Bundjalung remains coming home

BUNDJALUNG elder Bertha Kapeen has mixed emotions about the skeletal remains of a Bundjalung man and woman which will arrive in Australia next week.

The remains were held in the Dutch Museum of Ethnology for almost 130 years and were identified as coming from Northern NSW.

On Tuesday the remains were handed over to Bundjalung elders Desmond ‘John’ Morrissey and Gwen Hickling at a ceremony in Leiden, in The Netherlands.

“I feel sad they left in the first place and happiness they are at last being returned,” Aunty Bertha said. This is the first time human remains from the Bundjalung nation have been returned to the Northern Rivers.

Aunty Bertha said although the identities of the remains were a mystery, it was still important they be brought ‘home to country’.

“These are our people and they are still part of life,” she said.

It was not known how the remains ended up in The Netherlands.

“We have lots of questions,” she said.

It is expected the remains will be taken to the National Museum of Australia, in Canberra, for storage until arrangements for their final resting place, which is expected to be in Northern NSW, can be made.

The Bundjalung people will conduct a ceremony for the ancestors, but details of the ceremony had not yet been decided, Aunty Bertha said.

Mr Morrissey and Ms Hickling are also expected to visit Oxford University and the Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom to discuss the return of four other sets of Bundjalung ancestral remains.

The remains of three other indigenous Australians held at the Dutch museum are also being returned to Canberra where further examination will try to establish their origins.

Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, said the Government was committed to repatriating remains held in museums overseas.

“Indigenous Australians rightly believe their ancestral remains need to be returned to country so their spirits can be laid to rest,” Ms Macklin said.

Since 1990 more than 1150 indigenous remains have been brought back to Australia.

There are still around 900 indigenous Australian remains held in museums around the world, mostly in the UK, Germany, France, Poland and the United States.

The remains are due to arrive in Australia on October 8.

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