Twenty-year battle for ancestors' remains finally over
THE remains of indigenous people from south-west Queensland no longer will be kept in "dungeons, cardboard boxes and cupboards".
No more will the ancestors from the St George area undergo scientific investigation hundreds of kilometres from home.
Instead, proud Kamilaroi man Bob Weatherall said, they would finally be free, to smell the gum trees and the ti-trees and feel at home once again.
Mr Weatherall has worked tirelessly on repatriation for more than a decade but a handover ceremony at Queensland Museum in Brisbane on Tuesday had special meaning for him.
His Kamilaroi people have spent 20 years negotiating the return of their ancestors' human remains to the Balonne River region.
Mr Weatherall said the way the remains had been kept was barbaric
"They're going to take them home now and lay them to rest in their homeland where they can be at peace," he said.
"So they can journey into the spirit world. When it is time for us to go to they will welcome us."
He said when culture came first, indigenous communities could mend themselves.
Professor Suzanne Miller, Queensland Museum Network chief, said the museum aspired to repatriate all ancestral remains and secret, sacred objects appropriately, though some communities had asked the museum to remain custodians.
She said ancestral remains had ended up at museums as a result of agriculture or development.
"I think for any of us, understanding our identity and understanding our history is incredibly fundamental to who we are," she said.
"So I think for anyone it would be extraordinarily important to know the remains of our own people were kept in an appropriate place or were buried in an appropriate place or returned to their homeland.
"Over time material has often been deposited in museums as a trusted place to care for the remains until they can be returned to country.
"Sometimes remains were uncovered during archaeological and anthropological studies early on in the settlers history of Australia."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Glen Elmes said it was important for people from any culture to have their ancestors settled in their homeland, and for the community to see it happen.
The Kamilaroi people will conduct their Wun.ga-li walaaybaa nhama maran (return home of our ancestors) ceremony in St George at dawn on Thursday (Sept 19), with a celebration corroboree at Rowden Park from noon.