New Zealand museum returns heritage artifacts to First Nation in NT

The work of First Nationscraftsmen sheds light on the past and future alike. <i>Photo: AAP</i>

The work of First Nationscraftsmen sheds light on the past and future alike. Photo: AAP

A New Zealand museum will return six Warumungu objects to their traditional owners in the Northern Territory more than a century after they were first taken.

The objects include a kalpunta (boomerang), palya/kupija (adze) and a selection of marttan (stone knives).

They were originally acquired in Tennant Creek the 18th or 19th century by telegraph station master James Field and British-born anthropologist Baldwin Spencer, and came to the Tūhura Otago Museum through exchanges with Museum Victoria and anthropologist Frederick Vincent Knapp.

Senior Warumungu man Michael Jones thanked Tūhura Otago Museum for its response.

“Them old things they were carved by the old people who had the songs for it, too. I’m glad these things are returning back,” Mr Jones said.

“The museums are respecting us. They weren’t the ones who took them, they just ended up there,” he said.

“We can still teach the young people now about these old things and our culture.”

‘Storytelling is integral’

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) Return of Cultural heritage (RoCH) team initiated consultation between Warumungu elders and the museum’s Māori Advisory Committee to discuss the return of the items.

AIATSIS CEO Craig Ritchie said the RoCH program was giving a voice to originating communities in how their heritage is managed in collections outside of Australia.

“Storytelling is integral to the transmission of our cultural knowledge,” Mr Ritchie said.

“We don’t want to lose track of such storytelling aids, and our communities want a say in how they are used.”

The Warumungu community has indicated that a selection of the returned objects will be displayed at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in Tennant Creek.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney MP applauded the agreement.

“The return of cultural heritage material after more than a century is a significant moment for the Warumungu people and fundamental to the processes of truth-telling and reconciliation,” Ms Burney said.

“Repatriations like these are critical for the transfer of knowledge and cultural maintenance and revitalisation for future generations.”


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