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Anindilyakwa community celebrate return of cultural treasures to Groote Eylandt

Callan Morse -

Traditional Owners of Groote Eylandt have celebrated the return of 174 cultural heritage items from the United Kingdom's Manchester Museum.

The Anindilyakwa community, Traditional Owners of the lands and waters of the Northern Territory's Groote Archipelago, welcomed the return of the treasured cultural material on Tuesday.

The welcome ceremony was held at Umbakumba, where the items were originally collected by Professor Peter Worsley during his PhD fieldwork on Groote Eylandt in the 1950s.

The significant items that were returned, including enungkuwa (spears), ajamurnda (bark baskets), errumungkwa (woven armbands) and dadikwakwa-kwa (painted doll shells).

"It was a very special day for us, for the Anindilyakwa people. We are celebrating. It's been a long time since the artefacts have been away and the people are proud to come and see them. We are happy because our artefacts came back here, to where they belong," Traditional Owner Danjibana Noleen Lalara said at the ceremony.

Song men singing as part of the smoking ceremony at the Anindilyakwa return celebration, Groote Eylandt. (Image: AIATSIS)

In September this year, Ms Lalara was accompanied by Maicie Lalara and Amethea Mamarika who travelled to Manchester Museum of the offical handover ceremony.

Earlier this month, Anindilyakwa Men Eric Amagula, Lionel Jaragba and Anthony Lalara welcomed the material as it arrived in Darwin

The return culminated a years-long process between Traditional Owners, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) and the Manchester Museum.

Ngemba man and interim AIATSIS CEO, Leonard Hill, said the return showcases the power of collaboration and highlights the significance of Indigenous peoples having a central role in conversations about where their cultural heritage material is best placed.

"Returning cultural heritage material is not merely about the physical artefacts but is about fostering relationships, understanding, and mutual respect," Mr Hill said.

"The impact of this return is already sending ripples across the world by sharing powerful Anindilyakwa stories."

Edith Mamarika holding dadikwakwa-kwa at the Anindilyakwa return celebration, Groote Eylandt. (Image: AIATSIS)

Federal minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, praised the collaborate efforts of all parties to ensure the return became a reality.

"Yesterday was one of celebration for the Anindilyakwa people, as they welcome back the collection of culturally significant items after so many years away from Country," Ms Burney said.

"I commend AIATSIS, the Anindilyakwa Land Council and Manchester Museum for their hard work over the last three years to make the return a reality."

In an AIATSIS first, Manchester Museum staff accompanied AIATSIS' Return of Cultural Heritage Team for collaborative consultations with the Anindilyakwa Community on Groote Eylandt last year.

"All of Manchester Museum stands with the Anindilyakwa Community as they receive their belongings back on-Country," Manchester Museum director, Esme Ward said.

"This moment comes from three years of collaboration, fuelled by care and empathy.

Phillip Mamarika holding a boomerang owned by his father at the Anindilyakwa return celebration, Groote Eylandt. (Image: AIATSIS)

"I want to extend my thanks to Anindilyakwa Elders and Communities for their trust, their creativity and their generosity and I look forward to strengthening our collaboration and finding new ways to share Anindilyakwa culture and art for many years to come."

Northern Territory member for Arnhem, Selena Uibo said it was fitting and appropriate to have significant cultural artefacts returned to their original owners.

"I know that the Anindilyakwa people are proud to have such important items handed back so they can now share them with their future generations," Ms Uibo said.

"We appreciate the UK's Manchester Museum has kept these items safe and has worked closely with AIATSIS and the Anindilyakwa Community to bring these incredibly precious cultural heritage items home. Now they are home where they belong."

So far AIATSIS, which heads the Australian Government's Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) program, has returned culturally significant material from overseas collections to 14 Indigenous communities across Australia.

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