of the Wiran Aboriginal Corporation

By Rosalba Nattero - Melbourne, 25 October 2005

Rosalba Nattero:
What is the meaning of the Burial Ceremony that we attended?

Gary Murray:
It means a lot of things both from a moral, cultural, political, legal and universal thing.
We have repatriated, recovered and returned our esteemed Ancestors back to their country where they were taken by the colinizers from 1788 right up to the 1940's. We have had to recover the human remains of our men, our women, our children, our grandmothers from places like Scotland, England, Europe, the Americas and also Australia in terms of institutions like the Melbourne Museum, where we're sitting here right now, the Aboriginal Fairs Victoria Land of Proprietry which sits in Spencer Street Station in Melbourne here to places like Brisbane, Sydney, Hobart, Canberra.

Native Australian, Traditional Elder of the Wamba Wamba Community and Chairperson of the Wiran Aboriginal Corporation

We believe we have recovered most of the Wamba Wamba Ancestors although we still suspect that there are some in private collections. We encourage people to return them and contact us so that we can pick them up. The meaning of the Ceremony was about connection to country, who we are within the universe, within our country. It's about going back to our country and exerting our rights and interests, to implement our traditions and customs and respect our dead and respect our living in particular. If you don't respect the dead you don't respect the living. And a lot of government policy probably doesn't respect the Aboriginal people of this country or try to get along with people, therefore, we have this conflict with government all the time. Our struggle is about land rights and making sure we get legislation to accommonate land right legislation.
We are the most dispossesed, dispersed, deculturalized group in Australia and governments don't seem to recognize that. There's a simple fact: 270,000 square kilometers is the state of Victoria, which is one of the 8 states and territories in Australia, and a half thousand Aboriginal tribes people live in Victoria and we own less than 6000 hectors; and most of that land was acquired well before the 1980's, well before Native Title Legeslation came in. And now that is not even a little black dot on the map of Victoria. Now that is the reality for the 25 traditional owners in Victoria. The reality is we own less than 6000 hectors of 270,000 sq.Km. So we have to redress that, we have to attack governments about land justice and our aspirations with land, as we do about repatriation.
Now the interesting thing about removal of human remains from our country is that it denies our existance because it removes the evidence and one of the symbols, one of the strongest symbols of your land ownership is where you bury your dead, there can be no mistake about it if you remove that evidence as has been done to us.
We have had white farmers in the past, in the 1940's, paid one shilling and 6 pence for the cranium of one of our Ancestors. One fellow in particular who went along in the Murray river and he desacrated the burial gounds, the sacred burial grounds, and he took 1600 of our people, 1600 and they were taken in the 1920's, 30's and 40's and only returned from the 1980's onward and we are still getting some of those back. That collection was called the Murray Black collection and Murray Black was a Scottish farmer, he wasn't an Aboriginal person, he was a Scottish farmer, a dairy farmer, and he had to make some money. And obviously he wasn't making too much money out of milking cows so he took the remains of our people to earn a dollar. So this is the history of desecration and I think the Ceremony was a symbolic as well as a real thing for Aboriginal people that we have taken the time to reconnect with our past by recovering the human remains of our Ancestors and taking them home to the country.
It was a very emotional, spiritual thing as well as a physical thing; and it hurts us that we have to do that, that we have to work without our cultural materials. This place here (the Melbourne Museum) is not a good place, it is a place that in the past stole our dead, it is a place that stole our cultural material, stole our images and we're still negotiating what happened in the past. This museum still has to return for the past if it is going to move towards the future; and it needs to deal with us because we're the ones here today in the present and whether they like it or not we will be pursuing our rights and interests and whether we do a world wide strategy, an Australian strategy or just a local one, we are going to be on the doorstep of these institutions whether they be state government departments or museums. And we are determained to fullfill our cultural and spiritual obligations to our Ancestors and not only for us today but for future generations so our kids know that we are the First Nations, the original people, the Aboriginal People, the Indigenous People, we are the first people here.
It is our country and we need to pursue our justice issues along with getting the issues of our repatriation sorted out with museums. We have a long way to go, I think that the Ceremony was about returning our Ancestors to our Country because we're in the process of getting the legal titles to 4000 acres on that particular property. That property is called Manira Station, it is 400 Km. North of Melborne but on the New South Wales side of the Murray river it has 7 km. of river frontage that cost about 2.2 million dollars. It has some good agricultural enterprises but we have set aside that particular part of that property solely for us to gather there and to do our cultural business, our spiritual business, to remember our dead; and we have now put back 31 of our Ancestors on land that potentialy we will own legaly, moraly and spiritualy.

Rosalba Nattero:
And which are your next steps ?

Gary Murray:
Well I think we got a focus on the economics of getting more land back, I think that we also have to maintain our spiritual link so the ecospirituality part will be an important focus for our strategies as we go down the track. We are negotiating our Native Title Rights with the state government of Victoria and basically that means that we will be doing an agreement with10 First Nations Groups, or traditional owners, and we will be saying to the State of Victoria that we are prepared to withdraw our Native Title claims and avoid all the expensive and stressful mitigation procedings so that we can do an agreement that involves the handover of land. All the repatriations that need to be done still need to be finalized so we will put that on our list of things that the state government has to agree to.
We will be looking at cultural heritage protection and economic development land acquisition. We realy need to build up our land holdings and build up our economic base. You went to Swan Hill and so if you walk down the main street of Swan Hill you will not see an Aboriginal face in a shop window, or the real estate agencies, or the bank or the insurance agency, or in the hospitality and tourism industry. Our people are one of the highest unemployed groups of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, so we need to address that issue of enployment training and that point getting land back. We can create lots of jobs and good education and training strategies; and that's really important.
I think we need to settle the dispossession and the dispersion that's occured since 1788 when Captain Cook planted on behalf of the British government his flag and took our country.
We still don't believe that they've done it legaly although the courts disagree with us. We believe that the legal system is a racist system, an oppressive system that does not tell the truth about the history of this country and I think that needs to be addressed that we pursue our rights and interests in terms of telling the truth about the history of this country and we've got to tell it. We've got to tell it in terms of the good the bad and the ugly. There are some good things that have happened as well as bad things but the basic thing that is wrong with this country is that it will not negotiate a final settelment in terms of land justice and the economics that goes with that. I think that's really important.