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Indigenous Rights - Repatriation

Video clip synopsis – The repatriation of aboriginal remains is an issue close to Aboriginal peoples' hearts and spirit and play a significant part of the reconciliation process.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 2min 47sec
Tags - Australian History, Indigenous Australia, Learning Journey Indigenous, politics, restorative justice, see all tags


Indigenous Rights -  Repatriation

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About the Video Clip


Talkback Classroom is a forum program run by the Education section of the National Museum of Australia. Each year a series of forums is held. At each forum a panel of three secondary students, selected from schools Australia wide, interview a leading decision-maker on an important current issue. The panel members participate in a ‘learning journey’ to explore the issues and prepare for the forum. This involves researching the issue the forum is exploring and interviewing relevant people in the community. Panellists also develop interview techniques in workshops at Parliament House and the National Museum of Australia. The interviews are then recorded in the Museum’s Studio in front of a live student audience.

This clip comes from a 2007 forum on ‘indigenous representation’. The guest interviewed was former Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, The Hon. Mal Brough MP. Panellists were NT Year 12 students Brendon Kassman, Danielle Lede and Esmeralda Stephenson from Casuarina Senior College, Darwin. The learning journey involved students exploring the collection of Aboriginal art and material culture at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory in Darwin and interviewing senior curator Franchesca Cubillo. They also interviewed Douglas Bon, skin group brother of Eddie Mabo and Marion Scrymgour, Member for Arafura in the Northern Territory Parliament. The learning journey also included a visit to Gunbalunya (Oenpelli) indigenous community in West Arnhem Land and an interview with the area’s local elders.

Background Information


The European colonisation of Australia has had a great impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Many meetings between European and Aboriginal cultures were unsuccessful: Aboriginal disenfranchisement and the effects of white society resulted in inequalities and tensions. By as early as 1869 the colonies began to remove Aboriginal children from their families in an effort to assimilate them and ‘protect’ them.

During Federation and the drafting of the nation’s constitution, reference to Aboriginal people was made only twice: Aboriginal people were to be managed by state authorities, not the Commonwealth, and they were not to be counted in the national census. National discussion between 1910 and the 1960s debated the wisdom of indigenous welfare being managed in this way. This debate intensified during the 1960s. Key events of the 1960s that informed the growing national awareness of the state of indigenous people in Australia included the Yolngu people’s 1963 presentation of the Yirrkala bark petition to the Commonwealth government, the 1965 freedom ride and the 1966 Wave Hill walk-off.

In 1967 a national referendum was held and 90.77% of Australian people voted “yes” to give Aboriginal people the right to be counted in the census and granted the Commonwealth the capacity to legislate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Initially, change occurred slowly following the ‘67 Referendum, and partly as a result the Aboriginal tent embassy was erected on the lawns of the Parliament House in 1972. By 1976 the Northern Territory Land Rights Act had been passed; later in 1994 the landmark Commonwealth Native Title Act was also passed and in 1990 ATSIC was established as the peak body for indigenous Australians.

In more recent times the former Howard government introduced the Amendment to Native Title Act in 1998 and ATSIC was disbanded in 2005 due to allegations of mismanagement. Under the Howard government ‘practical reconciliation’ was emphasised with a particular focus on indigenous health, education, housing and employment. An increasing concern over rates of crime and abuse in indigenous communities led to the Northern Territory intervention policy. In 2008 under the newly elected Rudd Labor government a national apology to the children of the stolen generation took place.

Classroom Activities


Before you watch

Investigate and discuss:
What is repatriation? How have attitudes to collecting human remains changed over time? How and why do you think Australian Aboriginal remains ended up in England?

While you watch

Watch the video clip and take notes so you can answer the following questions:

  1. Why do some people feel that human remains should not be repatriated?
  2. What benefit does George Taylor say can occur for a whole community when repatriation happens?

After you watch

  1. What arguments are there for keeping human remains in institutions for scientific purposes? Should remains always be repatriated where possible? In pairs, write a short script where two people with opposing views try to convince each other of their viewpoint.
  2. Learn more about repatriation by visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum website. The Pitt Rivers Museum, located in Oxford, England has a large collection of human remains, anthropological and archaeological material.

Further Resources


National Museum of Australia: Talkback Classroom

Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts: Repatriation of Indigenous Cultural Property