Repatriation in Action

For Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, the return of Ancestral Remains is a vital step in fulfilling cultural and spiritual obligations to care for and to bury their dead.

The Queensland Museum conducts a proactive and culturally appropriate repatriation program supported by the Queensland Museum Repatriation Fund. We actively work with communities to identify and establish provenance of Ancestral Remains, in order to return Ancestors to Country, so that in accordance with custom and lore, their spirits may continue their journeys.

The value of this important program in community healing is clearly demonstrated by the ceremony held on North Stradbroke Island by the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council for the internment of their Ancestral Remains on 31st July 2010.

The cultural significance of this ceremony is solemn and was conducted according to the custom of the Elders, passed down from Ancestors to families.

The remains of nine Aboriginal people, whom the community referred to as their family, were transported from the Queensland Museum to the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders building by Leonie Coghill, the Queensland Museum’s Manager of Repatriation and Community Engagement.

On the morning of the ceremony, in preparation for the internment, Aunty Margaret Iselin transferred the Ancestral Remains from the museum boxes into baskets woven by local Aboriginal women and made from reed found in the swamps. The baskets were then covered with cotton tree and lily-pilly leaves.

The Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council secured a Cultural Heritage Grant from the Department of Environment and Resource Management. This funding was allocated for repatriation and restoration work to be conducted at the Myora Cemetery and enabled the Elders to have the cemetery prepared for the Internment Ceremony. A pathway was built through the cemetery to allow disabled access to the site and landscaping with a general clean-up to the area was conducted. The Redland City Council also provided a work team to clean up the cemetery prior to the ceremony.

During the ceremony conducted by Aboriginal Pastor Marjorie Nuggin and Pastor Minnikon, the baskets holding the remains were carried by Aboriginal people to their resting place and positioned in the grave site.

A Smoking Ceremony was conducted by Joshua Walker and Yulu-Burri-Ba dancers according to the custom of Aboriginal Ceremony. As part of this Aboriginal ritual, all the people attending the ceremony walked through the smoke.

Once the grave was covered, an Aboriginal Flag was removed to uncover a plaque with the following inscription:

OUR LOST SOULS



MYORA CEMETERY - 31st JULY 2010



Our Lost Souls, whom we do not know who they are,



but we do know they are families from this Island and are being returned to us.



May they fly into the Dreamtime to rest



where all our lovely dreams are made.



Amen

For the ending of the ceremony, everyone attending walked past and placed shells on the burial site.

After the Ceremony, there was a get together at the Elders’ premises for a nice cup of tea, sandwiches and cake. This gave the visitors the opportunity to talk with the Elders and find out more about the ceremony.

The Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council wish to thank all who were involved in this very special and solemn ceremony.

Thanks to Aunty Margaret Iselin, Chairperson of the Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders-in-Council Aboriginal Corporation, for sharing this story.