Aboriginal Ancestral Remains transferred in historic MOU

The ownership of the largest collection of Aboriginal Ancestral Remains in Victoria, currently held by Museums Victoria, will be transferred to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (Council) in an historic Memorandum of Understanding between the organisations.

Welcome Fire, Bunjilaka Festival First Peoples Opening.

In a state first, Council will gain custody and responsibility of the ancestral remains. They will continue to be housed at Melbourne Museum for safekeeping until they can be repatriated or they can be stored elsewhere.

Eleanor Bourke, Chair of the Council stated, "Our Ancestors were taken from their resting places and have been studied and stored in museums and universities since the colonisation of this land. As a Council comprised solely of Traditional Owners, we are very pleased to have been given the responsibility to return them home."

Lynley Marshall, CEO, Museums Victoria stated, "It is a great privilege for Museums Victoria to be working with Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council on this very significant agreement. The transfer of custody and responsibility of these ancestral remains is an important milestone in the lasting partnership between our two organisations. The story here is compelling, powerful and historical, and we are honoured to be taking part."

The MOU is the result of the expansion of the Council‘s statutory responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (the Act) by the Victorian Government in 2016. According to the Act, Aboriginal Ancestral Remains should be owned by and returned to the Traditional Owners of the area from which they originated, as far as practicable.  

The Act provides Council with a suite of statutory responsibilities, and making it the central co-ordinating body for Aboriginal Ancestral Remains in Victoria. Under the 2016 amendments to the Act, universities, museums and other public organisations must notify the Council of any Aboriginal Ancestral Remains that are in their possession then take all reasonable steps to transfer the Ancestral Remains to the Council.

Museums Victoria has been thanked by Council for its care and repatriation of Aboriginal Ancestral Remains over the years. Council will undertake investigations and consultations with community to ensure the Ancestors are returned to country.

Any questions about Aboriginal Ancestral Remains, please contact the Council via email to [email protected] or phone 03 9651 6880.

For information, interviews and images please contact:

Kate McCabe
Media and Communications Manager, Museums Victoria
[email protected].

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