Slowly, slowly, history finds its place

After 110 years in a German museum, the remains of a Lama Lama woman will be returned to her traditional lands in Queensland.

The ancestor arrived in Sydney this week and is being flown to Cairns where she will be met by members of the Lama Lama family group, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Communications and the Arts said.

Records list the woman as having been taken from Australia before 1909 and transported to Germany where her remains were held in a collection at the State Museum of Hanover.

The museum officially returned the remains at a ceremony in Germany last week.

Representatives from the Lama Lama people, Department of Communications and the Arts, German government officials and the Australian ambassador to Germany, Lynette Wood, were at the ceremony.

The Lama Lama people, from Princess Charlotte Bay on eastern Cape York, said in a statement they had mixed emotions about the repatriation.

“For our people, learning about our ancestor being removed and taken to Germany has been a time of mixed emotions,” they said.

“We are sad and angry that she was taken from her home, her land, her country, 110 years ago. But we are happy and proud she is coming home to Yintjingga. We are glad to have her back here, to her mother place.”

They said her spirit would be guided back and she could be laid to rest peacefully.

“Bringing her home touches on our shared pain and our untold histories,” they said.

“The history of Australia’s European colonisation doesn’t acknowledge stories like this, stories of our Aboriginal people’s experiences with early settlers.

“For us, it is important that the past is set right, so our ancestor can finally come home to rest on country – Yintjingga.”

Meanwhile, copies of historic photographs from four European institutions are being returned to Indigenous communities across Australia.

The photos dating back to the 1800s are being returned by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford in the UK, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, the Museum Volkenkunde in the Netherlands, the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris and the University of Western Australia.

A special website https://ipp.arts.uwa.edu.au has been set up to let people access the photos of ancestors that already run into the thousands.

University of Western Australia researcher and Yamatji woman Donna Oxenham said the project started as a one-day-a-week project and had snowballed.

She said the return of the images was as important as the repatriation of other Aboriginal artefacts.

“It’s time to return these photographs; they’ve been stuck in these institutions for too long,” she said.

Ms Oxenham said Aboriginal people had been photographed for scientific reasons and out of curiosity ever since the camera was invented.

She said some of the photos showing Aboriginal people in neck cuffs were distressing, but she hoped all the photos would contribute to the healing process.

Ms Oxenham said they could also be helpful in Native Title claims in establishing links to country.

“What I like to highlight is even though some of these photos depict the serious side of our history, they are also the story of our cultural survivors,” she said. “We’re still here and our culture is still strong.”

The remains of a female ancestor to Tahn Donovan, a Wardandi woman from Western Australia, were also returned by a private collector in Canada this month.

Wendy Caccetta

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