 5 May at 10am. The remains will then be trucked to Camp Coorong, 10 kms south of Meningie, SA, where they will be welcomed back to country on Thursday, 8 May at 12.30pm, in a ceremony of speeches and performances. Media are welcome at both ceremonies.

The Ngarrindjeri collection also includes remains from the Australian Museum in Sydney and from the collection recently returned from the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

The National Museum is the only institution able to receive indigenous remains from overseas. Its Repatriation Unit is funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission and the Cultural Ministers Council through the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

"This a vital role for the National Museum, and an important recognition of the right of the Ngarrindjeri people to have control over the remains of their ancestors - something accepted by museums now if not in the past," said Director Dawn Casey.

"The wrongs of the past are the inheritance of the present," said Tom Trevorrow, Chairperson of the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee. "The unbelievable acts of stealing, desecration, abuse and genocide upon our people will never be forgotten. The return of our old people to their true resting places is a significant step but only one step in the continuing journey for justice that the Ngarrindjeri must travel."

For more information, please contact Martin Portus, National Museum of Australia, (02) 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or m.portus@nma.gov.au