Introduction to Repatriation: Principles, practice and policies

Course details


Mon 6 – Fri 10 July 2015.

Participants will travel to Camp Coorong near Meningie South Australia on Sunday 5 July to begin the course on Monday 6 July. The course will conclude on Friday 10 July and students will depart Camp Coorong on Saturday 11 July.

Transport to and from Camp Coorong from Adelaide airport will be provided.


Camp Coorong, Meningie, South Australia.

This is an education and outreach facility run by Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners.

This intensive five-day program is a professional development short course hosted by Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners in collaboration with partners on the Australian Research Council Linkage Project: Return, Reconcile, Renew: understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future.

The course is administered by the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at The Australian National University.

The repatriation of human remains is an extraordinary Indigenous achievement and inter-cultural development of the past 40 years. Since the 1970s, Indigenous Australian campaigns for the return of Ancestral Remains have resulted in significant success, and this is mirrored by Indigenous campaigns in other countries, such as the USA and New Zealand.

From the earliest days of colonisation, Indigenous Ancestral Remains were taken from burial places and sent to museums worldwide. They were acquired by national, local and regional museums, by private collectors, medical schools and university departments. Indigenous opposition to the theft of Ancestral Remains is evident in the historical record, and campaigns for their return have driven change in professional practice in museums, archaeology and bio-anthropology over the past forty years.


The course will cover the key questions:

  • What is repatriation and why is it significant?
  • How and why did Indigenous Ancestral Remains come to be in museums?
  • How did the reburial campaign develop and how have people secured the return of Ancestral Remains?
  • What cultural and practical considerations need to be addressed to repatriate Ancestral Remains?

This course has been designed to increase understanding of the meaning and value of repatriation and to share the experiences of repatriation practitioners to assist others, whether in community organisations, museums or government agencies. The course aims to assist people who would like to find out more about repatriation and its historical context, or who are already involved in repatriation processes in their communities or workplaces. Participants will learn about historical, cultural and ethical themes related to the repatriation of Ancestral Remains in Australia and internationally. By looking back at what has already been achieved by Indigenous people, at the conclusion of this course participants will have gained knowledge to apply in their local contexts.

Through this program, participants will gain knowledge and understanding of how repatriation relates to Indigenous law, culture, ethics, country and community development. The course will develop understanding of key issues of repatriation for communities and museums and examine how repatriation, museums practices, policies and ethics have changed over time.

Hosted by Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners, the program will be run on Ngarrindjeri country and sessions will be delivered by a range of speakers with repatriation experience. Sessions will be in a variety of discussion formats, and will include site visits. The course has a number of site visits on the third day. Participants will need to bring appropriate clothing for South Australia in July. This includes appropriate footwear (no sandals), warm and rain-proof clothing, hats and sunscreen.


Camp Coorong (near Meningie, South Australia)

In 1985, the Ngarrindjeri people established Camp Coorong, near Meningie in South Australia. The Ngarrindjeri people imagined the camp to be a place of learning, to promote local Aboriginal heritage and culture and to offer a space to engage with Ngarrindjeri community. The camp offers visitors the chance to, for example, participate in field-trips to the Coorong, basket weaving workshops, and nature and heritage walks.


Ngarrindjeri country is in South Australia. Ngarrindjeri have been engaged in the repatriation of their Old People from domestic museums and overseas institutions since the early 1990s. The Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority is currently a partner of the research project hosting this professional development course.

The Coorong

The Coorong is of enormous cultural significance to the Ngarrindjeri people. A National Park protects a string of salt-water lagoons which are sheltered from the Southern Ocean by sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula. The Coorong is a wetland of international significance and important breeding ground and refuge for Australian and migratory bird life.

Travel and accommodation

Participants will be required to organise their own travel to Adelaide, South Australia. The course will provide all travel from Adelaide Airport to Camp Coorong, near Meningie on Sunday 5 July and the return travel to Adelaide Airport on Saturday 11 July. Please note that minibuses will leave from Adelaide airport at a time to be designated, and bookings are required to ensure you have a place.

At Camp Coorong, participants will be provided with dormitory-style accommodation and bathroom facilities and linen. Catering will be provided by Camp Coorong. Please advise us of your dietary requirements.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course, participants will have:

  • gained understanding of the main issues relating to the repatriation of Indigenous Ancestral Remains
  • considered issues that may be applicable in their local context
  • gained knowledge of practical considerations in repatriation
  • developed their knowledge about the historical and cultural context of repatriation
  • considered topics that are linked to repatriation processes such as Indigenous culture, country and community development
  • gained understanding of relevant museum and government policies, including professional codes of practice and legislation
  • gained understanding repatriation in an international context.


The course will be assessed. Participants will prepare and deliver group presentations on the last day which reflect on what they have learned throughout the course. It is expected that participants will have read a significant number of the recommended pre-readings.


This course is also available as an accredited course for those enrolled at ANU, within its Master of Museums and Heritage Studies. Further assessment is required for those enrolled in the Masters program.


  • Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority.
  • Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre.
  • Gur a Barahharaw Kod, Torres Strait Land and Sea Council.
  • The Australian National University.
  • Flinders University.
  • The University of Melbourne.
  • University of Tasmania.
  • Australian Government, Attorney General's Department, Ministry for the Arts, Indigenous Repatriation Unit.
  • The National Museum of Australia.
  • The University of Otago.
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
  • National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
  • Association on American Indian Affairs.

Updated:  6 August 2015/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer