Leaders from the Dharawal, Ngiyampaa, and Wotjobaluk Nations led a smoking ceremony at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on Thursday to mark the historic return.
The Australian ambassador to Austria, Ian Biggs, accepted the remains of three ancestors, one from the Yuin Nation in New South Wales, and two from elsewhere in New South Wales and South Australia.
“In taking custodianship of Nymagee man, we are helping him on his way back home and contributing to the health and wellbeing of our Ngiyampaa people and our community,” Ngiyampaa woman Alison Basa said.
Dark chapter in anthropology
The remains were collected by Austrian ethnologist and anthropologist Rudolf Pöch, who travelled to Australia in 1905 on a trip for the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna.
Austrian Academy of Sciences president Heinz Faßmann said Pöch had acted “without any ethical standards” in opening graves to obtain the Aboriginal remains.
Pöch returned to Austria with the remains of dozens of Aboriginal ancestors, of which 47 were returned to Australia between 2009 and 2011.
Pöch believed people were divided into “racial categories”, Mr Faßmann said, and went on to conduct controversial ethnographic studies in prisoner-of-war camps during World War I.
Austrian anthropological researcher Katarina Matiasek labelled Pöch’s work “one of the darkest chapters of anthropology” and said the repatriations of remains were an attempt to “try to heal wounds”.
Ancestors coming home
One of the ancestors will be returned to the Dharawal nation in New South Wales.
Dharawal man David Johnson said that, according to his people’s beliefs, neither the ancestors nor their descendants would find peace until the remains were returned.A smoking ceremony was held in Vienna to mark the occasion. “
My family and community have been leading the repatriation of ancestors from institutions overseas and in Australia since 1990,” he said.
“We have reburied close to 500 old people from coastal Sydney back to resting places on Country.”
The remains are on their way to Canberra where the Dharawal, Ngiyampaa, Wotjobaluk, and Yuin communities will take them home.
What’s left behind
Altogether, 1,686 Aboriginal ancestors have been returned from overseas in the past 30 years.
In 2011, the federal government formalised its policy calling for the repatriation of Indigenous remains and artefacts from overseas.
Nonetheless, many still remain out of Australian hands.
Famously, the Gweagal shield, taken by Captain James Cook from Botany Bay in 1770, remains in the collection of the British Museum.
The office of Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, acknowledged there was still much to do.
“The return of ancestors is so important for communities and will promote healing and reconciliation,” Minister Burney said.
The Kaurareg nation includes Possession Island, where Captain Cook claimed the Australian east coast for the British crown in 1770.
Since then, the nations of the Torres Strait have been locked in a battle for greater self-determination and regional autonomy, of which Saturday’s referendum on a Voice to Parliament was merely the latest chapter.
This is a black country, you know,” Mr Savage says.
Localised results from the referendum reveal just how differently Torres Strait Islanders saw their future compared with many other voters in Queensland, the state their homelands became annexed to in 1879.
Two polling booths on the archipelago’s largest settlement of Waiben, or Thursday Island, recorded Yes votes above 72 per cent, a near-reverse image of the statewide figure.
Two remote mobile polling teams that covered the outer Torres Strait Islands collected even higher percentage figures for Yes.
“The Voice to me was a stepping stone for addressing many other issues relating to the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country,” Mr Savage says.
Not the first rejection
With the Voice defeated, Mr Savage and other Torres Strait Islanders will look elsewhere for the greater self-governance they desire.
Perina Drummond, whose ancestors hail from Mer Island, returned to her birthplace of Waiben during the pandemic, and took on the job of leading the Yes campaign locally.
Torres Strait Islanders, she says, showed they “definitely want change”.
“We still have the same issues we had to address from yesterday,” Ms Drummond says.
A shortage of suitable housing for families to live in and young people to move back to limited access to healthcare, and a bureaucracy stifling people’s ability to control their own land are chief among the concerns of people here.
“ It’s not the first time we’ve been said ‘no’ to before,” Ms Drummond says.
“It’s not the first time we’ve been in this position where we have to keep fighting for our communities, our families, our home.”
“We’ll come up with something else.”
A voice from the deep
What that something else looks like depends on who you ask.
Many leaders in the Torres Strait, including the heads of the two local councils, have championed the Masig Statement.
A four-point plan also titled Malungu yangu wakay, or the “voice from the deep”, the statement aims to secure regional sovereignty for the Torres Strait by 2037 — a century after the first conference of regional island councillors.
“ By virtue of our sovereign right,” it states, “we have the right to freely determine our political status and to freely pursue our economic, social, and cultural development.”
Robert Sagigi, a Wakaid elder whose clan is one of three on Badu Island, voted no to the Voice to Parliament, which he saw as “somebody talking on our behalf without consent”.
“Don’t set up an organisation to manage us because the organisation that you’re going to create is a monster that will absorb all the goodness,” he says.
His vision, which he has also championed for decades, is of the Torres Strait as an autonomous territory in free association with Australia — a model similar to some island nations in the Pacific.
In 2004, he was part of a group of Torres Strait Islander leaders who asked then-Queensland premier Peter Beattie to table a request for greater autonomy at a meeting of the Commonwealth of Australian Governments.
“We’re isolated and we want to run our affairs,” Mr Sagigi says.
“We’re tribal people. Now, we’ve got to action things based on the needs of our people, and if you can’t assist that need — if the kitchen is hot — get out.”
A Kaurareg traditional owner, Mr Savage says individual island communities in the Torres Strait are “crying out to establish their own economy” but he is open to a different approach.
“I am thinking I should just focus on my people and my own kingdom because it’s a waste of time for me to try and stand up, include, address and support issues that are being rejected by lower-minded people,” he says.
The Kaurareg people are setting up a prescribed body corporate to manage sea country in accordance with lore and custom.
“ We’ve got all these beautiful islands that we can do positive things, establishing our economic freedom to give our people their own right to engage in businesses,” Mr Savage says.
“We have got our sacred reefs and sacred rocks throughout this region and to protect that, we need some sort of income.”Loading…
Time for healing
Ms Drummond says “different agendas for self-determination in the Torres Strait”, coupled with Queensland’s own treaty process, did confuse some members of the island communities during the Voice debate.
Some Torres Strait leaders are observing a week of silence, and are yet to speak publicly about the referendum result.
Artist Rosie Ware, who has roots on Moa and Mabuiag islands, says Yes and No campaigners now have to present another vision for her people.
She supported the Voice and is “all for” the Masig Statement as well.
They have to find another way for us Torres Strait Islanders to go forward,” Ms Ware says.
“The money coming from Canberra is not filtering to my grassroots people … to the villages and communities.”
Meriam woman Betty Mabo, whose father Eddie’s High Court challenge led to the recognition of native title in 1992, says the fight for a greater say will continue.
“I am saying now, as a First Nations [person], as a Torres Strait Islander, we are not going to give up because we need our voice to be said in the parliament,” she says.
Despite the disappointment, there is a sense of calm on Waiben.
“Each and every one of us will go into their healing place because life goes on,” Ms Ware says.
“And we’ve got to get up, we’ve got families to tend to, households to tend to, work, and we’ve just got to go forward.”
AceBreakingNews – Returning to QPAC in 2023, the Clancestry festival celebrates everything that is beautiful, Blak and deadly about First Nations arts and culture, across an exciting program of live events, activities, concerts, workshops, theatre, children’s events and more!
This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary since the first Clancestry, and come together to create, connect, and share as our ancestors have done for thousands of years before us.
Take part in an incredible musical journey with master musician William Barton, a concert featuring Troy Cassar-Daleybringing together incredible artists across different genres of music and generations, intimate theatre by Emily Wells and an exciting program of free live music, children’s events, workshops, with more to be announced!
Clancestry is an annual First Nations festival proudly programmed, curated and run by Australian First Nations People, supporting more than a hundred First Nations artists every year.
AceNewsDesk – While the referendum on the Voice to Parliament suffered a resounding defeat on the weekend, states are pushing ahead with their own plans to implement one of the other main pillars of the Uluru Statement from the Heart — treaty.
But while New South Wales has the biggest Indigenous population, it’s the only state or territory not to have already started the treaty process.
Treaties have been negotiated with Indigenous people in other former colonies around the world, including Canada, the United States, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Greenland and Japan.
NSW Premier Chris Minns has said he remained committed to kickstarting treaty discussions with Indigenous people in the state.
So what might a treaty look like in NSW and what happens from here?
What is a treaty?
A treaty is a binding agreement between two or more parties that is used to resolve differences and set out the responsibilities and duties of each party.
In the colonial era, European powers often used treaties to strike agreements with Indigenous people about a wide range of issues, including trade and military alliances and how land would be shared.
But that never happened in Australia because the British never recognised First Nations people as the owners of the land, instead claiming it belonged to no one.
That’s the idea of “Terra Nullius”, which was overturned by the High Court in 1992 in the landmark Mabo ruling.
As well as historical treaties, countries like Canada also have “modern treaties” with Indigenous people, which aim to address historical injustices as well as set out a way forward in the future.
It’s that modern form of treaty that will be discussed in NSW.
University of NSW constitutional law expert George Williams described these sorts of treaties as “more akin to marriages than divorces”.
“They are actually about agreeing on mutual co-existence so everyone in the state has a sense of how we can move forward together with our First Peoples in a way that will lead to economic and social prosperity,” he said.
So what might be included in a state-based treaty?
After the weekend’s result, Mr Minns was keen to emphasise that a treaty in and of itself was a “blank document” — with the content entirely determined by what’s negotiated and agreed between the government and First Nations people.
That sentiment is backed up by Professor Williams.
“Treaties are a negotiated outcome, so there is no definite answer to what is in or out, it’s a matter of what’s agreed between governments and Indigenous peoples,” he said.
“What you commonly find in treaties is you do find issues relating to land, waters, you also find cultural heritage protections.
“And sometimes you do find references to reparations, whereby there is compensation for past wrongs. But these are all things that need to be agreed through a treaty process with all parties involved.”
But Euahlayi elder and Aboriginal tent embassy founder Ghillar Michael Anderson said without a federal treaty there were limitations on what state treaties can achieve.
“New South Wales cannot go beyond and negotiate outside of what’s in their (state) constitution,” he said.
“So whatever the constitutional powers over the New South Wales, that’s all they can talk about.”
Mr Anderson helped work on a treaty framework for the National Aboriginal Conference that was set up under the Whitlam government and believes there are key issues that can only be tackled at a federal level.
But he wants to see a state treaty address cultural water access to the Murray Darling Basin and coastal rivers, fishing arrangements, ownership and management of national parks, and access to sacred sites.
“Aboriginal people are saying we’re not going to take your land off you, but we want access to sacred sites, we want access and we want to protect them,” he said.
And he said mining royalties should also be on the table.
“We want royalties of course, if we agree with any type of mining or gas, there’s got to be royalties and they have to go to those nations where they’re getting it from, not to every Aboriginal person.”
Why is NSW behind other states on the issue of treaty?
In 1988 the then-prime minister Bob Hawke promised to make a treaty with First Nations people within two years, but that pledge was never delivered.
In the absence of federal action, over the past decade, other states forged ahead with beginning the process of reaching state-based treaties.
But in NSW, the Coalition government never proposed putting the issue on the agenda — and it was in power for 12 years.
Before it was elected in March, Labor pledged to spend $5 million on a year-long consultation process on treaty.
The state with the most advanced treaty process is Victoria.
What happens next and how long will the process take?
Mr Minns has so far been unwilling to put a timeline of the treaty process in NSW, warning there are “no easy answers” in the wake of the referendum result.
“ It’s important to note that in reality in New South Wales will require a treaty with 150 different nations in this state,” Mr Minns said.
“So it’s not a straightforward process.”
He pointed out that some other states had started the treaty process up to nine years earlier and still not reached an agreement.
“Now I’m starting the process in the full knowledge that it’s going to be complex and difficult.
“As difficult and long as that discussion will be, it’s not tolerable that it’s not begun in New South Wales when every other state has started it.”
It would be ridiculous to expect everyone in any community to agree.
Camps on either side of the debate have been at odds for months about just how many First Nations people actually wanted a Voice, with Yes23 pointing to polls published at the start of the year showing extremely high levels of support.
That statistic was heavily disputed by the other side.
“I knew, having spoken to people throughout the Northern Territory, to Indigenous people from the Northern Territory and right across the country … that a vast group of Indigenous Australians did not support the proposal,” Northern Territory Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said on Saturday night, once it was clear the Voice had been rejected.
Both sides of the debate agreed that remote Indigenous communities — where gaps in health and education outcomes are most severe — were among those who needed to be heard the most.
Those remote communities have now spoken and polling place results reveal that many wanted the Voice, and in some areas, overwhelmingly so.
The rest of Australia said no.
There are no electorates with a majority Indigenous population, but when you look at polling place results, the pattern is unmistakable.
Take a look at these three seats.
Lingiari has the highest Indigenous enrolment of any seat in Australia.
The seat, a huge electorate spanning all of the territory outside Darwin and surrounds, voted No 56-44.
But when you look deeper at the data, the divide is stark.
While booths in Alice Springs, a town of about 25,000 and Central Australia’s main population centre, were firmly No, polling teams sent out into remote Indigenous communities across the Top End and red centre consistently returned high Yes results.
Teams travelled to communities living in Kakadu National Park, across Arnhem Land, home to the Yolngu people, through the desert right down to Mutitjulu, a community of around 300 people at the base of Uluru, and many other locations in between.
These communities are overwhelmingly made up of First Nations people.
Across the locations visited by remote mobile polling teams, Yes recorded 73 per cent support.
“They wanted change, they wanted recognition, they want governments to listen to what’s happening on the ground in those communities,” Labor member for Lingiari Marion Scrymgour told the ABC on Sunday.
On Cape York — the tropical northern tip of Queensland — remote Indigenous communities also voted Yes, including in Hope Vale (75.4 per cent), Thursday Island (72.4 per cent), and Lockhart River (66.1 per cent).
The electorate as a whole voted No because of the vote in Cairns and surrounds, which dominate the seat.
Again, mobile polling teams visited many communities across the electorate.
And again, 73 per cent of the votes collected by electoral officials in those teams said Yes.
The seat of Durack is huge and diverse, stretching from just north of Perth all the way to the Northern Territory border.
Most booths in the seat recorded a majority No vote, with a few key exceptions: the majority Indigenous populations of Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, and Wyndham.
While the message from remote Indigenous communities is clear, their small population size means they have a tiny impact on the wider state results.
These results also only reflect the views of Indigenous peoples in remote communities, which may differ from those living in cities and suburban areas.
It’s a different picture when you zoom out
The pattern in these remote seats is the reverse of the split seen in most of the country.
Take a look at all 151 electorates.
We’ve sorted them from strongest No to strongest Yes, left to right.
Counting is still underway and the numbers might shift a little bit, but they give us a sense of the big spread in votes between different regions and communities.
In the graph above, the very left-most seat is Maranoa, a rural Queensland seat held by Nationals leader David Littleproud.
He suffered a big swing against an independent in last year’s federal election and might be now feeling stuck between a Liberal party in firm opposition to the Voice and constituents who are tempted by the teals.
There’s a good chance a looming electoral redistribution in New South Wales will affect his seat too, pushing it closer to the Sydney CBD and teal territory.
Every seat held by a teal independent has either voted for the Voice (or is leaning that way), with more counting to come.
Lessons for Labor
Federal Labor is still ahead in opinion polls, but the weekend’s result may give it food for thought, too.
Perth voters helped deliver Labor majority government last year, but they’ve been less than enthusiastic about the government’s proposition this time.
The four seats in the west that Labor gained last year — Hasluck, Pearce, Swan and Tangney — have all voted No with between 56 and 69 of the vote.
While it considers what to do next, the government is expected to try to move on quickly, and pivot to other issues like the cost of living.
The political calculus might make sense after an extended referendum debate.
But people in remote Indigenous communities may well be wondering, now that they’ve had the chance to use their voice at the ballot box: what next?
Speaking on Saturday after the result was clear, Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney pledged that this would not be the end of reconciliation.
“We all agree we need better outcomes for First Nations people,” she said.
“We need to keep listening to Indigenous Australians about what works and what can make practical differences for the next generation, because we all want what’s best for our children.”