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'Here's the bones of your ancestors’: Aboriginal remains delivered without warning to Tasmanian Aboriginal corporation

Callan Morse -

Aboriginal remains identified through separate coronial inquests have been delivered, without notice, in brown paper bags to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, the organisation says.

The remains, both determined to be more than 1,000 years old were found on Carlton Beach, south of Sorell in 2022 and Low Rocky Point on Tasmania’s remote west coast in 2016.

They were handed over to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), the relevant Aboriginal organisation approved by the Tasmanian Attorney General as per the Coroners Act 1995, on Friday.

The way the remains have been treated has reportedly “horrified” the TAC, with the organisation’s campaign manager, Nala Mansell, saying the coroner’s office’s handling of the remains shows a "complete disrespect and disregard” for Aboriginal peoples.

"A police officer has rocked up unannounced to the Tasmanian centre with paper bags informing us that: 'Here's the bones of your ancestors. I've been asked to drop them off to you,'" Ms Mansell told the ABC.

"We're at a loss as to how, after 220 years, the remains of Aboriginal people in this state continue to be treated with the utmost disrespect in a manner that we understand would not be OK if it was a non-Aboriginal person.”

Coronial reports on both remains were released in recent weeks, with forensic anthropologist Dr Anne-Marie Williams concluding the weathered bone found at Carlton Beach dates from between 772 and 991 AD, with the left and right femur, and right radius bone found at the Shank, near Low Rocky Point, dating from 772 and 890 AD.

All four bones contained a DNA type, known as S haplogroup, which is exclusive to Indigenous Australians.

Ms Mansell said Aboriginal remains had been returned to the organisation in an undignified fashion in the past.

"We recently received remains that were part of the Crowther collection in a chocolate box and a cigar box," she told the ABC.

"It's just horrific for all involved. It's horrific for the Aboriginal community who have for hundreds of years had to deal with the remains of Aboriginal people being sent over to international museums.”

Separate coronial inquests determined the remains to be Aboriginal. (Image: Owain Stia-James/ABC News)

The remains found at the Shank were originally thought to be between 20 and 100 years old until they were sent to the national laboratory in 2022, where further DNA testing and radiocarbon dating concluded the remains being of Aboriginal peoples.

Ms Mansell said the coroner had no jurisdiction to test the remains.

"The Coroner's Act of 1995 is a law that says if the coroner suspects remain human remains may be Aboriginal, they need to contact the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre so that the Aboriginal community can have some involvement in the process … and ensure that the human remains are dealt with in a respectful manner," Ms Mansell said.

She said the coroner’s handling of the remains, including the extended time taken to inform the Tasmanian Aboriginal community amounted to "racial discrimination" and "a complete breach of the law”.

"Unfortunately, in this instance, we've found out over the weekend through social media posts that some human remains were uncovered in the Carlton Bluff area. No notification was made on behalf of the coroner's office whatsoever with us,” Ms Mansell said.

"The Aboriginal community are shut out and we are at the whim of white authorities.

"We are demanding that the attorney-general steps up and has a full inquiry into the process of the coroner dealing with Aboriginal remains.”

A Tasmanian government spokesperson told the ABC the government was “deeply disappointed to hear the reports of insensitive treatment of Aboriginal remains”.

"We are committing to address the process for the treatment of Aboriginal remains in our Aboriginal Engagement Guidelines,” the statement read.

According to the spokesperson, the attorney-general was seeking advice from the Department of Justice over "the appropriateness of the existing provisions of the Coroners Act”.

Private ceremonies will be held for the remains.

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