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Jude Barlow, Michael Pickering, Mathew Trinca, 7 May 2018, Long Journey Home: Repatriation symposium

MIKE PICKERING: Ooh, it's amazing what happens when you stand behind a lectern. I should've tried this on my kids years ago. My name is Michael Pickering. I'm the head of research centre here at the National Museum of Australia and have worked in repatriation for a number of years. Thank you all for being here today. I'd like to give you the warm welcome from the Museum itself and also from the various staff members who work here. I think you'll find them delightful, if you have a chance to get into conversation with them.

I'd like to certainly acknowledge the traditional owners of the country in which we meet today. They have been essential to the successful operations of this Museum with their engagement over many years. It's a very real and practical engagement and has been greatly appreciated. In particular, their role in repatriation activities when community members provide support for the Museum, but also for visitors who are coming to receive remains.

The main thing today is that you don't get to listen to people like me. I think we have the indigenous representatives here from the Pacific and Asia, have experiences and knowledge that must be shared, and that's what I'm here to hear, as I hope you will as well.

A little housekeeping rules, well not rules, advice. The bathrooms or toilets, depending on your nation of origin, if you go out here to the right and to the right again, there's some immediately behind this theatre. They're also spread throughout the Museum. The nearest one's downstairs. They're in the cafe, and also above the cafe, up the stairs, so don't be afraid to ask after the services people.

The cafe itself serves great coffee, but can be a bit of a rush, so if you're going the have coffee in between sessions, bolt.

The Museum does have wi-fi, so it's NMAPublic for those people who want to connect.

We're hoping for finishing the conversations around about 4:40, in time to get to ... the Museum closes at 5:00. Maybe after then, we might retire to University House, to continue the conversations.

So, that's enough from me. I would like to welcome Jude Barlow to the lectern to present our Welcome to Country. Thank you.

JUDE BARLOW: I hope you can see me behind this big lectern. Good morning, my name is Jude Barlow, and I'm an Ngunnawal woman. My family are the Wallabalooa people, a family group within the Ngunnawal Nation. Firstly, I would like to thank you for inviting me, as usual, back in my comfy, cosy chair here at the Museum to represent my family and my ancestors today. It's a real privilege to do so.

I especially welcome mob, and I sincerely apologise for the cold, although by its usual standard, today is not cold. I also thank you for sharing your stories and your culture, 'cause I have a dream not unlike the great Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream, that one day we will all live in a nation where we are not judged by the colour of our skin, but by the content of our character. That our stories and our narratives will shape culture in this great nation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture will be celebrated. That each Australian embraces the myriad Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island cultures that are alive and thriving in this great nation.

And our ancestors, their memories, and their being are vital to this history. It is important therefore that they are here with us on country. So this program is vitally important to the narrative of who we are as a nation and is sorely needed.

Now, we Ngunnawal people, we have roamed, lived, hunted and raised our families in the ACT and region for 30,000 years, and the story of my ancestors is a chronical of struggle but eventual redemption. Because you see, Ngunnawal culture is a living culture and our continuing connection to land and to culture has never wavered. 'Cause we know who we are and we celebrate that.

As a representative of my people, I speak with the voice of my family and ancestors when I welcome others to Ngunnawal country. In doing so, I continue a cultural practice that has been passed down the generations. I'd like to, this morning, acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people present and especially to any elders who may also be here. To you, I pay my most profound respects. I also acknowledge our international visitors, and of course Mat Trinca.

Today, I welcome you all to the land of my ancestors, and in doing so I honour my elders past and present and most especially, I honour the memory of my loving dad, Eric Bell. So welcome. Welcome each and every one of you, and travel safely, following song lines that have stood for thousands of years. Welcome to Ngunnawal country.

MATHEW TRINCA: Thank you, Jude for that warm welcome, indeed, to the land of the Ngunnawal peoples. And, can I just offer my own acknowledgement of the traditional owners of this region and echo what my colleague Mike Pickering has just said about how profoundly important the relationship to the traditional owners of this country has been for us, really since the Museum's inception.

It's a very humbling, and indeed heavy, responsibility I think that we feel in this Museum in terms of our relationship, the sense of purpose, and mission that we have to represent the experiences, the histories, the lives, and not only of the Ngunnawal peoples of this area, but of all First Nations people in this country. And this Museum is grateful for the relationships that it's had locally, across the region, and indeed across the nation.

And in some senses right around the world, to First Nations communities, wherever they are. Paul Tapsell here has been a great friend of the Museum. Ned David and I have done a lot of work and we've had a lot of discussions about these matters in previous times about the need for museums of this sort to be clearly strongly engaged for the First Nations people where they sit, and in the country that they are, but also see the correspondence and importance of describing those relationships with First Nations communities around the world. And I've taken great heart from what those two gentleman and many other people have said to me over the years about the importance of reaching right around the globe, in making the connections to First Nations, to indigenous peoples wherever they are. So, I do welcome you all, here to the National Museum, those of you who have travelled near and far to this place for this discussion today.

It gives me a real sense of pleasure to welcome you here to this Museum for this discussion. For today's public symposium, ‘The Long Journey Home’, but also in the knowledge that you'll be meeting privately tomorrow to discuss these matters and to see how to advance the issues, the concerns and indeed the many outstanding questions that remain around this, sometimes vexed, issue of the return of ancestral peoples to their homes. To their countries of origin around the world. And so, in both today and tomorrows deliberations, I really do wish you very well. I wish you a great sense of courage as well in confronting some of the challenges that persist in this area.

I think it's a matter of great fortune that we have people from across the Asia-Pacific here today for these discussions. It's an opportunity, really, to share experiences, share about the problems, share about the successes, but also the challenges to success that remain. And indeed, ultimately, to express emotion and to deal with the emotions that naturally arise about something strikes to the very core of human existence, I think, and of our being.

It's a centrally important issue, clearly, at the very core of the life of First Nations people, but I think that it should be, and is at the core all of those who call these nations home.

I was very moved some years ago to be here to hear a minister in this government, unexpectedly in some senses because we hadn't quite realised the extent to which he would make this call, and I'm speaking of Christopher Pyne who was speaking here in this Museum a few years ago who said, ‘The matter is simple. That all the people of communities, First Nation communities of people around the world, should be returned to their homes immediately.’ There was no question. He made that call in the context of the concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country, but in a sense, abstractly, he was making that call I think almost globally. To say there is no reason why we cannot address this matter as a matter of key principle and urgency today and simply decide, wherever we are around the globe, to return people to their homes.

And it seemed to me to be a great moment of cut through, it was for me, that for all the discussions, for all the great work that we have achieved really, and what we have achieved over the course of the last two or three decades in this matter, and the kind of change in the atmosphere and view that there are in many institutions around the world, there still seems to be a persistent reluctance in some quarters to address these matters directly, and I think quite simply, through moving actively to return people to their homes.

So, at one level I supposed the questions seems simple. Simple to me. But, another it seems to be a question that has enduring obstacles and difficulties placed in its way. And all I can say about that is to consider this, how successful you have been to date in changing people's minds and attitudes around these matters, and how you can take strength from that success that you've all achieved in making the changes in the future that are also necessary. And that's why meetings like this are so important.

And that's why I think there is such virtue in coming together and hearing the experience of others, and indeed, learning from others as we continue to deal with an issue I think lies at the heart of what it means to be human and to live in countries like Australia or, indeed, from The United States, I know we have people here today and the issue is as alive there. New Zealand, Japan, we're really fortunate to be welcoming delegates from those countries here. We are very pleased to have you with us here for this discussion.

And I do hope that in the exchange that will take place now, there will be a great sense of learning, but also of taking heart. That these issues are issues that you can deal with and succeed with not just in the interest of First Nations people, but all people who want to live honestly, equitably, and I think in justice in their countries.

I do want to take a moment to thank the organizers of this event. Cressida Ford is here, Mike Pickering is here, there's others. But, if I thank them by remarking on the institutions that have been involved in this, this is really the product of work in bringing you all together, of The School of Culture, History, and Language, in The College of Asia and the Pacific, at the ANU [Australian National University]. The National Centre for Indigenous Studies, at the ANU. The ANU Japan Institute, and of course The National Museum of Australia. And I really do thank you all for joining us today and I wish you very well in your discussions and deliberations over the course of the next two days.

Welcome. Thank you.

MIKE PICKERING: Thank you, Mat. One thing I need to add for house-keeping is that these sessions will be recorded, purely audio, and will eventually be made available on the Museum’s website under Audio On Demand. So, it will be available, both in audio form and in transcript, fairly soon after the sessions. So, something to look out for.

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Date published: 14 November 2019

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