Repatriation of Ancestral Remains

Museum Victoria recognises the rights of Indigenous peoples with respect to their cultural property, and through the Indigenous Repatriation Program gives priority to Ancestral Remains to Australian Indigenous communities. The Repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Property Policy (PDF, 49 kB), currently under review, outlines the principles under which the program operates.

The process of repatriation

If you have a query about Ancestral Remains from your country held by the museum, please contact:

Rob McWilliams
Telephone: +61 3 8341 7331

The Indigenous Repatriation Program assists Australian Indigenous communities to establish claims for the repatriation of Ancestral Remains, for the preparation and handover of Ancestral Remains, and makes a contribution towards costs for a reburial ceremony. Community members can refer to the procedures document (in PDF or .docx formats) to learn more about the process:

Procedures for making a claim to repatriate Australian Indigenous Ancestral Remains (PDF, 103 kB)

Procedures for making a claim to repatriate Australian Indigenous Ancestral Remains (.docx, 17 kB)

Ancestral Remains at Museum Victoria

The museum is an official repository for Ancestral Remains under the Aboriginal Heritage Act, 2006 (Victoria). As of April 2014, around 1650 Ancestral Remains are yet to claimed and returned to traditional/rightful owners in Australia for reburial.

Ancestral Remains are afforded careful respect and are held in a separate, secure store while held at our Melbourne Museum campus. Since the 1980s, our active program has seen the return of over 2000 Ancestral Remains to Indigenous communities within Australia and internationally.

What to do if you have Aboriginal remains

Do not post or bring Ancestral Remains to the museum.

The Indigenous Repatriation Program and the work of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria ensures that Ancestral Remains are returned for reburial back on country. It is important that members of the public who have any in their possession hand these over to the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, which is the responsible agency. Please contact:

Nathan Woolford
Manager Ancestral Remains Unit, Aboriginal Victoria
Department of Premier and Cabinet
1 Spring Street
Melbourne  Vic   3000
Telephone: +61 3 92083247

To ensure that these Ancestral Remains can be reburied back on their own country, it is very important to provide as many details as possible about them, even if you feel it is not significant. The smallest detail can often be very informative.

If you do come across human remains in the landscape, contact your local police station immediately.

Last updated 18 December 2015

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The Indigenous Repatriation Program is supported by the Australian Government, through the Ministry for the Arts, Attorney General's Department.