17 Nov 2022

Tūhura Otago Museum return Indigenous Australian taonga

9:32 am on 17 November 2022
Otago Museum

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A Dunedin museum is returning six cultural artefacts taken from Indigenous Australians more than a century ago.

The Tūhura Otago Museum collection includes a kalpunta (boomerang), palya/kupija (adze) and a selection of marttan (stone knives) that were taken from the Warumungu people, who are the traditional custodians of the Tennant Creek region in the Northern Territory, in the late 19th or early 20th century.

Warumungu elders, and a contingent from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, were welcomed to the museum on Thursday morning.

Four taonga taken from the Warumungu people have also recently been returned by Auckland Museum.

Australian Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the return of the taonga marked a significant moment for the Warumungu people.

Tūhura Otago Museum director of collections and research Robert Morris told Morning Report negotiations for the return of the items began after the museum was approached by Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 2019.

"They came into the collection between 1910 and 1936, it was very much a pattern of the larger museums around the world at the time [trying] to build their ethnological collections and develop comparative collections for those kind of studies.

"The museums readily exchanged collection items around the world, so between Australia and New Zealand it would have been an exchange of Māori material with Australian aboriginal material.

"These items came by exchange from Museum of Victoria in Melbourne."

Within the Australian collections at the museum there was also some interest in items with connected to other indigenous groups, he said.

The key repatriation programmes were within New Zealand, he said.

"Most of the focus to date has been on the return of ancestral remains, or human remains, to the source communities," he said.

"We are seeing an increasing number of exchanges and returns with different iwi across Aotearoa."

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