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Kaurna Ancestors return home, reburied at Wangayarta in watershed ceremony

Giovanni Torre -

On Tuesday 12 December members of the Kaurna community and supporters gathered at Wangayarta, the Kaurna memorial park at Smithfield Memorial Park, to lay Ancestors to rest in an emotional community-led reburial.

Following historic repatriations in December 2021 and June 2022, this third reburial saw Kaurna Elders and young people work side by side to return their Old People to Country and reaffirm Wangayarta's place as an important Kaurna site of memory, kinship, and ceremony now and into the future.

Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation Chair Tim Agius said it was an important day that reached across generations of Kaurna people.

"Prior to today, our Ancestors have been resting in shelves in the Museum for almost 100 years. In that time, Ancestors were also sent overseas for scientific research – this was unacceptable," he said.

"These reburials have been a very significant event in the history of Kaurna. It signals a time for reflection and a watershed moment in Kaurna history to discuss what happens in the future to our Ancestors with the state government and industry."

Many of the Ancestors had been in the care of the South Australian Museum after being disturbed from burial sites in Norwood, St Peters, Walkerville, Campbelltown and other areas of eastern Adelaide in the late 1800s and into the 20th century.

Traditional Owners said that with the Ancestors now laid to rest in Wangayarta's eastern burial mound, they will be remembered and protected in perpetuity surrounded by a now-established garden of native plants and sensitive landscaping design that recognises that the land of these Ancestors "always was, and always will be Kaurna Yarta".

The eastern mound was prepared for the Ancestors during Wangayarta's co-design process. During construction, Uncle Moogy Sumner spread soils from all over Kaurna Country across the area as a way of allowing all Ancestors to be buried in the soil of their Country. In Uncle Moogy's words, this ceremony brought "land that the Ancestors walked across" back to them.

Wangayarta began as a world-first pilot project and collaboration between Kaurna Yerta Aboriginal Corporation (KYAC), South Australian Museum, Adelaide Cemeteries and the Department of Premier and Cabinet Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, to address the historical legacy of Kaurna Ancestors in the custodianship of museums and universities.

This is a model pioneered by the Kaurna that the South Australian Museum is now exploring with other communities.

Traditional Owners said the latest reburial is "testament to the resilience and leadership shown by the Kaurna community in continuing this difficult but essential work", and that each ceremony represents a significant amount of research, cooperation, support and care – and an important step in an ongoing process of reconciliation and truth- telling.

Over the coming months, KYAC will commemorate these histories and the future of Wangayarta by developing cultural interpretation resources with the support of a grant from the History Trust of South Australia's South Australian History Fund.

South Australian Museum Chief Executive Dr David Gaimster said Wangayarta's second anniversary was an important milestone in an evolving story of repatriation.

"Kaurna Wangayarta is an integral part of the South Australian Museum's work in facing up to the legacies of our institution's past practices, and of colonisation in South Australia. As we return to this important place, the Museum extends its gratitude to the Kaurna community for the leadership and strength it has shown in making Wangayarta an international example for repatriation and healing," he said.

Kaurna community rebury Ancestors at Wangayarta, 12 December. Image: Sia Duff.

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