A stolen generation comes home

Sydney Morning Herald
4 March 2005
By James Woodford

Sydney Aborigines have finally buried 14 ancestors whose remains were stolen in the name of science during the earliest years of European settlement.

Almost nothing is known about the identity of the 11 adults and three children except that they lived in Manly, were part of the Ku-ring-gai clan, and that their bones have, after more than a century, ended up on the shelves and display cases of the Australian Museum and National Museum of Australia.

After lengthy negotiations between the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council, it was agreed that the remains should be repatriated in a burial site as close as possible to the country where they would have lived.

Some of the remains were removed from disturbed burial sites but most were simply taken when Aborigines died. The 14 sets of skeletal remains are a mere fraction of the Aboriginal body parts held in museums around the world. Some estimates suggest that throughout the northern hemisphere there may be the remains of several thousand Aborigines.

Yesterday's ceremony was the second repatriation undertaken in Sydney. Late last year, in an unpublicised ceremony, four Aborigines were buried at Reef Beach, near Manly.

For yesterday's ceremony a site was chosen inside Sydney Harbour National Park and a private burial ceremony was conducted by elders assisted by a team of trainee Aboriginal sites officers who prepared the remains of the 14 bodies.

One of the trainees, Desmond Madden, said only men could work on the preparation of the male remains and female trainees on the women and girls. The bones were wrapped in paperbark, and smoking ceremonies were conducted to accompany the burials.

"My ancestors' remains have been so unrested for so many years," Mr Madden said.

His father, Allen Madden, a cultural and educational officer with the land council, said the repatriation was proof the Aboriginal community in Sydney was still strong.

"These remains are going back to where they belong. The earth is the mother. We come from it and we go back to it."

One of those at yesterday's burial, Rob Welsh, said: "The 14 people whose spirits we lay to rest here today were all from the Ku-ring-gai mob. This is their land ... To a blackfella not being buried in your own country means your spirit can't be released."


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