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Aboriginal Skull to return to Liverpool

Since the introduction of the Human Tissue Act [1], Aboriginal Australians have had a huge number of successes in retrieving artefacts from British Institutions. If other restitution cases are to be successful there are many lessons that can be learned from observing the various steps that led to this current situation with regards to Aboriginal artefacts.

Daily Telegraph [2]

Museum returns old Aboriginal skull to Australia
The skull of an indigenous Aboriginal Australian taken from the country 100 years ago and kept by a British museum has been handed back.
Last Updated: 7:55PM BST 13 May 2009

Little is known about the remains, thought to date back to the 19th century, which were returned to members of the Ngarrindjeri during a ceremony in Liverpool on Wednesday.

The remains were bought from Dr William Broad, of Liverpool, in 1948 after he visited Australia between 1902 and 1904 and published works on skeletal remains in the country.

Today George Trevorrow, 57, and Major Sumner, 61, who are both members of the Ngarrindjeri, a group of 18 clans based around the lower Murray River in South Australia, collected the skull.

Mr Sumner said: “We are here to take our ancestor back home. We believe that if there is a part of our ancestor missing and taken to another area that spirit never rests until their remains are put together in their home ground.”

During the short ceremony this afternoon in front of and inside the World Museum Liverpool in the city, eucalyptus leaves were burned.

Mr Trevorrow said: “There are about 600 Aboriginie remains held in British museums. There have probably been around 300 plus returns from the UK over the last ten years.

“I think British people are starting to understand our need for our tribal groups to have people returned to them.

“People who refuse these requests for the return of our ancestors are holding us down. We have been downtrodden for so long.”

Mr Trevorrow said research and “more investigation” will continue into the skull, which is believed to be of mixed Australian and European ancestry, at the National Museum of Australia, in Canberra.

Dr David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool, said: “The remains entered our collections many years ago and it is fitting that they are being returned to their homeland.

“The fact is there is a debate. Not everyone believes this is the right thing to do. National Museums Liverpool believes this is exactly the right thing to do.

“The repatriation of cultural items to their countries of origin is a complex, emotive and sensitive issue. National Museums Liverpool takes a decision in each individual case when items are requested for repatriation.”

It is the second time remains have been returned to Australia from Liverpool. In 1997 the remains of the warrior Yagan were returned after the bones were exhumed from Toxteth Cemetery in the city.

The remains of two other individuals will also be returned to Australia at a later date, National Museums Liverpool said.