Not just giving it back: Return of Cultural Heritage Project and acknowledging experiences of colonisation

Tuesday, 2 July 2019
Christopher Simpson
Dr Iain G. Johnston
Neil McKenzie

The AIATSIS Return of Cultural Heritage (ROCH) Project comes at a critical time in Australia’s history, as 2020 will mark 250 years since Cook’s voyage to the east coast of Australia and as the need to acknowledge Indigenous people’s experiences since colonisation is part of our public discourse. Part of this acknowledgment is recognising the importance of returning Indigenous ancestral remains and sacred objects to people and Country. However, the return of less sacred and non-sacred objects is not as widely accepted, although there is growing support in Australia and elsewhere. This despite returning material to Country for the purposes of cultural revitalisation being a key aspiration of Indigenous communities to strengthen culture and ensure it is respected, celebrated and valued. While the ROCH project is funded as part the Australian Government’s “Cook 2020 celebrations”, its objectives are to return material to Country and to acknowledge Indigenous people’s experiences since colonisation. Importantly, it is informed by community-based research methodologies and by other successful repatriation projects such as Return, Reconcile, Renew. This presentation contextualises the ROCH project within these themes and outlines a firsthand case study which demonstrates the importance returning non sacred material to community.