Sacred Indigenous artefacts have been returned to traditional owners in central Australia after spending almost a century in United States museums.
- The objects were displayed in Illinois after being taken in the 1920s
- The items cannot be revealed or seen by the public for cultural reasons
- More repatriated artefacts are expected to come from Manchester Museum
Elders spent months liaising for the return of 42 Aranda and Bardi Jawi objects, which arrived in Sydney from the Illinois State Museum last week.
The items were the first of many to be returned as part of a project that coincides with next year’s 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia.
Western Aranda ceremonial leader Braydon Kanjira said for cultural reasons he was forbidden from describing the Aranda artefacts but their return to Alice Springs was a special moment.
“To us, it means a lot, to the Aranda tribe … it was emotional, really, really emotional,” he said.
“I can’t find the words to describe it, how we felt about our artefacts being here, back home in central Australia.”
Mr Kanjira said the artefacts would be returned to country for future generations to enjoy.
“We already know about the songs of the artefacts, they’re going to be restored for our future generations, we will be talking to our grandsons about the artefacts, but in a public way.”
Project leader Christopher Simpson, from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), said the goal was returning items to country, not putting them on the shelf of another museum.
“They will be sung to, they will be admired,” he said.
“Imagine the stories these objects could tell.”
Mr Simpson estimated the objects were taken from central Australia around 1920 and housed in Chicago before being put on display in Illinois in the 1930s.
He said the next stage of the project would involve repatriation of more than 40 culturally significant objects from the Manchester Museum.
“Body ornaments made from feathers, teeth and wood, hair bundles and belts would be among those objects,” Mr Simpson said.
The Manchester-repatriated items will be returned to the Aranda, Gangalidda Garawa, Nyamal and Yawuru people.
Mr Kanjira said he also expected there would be many more Aranda items returned home from other locations.
“It’s the start of getting artefacts back from around the world, it’s the beginning,” he said.
Mr Simpson said AIATSIS was also hopeful the project could evolve into an ongoing program for the Federal Government.