Another success for Australian Aboriginal groups in their challenges  to the Natural History Museum’s retention of human remains.
The Age (Melbourne) 
British museum hands over Aboriginal remains
Julia May, London
April 28, 2007
THE Tasmanian Aboriginal community is claiming a partial victory in its 20-year battle to bring home the remains of its ancestors, as Britain’s Natural History Museum has agreed to hand over four of the 17 remains it holds.
But the Tasmanians have another fight ahead as they take on Britain’s two most famous universities and a second national museum for Aboriginal remains they possess.
Two representatives from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Greg Brown and Caroline Spotswood, arrived in London yesterday to start mediation with the Natural History Museum. They are trying to stop it from scientifically testing the remains of 17 Aborigines it holds. Those remains are due to be returned to Tasmania for burial.
On the eve of their departure, the museum agreed to hand over four remains on which it has completed testing. The handover ceremony was due to take place yesterday London time, at the museum in South Kensington.
In a statement Ms Spotswood said: “These remains, together with those of 13 more of our people, were removed without any Aboriginal consent from Tasmania during the 1880s and we have been fighting since the 1980s for their return. Greg and I are both proud and honoured to be able to take them home to lay their tormented spirits to rest.”
A spokeswoman said the museum was trying to stick to a previously agreed deadline of March 31 for the return of all 17 remains. “We wanted to keep our original promise,” she said.
The Tasmanians will also attempt to reclaim remains held by Oxford and Cambridge universities and National Museums Scotland.
“Here is an opportunity for them in goodwill to say, ‘OK, because of what’s happening (with the Natural History Museum) … we would like to offer you the remains while you’re here,’ ” Mr Brown said.
He said the universities and the Scottish museum had not released any details of testing. “We would be extremely disappointed if they are being tested on,” he said.
Last year two other representatives from the centre, Leah Brown and Adam Thompson, met the three organisations to lobby for the remains.
Cambridge University holds four Aboriginal skulls and possibly two jawbones. A spokesman said that it was still developing its policy on human remains.
Oxford University confirmed that the centre had requested the return of four Aboriginal hair samples that it has tested for DNA. In the 2006 discussions, the university suggested that it may not even deem hair to constitute human remains.
Last year National Museums Scotland showed Ms Brown and Mr Thompson an Aboriginal skull. It told The Age that repatriation requests were considered on a case-by-case basis.
Mediation between the Tasmanians and the Natural History Museum will start next Wednesday to bypass a costly hearing in the British High Court. The Tasmanians are trying to stop further scientific tests. These include drilling into bones and teeth to extract DNA and making plaster casts of teeth and jaws.
“Testing is culturally offensive to us; we see that for us to lay our old fellas and their spirits to rest, we need to bring them back intact without this experimentation,” Mr Brown said.
The case is so sensitive that each side has appointed a co-mediator to ensure independence: the former NSW chief justice Sir Laurence Street, for the Tasmanians, and a respected British legal reformer, Lord Harry Woolf, for the museum.
Sir Laurence said he was confident the two parties could reach a conclusion. “We’ll work it out,” he said.
I’m sure that Lord Woolf and I will have no trouble finding a rapport and finding a way to move forward.”