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NZ museum returns Indigenous objects

Four objects from the Warumungu people will be returned from a New Zealand museum to country in the Northern Territory.

Two hooked boomerangs (wartilykirri), an adze (palya/kupija) and an axe (ngurrulumuru) were collected by well-known anthropologist Baldwin Spencer and telegraph operator James Field.

The men amassed more than 6000 items from central Australia in the early 1900s, which have since been dispersed around the world.

The four objects now in the Tamaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum will be returned to the Warumungu people later this year.

“They been taken away before us, but we know that they belong to Warumungu people as the new generation,” Senior Warumungu man Michael Jones said.

Over the past 12 months, the Warumungu people have consulted with the museum on the cultural significance of the four objects.

A delegation of Warumungu representatives will travel to Auckland later this year to collect the items in an official hand-over ceremony.

A selection of the returned objects will then be displayed at the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in Tennant Creek.

“The return of Warumungu cultural heritage material is fundamental to the processes of truth-telling and reconciliation,” Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said in a statement.

“It supports the transfer of knowledge, cultural maintenance, restoration and revitalisation for future generations.”

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) worked with the Warumungu people and the Tamaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum to facilitate the handover.

The institute’s chief executive, Craig Ritchie, thanked the museum for the respect with which they handled the objects.

“While these four Warumungu objects were freely given by community members to visiting collectors, there needs to be recognition that many sacred and secular objects that illustrate our cultures were generally removed and relocated without our consent,” Mr Ritchie said.

“As well as alerting communities to their cultural heritage held in offshore collections, the AIATSIS RoCH (Return of Cultural Heritage) program aims to help those collecting institutions to understand and to respect the wishes of the source communities.”

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