Indigenous ancestral remains return home to Dunghutti country

Anaiwan Elder Uncle Les Ahoy, Craig Anderson from the Dunghutti Elders Council, Regional Manager Heritage NSW Cheryl Brown, Professor Brigid Heywood Vice-Chancellor and UNE CEO. Photo: Supplied
Anaiwan Elder Uncle Les Ahoy, Craig Anderson from the Dunghutti Elders Council, Regional Manager Heritage NSW Cheryl Brown, Professor Brigid Heywood Vice-Chancellor and UNE CEO. Photo: Supplied

Indigenous ancestral remains housed in the Cultural Collections of the University of New England have been returned home to the country of the Dunghutti Nation.

In the 1960s, a severe storm eroded parts of a sand dune at Stuart's Point revealing a partial skeleton, now known to be of Aboriginal descent. The remains have been stored in the UNE's Cultural Collections.

A request from the Dunghutti Elders Council and Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council for the return of ancestral remains to the Stuarts Point and Smokey Cape area provided an ideal opportunity for the university to fulfill its cultural and legal obligations around the artefacts.

Vice-Chancellor and CEO Professor Brigid Heywood said the UNE worked with its Cultural Advisor, Stephen Ahoy and the Cultural Repatriation program of the NSW Office of Environment to ensure the ancestors were returned home in a culturally appropriate manner.

"UNE is a storehouse of cultural and natural treasures collected or donated over the decades since its establishment in the 1950s," Professor Heywood said.

"The most important part of our holdings are Aboriginal ancestral remains, which UNE is committed to ensuring are respectfully and appropriately returned to their communities."

As a part of the ceremony, Elders from the Dunghutti community travelled to the UNE campus in Armidale to take custody of the ancestral remains through a formal ceremony, hosted by UNE's Aboriginal Cultural Advisor, Steven Ahoy and members of the local Anaiwan indigenous community.

The ceremony included an apology from UNE, recognising its role in the holding of these precious remains and affirming its commitment to respecting and acknowledging the rights of indigenous peoples.

"Whilst we can't change what happened in the past we can show our commitment to healing, wellbeing and reconciliation through our actions now and into the future. This healing links the ancestors, the living, and country - and the fundamental connection between the three," Professor Heywood said.

This is the first in a series of hand over ceremonies that will be coordinated to ensure all ancestral remains held by UNE are repatriated to their rightful homes.