Case Study: Larrakia 1996 / 2002
The Museum's repatriation of artefacts to Larrakia, NT, in 1996 established a relationship that would be called upon again in 2002.
The Australian Museum’s Larrakia, Northern Territory, material was collected between 1898 and 1971. These objects either remain in the collection, have been exchanged, destroyed or lost. Others, including a Larrakian stone ax and two hairstring armlets, were repatriated to their source community.
These objects were donated by Captain George W. Pim to the Australian Museum in 1908. The process of repatriation started in February 1993 when the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), on behalf of the Larrakia Association, approached the Museum about return of material significant to Larrakia descendants. MAGNT also planned to display the objects in a proposed exhibition to mark the International Year of Indigenous People.
Due to the lack of a Keeping Place, an Indigenous community omuseum, to house the objects, the repatriation process was interrupted. In 1996, the Museum was approached by Museums Australia, the peak body of the museum sector in Australia, about the possibility of handing over the objects to Larrakia representatives during the National Conference, a proposal fully endorsed by the Larrakia community.
The Handing-back Ceremony was held on 2 October 1996, initiated by a smoking ceremony and Eora singers and attended by representatives from the Australian Museum, South Australian Museum and the MAGNT. A message stick was exchanged, which “is the most appropriate way for us the Larrakia to acknowledge a message” (Russell Cubillo, Larrakia Assocation). The message for the Australian Museum is one of engagement, reconciliation and celebration with Indigenous Australians.
The relationship between the Museum and the Larrakia was strengthened in 2002 when the Museum repatriated three sets of human remains to the community. They were collected by Australian Museum collector, Alexander Morton, in 1878 and had survived the Garden Palace fire in 1882. The remains were handed back to a delegation of eight Larrakia descendants who travelled to Sydney from the Northern Territory. The Australian Museum is committed to continued engagement with the Larrakia and Indigenous Australians.
Vu Tuan Nguyen