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The Australian National University

Back to country: Sarah Bourke discusses repatriation of Indigenous Australian remains

Sarah Bourke, an Honours student in Biological Anthropology and an Aboriginal woman of Djaru, Ongkomi and Gamilaroi descent, speaks about her research into the process of returning the remains of Indigenous Australians held in overseas museums to their ancestral communities.

“At the time of European colonisation of Australia, Indigenous people were considered to be a dying breed,” says Sarah Bourke.  “Their remains were considered to be very valuable by non-Indigenous people who were interested in advancing themselves in scientific circles.

“In some cases I have read and heard about, the remains were taken illegally from places such as graveyards or hospital morgues. There are even a few cases where it was implied that particular Indigenous people were shot and killed so their remains could be sent to museums overseas.”

Bourke hopes her research will encourage understanding between museums and Aboriginal communities.  “I don’t think people should be closed off to the idea of science. If people were more open to talking about it, then both sides could get something out of the exchange,” she says.

» Read the interview with Sarah Bourke
» Listen to Sarah Bourke talk about her research
» See the article in ANU Reporter Summer 2012 (PDF)

Updated: 14 December 2012/ Responsible Officer:  Director, RSHA / Page Contact:  Web developer