Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 1



  The TAC's campaign for the return of ancestral skeletal material began in the 1970s. Much public pressure was brought to bear on the state government. The Tasmanian Museum Act 1950 was amended in 1974 and 1976 to allow Trukanini's skeleton to be returned from the Tasmanian Museum where it had been since 1878. Attention then turned to the infamous Crowther collection, made up of three skeletons and 34 skulls dug up early this century from the cemetery at Oyster Cove. The TAC took legal action against the Tasmanian Museum, which, although unsuccessful, brought national and international influence to bear on the Tasmanian Government. Late in December 1982 the Government agreed to legislate to return the Crowther collection to the Aboriginal community.

  The Museums (Aboriginal Remains) Act 1984 was passed by the state parliament in November 1984 to allow the handing over of all Tasmanian Aboriginal remains held in the two Tasmanian museums. By 1986 most Aboriginal skeletal remains held in Tasmanian museums were handed to the TAC on the community's behalf. Both museums later returned items of skeletal remains found in their collections in 1988 and 1993.

  Australian museums followed suit. The Museum of Victoria, National Museum of Australia and South Australian Museum returned Aboriginal remains to Tasmania between 1986 and 1989.

  Australian museums continue to return skeletal material to Tasmania as it is brought to their attention. In 1996 the National Museum returned skeletal items still in their collections, and the South Australia Museum and the Museum of Victoria each returned a lock of Truganini's hair.


  The TAC then took its campaign overseas. After extensive lobbying between 1985 and 1991 our delegates succeeded in having remains returned to Tasmania and Australia. Meetings were held with some European museums to determine the extent of their collections and guage their attitudes; however the campaign focused on the UK, and the return of skeletal remains only was the issue.

  In 1991 Pitt Rivers Museum in England returned five skulls and the penis of a warrior amputated in 1890 and pickled in a jar, all Australian. Edinburgh University returned its complete collection of 300 skulls and four skeletons, 11 of the skulls were Tasmanian. As well, the Peterborough and Bradford museums (UK) returned their complete collections of Australian skeletal remains, one skull each. The Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin returned a preserved head to Tasmania but kept the rest of their collection.

  None of five European museums documented as having hair samples can find them. Such curios went out of vogue so long ago who would know where they ended up. Edinburgh University with whom we had cordial relations became so exasperated with our repeated enquiries after the hair, they told us in their last reply that "we do not propose pursuing the matter further . . . [we] trust this is the last occasion we will be hearing from you." In early November 1997, Edinburgh University found three of the four Tasmanian hair samples we were pursuing. They were discovered with other materials in a locked room in the Anatomy Department during the absence of a senior staff member. The hair was returned to the Tasmanian delegation on 1 December 1997, the last day of their overseas trip.

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