May 14, 2009

Brighton and Hove City Council to meet with Aboriginals to discuss restitution request

Posted at 10:14 pm in Similar cases

Whilst there have been many successes in the campaigns for restitution of Aboriginal Australian artefacts, in some cases, there is less willingness to return pieces to their original owners.

Sydney Morning Herald

UK council meets Aborigines over remains
May 16, 2009

Aboriginal leaders have met with British authorities to demand the return of a rare skull.

Brighton and Hove City Council previously ignored an agreement between the Australian and British governments and refused to return the skull because of its rarity.

The skull has been turned into a water carrier and is thought to be one of only a handful anywhere in the world.

But the recent release of dozens of other Aboriginal remains by museums across Britain, coupled with renewed diplomatic pressure has forced the council, in East Sussex, to reconsider its position.

It has already agreed to return Aboriginal bones which formed part of the same museum collection and is now believed to have agreed in principle to return the skull after Friday’s meeting with Aboriginal elders Major Sumner and George Trevorrow.

An official announcement has been delayed until Thursday.

A spokesman for the council said council officers met with representatives from the Ngarrindjeri nation and had very fruitful talks.

“It has already been established that four of the pieces will be returned to the Ngarrindjeri and a decision on the fifth piece will be made at the end of next week following a meeting of the council’s full cabinet,” he said.

Mr Trevorrow’s brother, Tom, said it was crucial the skull and other bones be returned to the Coorong area of South Australia for reburial.

“The bones of our older people should never have left Australia. They need to be reburied,” he said.

“The skull would never have been turned into a water carrier by our people. It is only Western collectors that would do that.

“The reburial is important to Aboriginals’ spiritually because some believe a soul is in torment if it rests on foreign soil.”

Councillor Melanie Davis on Saturday maintained that returning the skull would set a precedent that could force dozens of other museums to return items of Aboriginal origin to Australia.

“Clearly, it is important to the Ngarrindjeri and it would be good to hand it over but there is a legal precedent to consider,” she said.

However, that stance has been undermined in recent weeks after the National Museum in Liverpool and Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History both agreed to return Aboriginal bones. Another set of remains found during a clearout of a home in northern England have also been returned.

Australian High Commissioner John Dauth said diplomats were still in “lively dialogue” with a number of other institutions including Cambridge University and London’s Natural History Museum.

“There is a real determination in my country to put behind us the appalling treatment of indigenous Australians in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” he said.

Since 1990 the remains of around 1,100 people have been retrieved from Britain as part of a worldwide attempt at repatriation.

The British and Australian governments formalised an agreement to return Aboriginal items in 2005.

Most remains in overseas collections were taken from Australia by traders in the early 20th Century and sold or exchanged.

The skull in Brighton was donated to the council by collector FW Lucas in 1925.

© 2009 AAP

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