News: Return of Cultural Heritage Project

Exciting work undertaken via the ‘Return of Cultural Heritage Project‘, led by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), is working on returning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage materials currently held overseas back to Australia.

Marking the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first voyage to the east coast of Australia, throughout 2019 and 2020 AIATSIS have been developing and implementing a process of returning items back to Australia ‘for the purpose of cultural revitalisation’. In May 2019 the project completed their research, and identified over 200 overseas collecting institutions with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage collections.

Working in close collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and overseas collecting institutions, AIATSIS began to negotiate the unconditional return of materials from July 2019 – most recently the collection of 43 objects returned by Manchester Museum have been reported in the media. The final phase of the project aims to produce a written report on the work undertaken thus far and again will involve input from the relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

This work has already been overwhelmingly positively received by the media and museum professionals, academics and audiences alike, and is a significant step towards repatriation in other museum institutions. It is hoped that such an innovative and valuable project inspires others to consider the return of objects for cultural revitalisation.