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Contribution to Book
Travelling Bones: The Repatriation of Indigenous Ancestral Remains
Biomapping Indigenous Peoples: Towards an Understanding of the Issues (2012)
  • Matthew Rimmer, Australian National University College of Law
In the album Journey, Archie Roach - the Australian Indigenous singer-songwriter hailing from Mooroopna in Victoria - has a melancholy song called ‘Travell’n Bones’. It is about the repatriation of Indigenous ancestral remains to their rightful home. This Chapter considers the legal, ethical, and cultural conflicts over Australian indigenous remains being held in museums, in Australia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States. James Nason comments: ‘The explosion of legal and extra legal attention on issues of cultural property and heritage was born of the frustration and anger of indigenous peoples whose rights and perspectives about cultural property and heritage issues had been largely absent and essentially unwanted by the museum of community’. Part I focuses upon disputes in Australia involving the repatriation of Indigenous Australian remains. In Bropho v HREOC, there was controversy over a cartoon, mocking the repatriation of the remains of Yagan, an Indigenous warrior, to Western Australia. There was a discussion about the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), and the exemptions available from the operation of the regime. Part II considers the efforts by The Te Papa Tongarewa - the Museum of New Zealand - to repatriate Maori and Moriori ancestral remains to New Zealand, and to iwi communities of origin. The conclusion considers the relevance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons 2007, and issues raised by ventures such as the Genographic Project.
  • Indigenous Intellectual Property,
  • Cultural Heritage,
  • Ancestral Remains,
  • Musuems,
  • Libraries.
Publication Date
November 1, 2012
Citation Information
Matthew Rimmer, 'Travelling Bones: The Repatriation of Indigenous Remains', in Susanne Berthier-Foglar, Sheila Collingwood-Whittick and Sandrine Tolazzi (Eds.) Biomapping Indigenous Peoples: Towards an Understanding of the Issues, Amsterdam/New York, NY: Rodopi, 2012, 369-390.