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Legendary Lardil song man's headdress repatriated from UK

Emma Ruben -

A prominent Lardil headdress taken to the United Kingdom nearly 50 years ago has been returned to traditional custodians of Queensland's Gununa (Mornington Island).

The headdress was used in public performances by the late Philip Jack, a member of the Lardil Dancers (also known as the Mornington Island Dance troupe) that performed at the 1973 opening of the Sydney Opera House.

Lardil cultural man Lawrence Burke said the repatriation was important to his people.

"Everyone's very excited at the moment here," he said.

"It's really important because it belongs to our people and to our leaders."

Mr Burke said the return of the headdress would help future generations learn.

"This is good for our next generation because a lot of them have never heard of the old fella," he said.

"They've heard stories but this is like a history for our kids."

At the ceremony, Mr Burke said this headdress represented the totem of the rainbow.

"Only a lawman can wear this one," he said.

"The return is important because Mr Jack was an elder, a cultural man, a law man, and an important song man for this place."

Mr Jack gifted the headdress to Maurice Routhan, his neighbour who was leaving Sydney to return to the UK in the 1970s.

In recent years, Mr Routhan has sought to return the headdress to its original custodians.

"I was very proud to be given this gift when I left Australia, and I'm even more proud to be able to hand it back," he said.

The Lardil headdress arrived back in Australia in late January and was received into the care of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in mid-February.

"Mr Jack was an elder, a cultural man, a law man, and an important song man for this place" - Lawrence Burke

Federal Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said heritage items helped keep culture alive.

"Today is a significant moment for the Lardil people of the Wellesley Islands community," he said.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are kept alive by the passing of knowledge, arts, ceremonies and performances from one generation to another, and importantly protecting sacred and significant sites and objects such as this one."

The daughter of Routhan, Sharon Rundle, urged others who are in possession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts to return them to the original custodians.

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