Eric Amagula, Lionel Jaragba, Anthony Lalara, Matt Austin (ALC), Hugh Bland (ALC), Iain Johnston (AIATSIS) and Shaun Angeles (AIATSIS) looking at the Anindilyakwa collection at MAGNT. Credit: Anindilyakwa Arts, Anindilyakwa Land Council/AIATSIS Facebook
The historic return of cultural heritage materials to their original home is almost complete, with the arrival of 174 Anindilyakwa items into Darwin.
Senior Anindilyakwa men Eric Amagula, Lionel Jaragba and Anthony Lalara viewed the historical material at the MAGNT Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where they have been repatriated from the Manchester Museum to their home on Groote Eylandt.
The items include culturally significant enungkuwa (spears), ajamurnda (bark baskets), errumungkwa (woven armbands) and dadikwakwa-kwa (painted doll shells).
They have been returned to the Anindilyakwa community, Traditional Owners of the land and waters of the Groote Archipelago in the Northern Territory.
The return from the Manchester Museum has been facilitated by the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), who lead the Australian Government’s Return of Cultural Heritage (RoCH) program.
In September, 2022, the Manchester Museum joined a RoCh team for consultations with the Anindilyakwa community, with a focus on a large collection of objects that were acquired by British sociologist and social anthropologist, Peter Worsley. He had collected them during his PhD fieldwork on Groote Eylandt in the 1950s.
His manuscript collection is held by AIATSIS whilst the object collection was maintained by the Manchester Museum.
In September of this year, Anindilyakwa community representatives Danjibana Noeleen Lalara, Maicie Lalara and Amethea Mamarika travelled from Groote Eylandt to be on-hand to receive the items in a historic and “highly significant” return.
AIATSIS acting chief executive Leonard Hill noted at the time that Manchester Museum had been the custodian of the collection for more than half a century.
“[N]ow, in collaboration with AIATSIS, they are being returned to their custodians – the children and grandchildren of those who created them,” he said.
Wanindilyakwa Elders Ida and Elaine Mamarika said seeing the spears can bring back “lost memories of the past.”
“[But] they can’t be in a container, we want it in a museum… [They’re] better off coming back to Australia, and we can see the things that are made here. Five-and six-years-olds want to see what Old People did, in a museum display for us.”
The Anindilyakwa community, along with AIATSIS, the Anindilyakwa Land Council and special guests, will celebrate the return of the material at an event on 21 November.