Repatriation of ancestral remains

Museums Victoria recognises the rights of Indigenous peoples with respect to their cultural property, and through the Indigenous Repatriation Program has given priority to the return of Ancestral Remains to Australian Indigenous communities. The Repatriation of Indigenous Cultural Property Policy outlines the principles under which the program has operated.

From 1985 to August 2016, Museums Victoria has facilitated the repatriation of more than 2,200 individuals to Indigenous communities throughout Australia and to New Zealand.

Under the Victorian State Government, Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Act (2016), from August 1, 2016, responsibility for the repatriation of all Australian (not just Victorian) Ancestral Remains has been transferred to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council. The museum will continue to provide safe-keeping for the remains on behalf of the Council, and will also continue to consult with overseas Indigenous communities about their ancestral remains.


Office of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council
Department of Premier and Cabinet
Level 3, 1 Treasury Place
Melbourne VIC 3002
[email protected]
03 9902 7002

What to do if you have Aboriginal remains

Do not post or bring Ancestral Remains to the museum.

It is important that members of the public who have any remains in their possession hand these over to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, which is the responsible agency.

To ensure that Ancestral Remains can be reburied back on their own country, it is very important to provide as many details as possible about them, even if you feel they are not significant. The smallest detail can often be very informative.

What to do if you find human remains

If you do come across human remains in the landscape, please do not disturb them, but contact your local police station immediately. The police will contact staff of Aboriginal Victoria and the State Coroner’s Office to determine whether or not they are the remains of an Indigenous person.

Since 2001, the Repatriation Program has been supported by the Australian Federal Government and currently has funding assistance through the Indigenous Repatriation Program, Department of Communications and the Arts.

Repatriation Ceremonies

Number of Repatriated Ancestral Remains, 1984–2017

Museums Victoria has been repatriating Ancestral Remains to Indigenous communities for more than 30 years. The first return was in November 1985 to a specially prepared reburial site in the King’s Domain, in Melbourne. In the ensuing years, the museum assisted with the return of the Murray Black Collection to communities in NSW and Victoria. Most recently, in observance of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, 2006 (and Amendment, 2016), the museum transferred custodianship of the 260 sets of remains, provenanced to Victoria, to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (VAHC). Of these, 49 came from the museum’s collection, and the remainder had been transferred to the museum from other institutions. As of August 2017, the remains of more than 2,500 individuals have been returned to communities in all states of Australia and to New Zealand.

Community Ancestral Remains
Victoria 1094
Transferred to Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council 260
Murray Black (VIC & NSW) 800
New South Wales 241
South Australia 84
Tasmania 20
Northern Territory 16
Queensland 3
New Zealand 10


Resting Places: A History of Australian Indigenous Ancestral Remains at Museum Victoria

Download the article (DOCX, 941.8KB)

Museums Victoria's Apology to Traditional Owners

This apology is read at repatriation events held by the Museums Victoria. 

Read the apology

Further reading

The Hanged Man and the Body Thief: Finding Lives in a Museum Mystery
By Alexandra Roginski

Power and the Passion: Our Ancestors Return Home
by Shannon Faulkhead and Jim Berg

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